Monday, January 29, 2007

OpenOffice: The Free Office Suite

Christmas is past and Santa probably dropped off more than a few computers. If you're one of the lucky ones, you may be a little disappointed by the fact that your teaser version of Microsoft Office 2003 is about to expire, leaving you to get by with Microsoft Works. Before you shell out a couple of hundred bucks for the full version of Office 2003, give yourself a break: download and test drive Sun Microsystems' gift to society: OpenOffice 2.1.

OpenOffice is a clone of the better-known Microsoft product that includes analogs of the office suite applications. The freeware product will run on Windows, as well as Macintosh or Linux. You'll want a broadband connection to download it, but once you have it on your computer, installation is relatively straightforward.

Are you a bit leery of installing a freeware application on your own PC? Don't fret, there's an easy way to to take a test drive. If you're a Gmail user you've probably noticed a "Docs and Spreadsheets" menu bar near the upper left hand corner of the screen. Believe it or not, Google now supports native OpenOffice document editing and also provides nearly three gigabytes of online storage! Amazingly, anyone with access to a computer on the Internet is ready to produce documents and spreadsheets that may then be accessible from any other Internet PC.

So why would one wish to download and install OpenOffice to his or her own PC? Bandwidth limitations mean that even very fast connections (e.g., the 10MB Ethernet enjoyed by WPL patrons) means that online applications still run less quickly than local applications. My advice? Test OpenOffice at your local library. If you like it, download a copy (maybe to a big USB drive?) and install it at home.

c 2007 Waterloo Public Library

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