Something to Get Excited About

In Uncategorized on October 4, 2005 at 11:39 pm

PC World’s Techlog News, opinion, and links from Editor in Chief Harry McCracken.See all PC World’s Techlog.
A Month Without Microsoft Office
Posted by Harry McCrackenMonday, September 05, 2005, 03:37 PM (PST)

Back on August 3rd, I installed the Beta 1 version of Windows Vista on my work desktop. That meant reinstalling all my applications…but I didn’t have a copy of Microsoft Office handy. So I installed a beta copy of 2.0–the leading open-source office suite–figuring that it could serve as a stopgap.

More than a month later, I’m still using that beta to do my everyday work…and it’s been a remarkably smooth experience, especially considering that this is a pre-release product running on a pre-release operating system. I’ve wrangled lots of Word and Excel documents in’s counterparts (Writer and Calc, respectively), and as far as I can tell, the only tip-off that my colleagues have noticed is that my documents have funny icons rather than the universally-known Office ones. All in all, this is a considerably more polished product than the version of I wrote about back in May of last year. There was a time when’s ancestor, StarOffice, had such a clunky interface that I advised folks to spring for Microsoft Office purely to avoid dealing with StarOffice’s idiosyncracies. But times have changed. If you know Word and Excel, you’ll take to’s Writer and Calc without blinking…mostly because’s apps look and work so much like Microsoft Office’s equivalents these days. (My biggest gripe: I’m used to pressing thr Ctrl key and F6 in Microsoft Office to shuttle through open documents; doesn’t seem to support that keystroke.) I’ve also been paranoid in the past about third-party suites’ ability to truly handle Microsoft file formats without glitches. But so far, Writer and Calc have thrown every document I’ve thrown at them with panache, including some pretty complex spreadsheets. I thought about all this last week when reports surfaced that Massachusetts is making noise about dumping Microsoft’s suite in state-operated offices. Not long ago, that would have sounded really quixotic–well actually, it still sounds a little quixotic, but it also sounds plausible. If all those state workers were armed with copies of, I suspect they’d still get their work done. That can’t be good news for Bill Gates, and I bet that the next upgrade of Microsoft Office will be built, in part, as a response to the prospect of an Office-compatible, Office-like suite that’s free. Note that I’m not making a blanket statement that is a workable Microsoft Office replacement in every situation. For one thing, I’ve barely dipped into such apps as Impress (a PowerPoint rival) so far, so I can’t render judgment on them. I also haven’t really gone off Microsoft Office cold turkey, since I continue to use it on my home desktop and multiple notebooks. And I readily acknowledge that Microsoft’s suite has scads of features that lacks. (How many of those features are widely used is another matter, but if Microsoft were chiming in at this point, I’m sure it would bring up enterprise-related tools such as InfoPath, and’s lack of an Outlook competitor.) Still, when PC users ask me if there’s any way to avoid having to shell out real money for Microsoft Office (which costs $360 in its standard version), I have a new answer: “There might be–before you spend any money for an office suite, give a try. It’s certainly worked well for me


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