Certain pieces of software are the bread-and-butter of everyday computing. Top of the list are the Office Suites. Almost everyone is familiar with the Microsoft Office family and many are now also familiar with free Open Source software such as OpenOffice. So this week I’ll give you a quick run-down of a few free office suites, the best of which trump Microsoft Office and begs the question of why you should even contemplate paying for office suites at all- even if it’s a really cheap, pirated copy of Microsoft Office 2010 from Raj the DVD man at the market.
At the moment LibreOffice is probably the most popular Open Source office suite on the planet. Available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux with multi-language support, this is a sleek and easy-to-use office suite. In my opinion, it is even better than Microsoft Office. Cleverly, they have ignored Microsoft’s baffling adoption of a fashionable-looking, but clunky Ribbon GUI in favour of the old, tried-and-tested menu system familiar to most users. It is, however, still very easy to customise the look and feel of LibreOffice’s GUI. And, like all OpenOffice variants, you can even choose to configure the layout with the traditional and eye-soothing white text on a blue background familiar to Word Perfect users of yore. Nice.
Here is the suite that started the whole Open Source office freeware fun and spared us all from the drudgery of bloated, expensive and needlessly complicated Microsoft Office. Folded into the Open Source code amalgam that is Apache OpenOffice are Star Office, Oracle Open Office, OpenOffice.org Suite and soon IBM Lotus Symphony. Until a week ago, this was my preferred office suite. I gave up using it because LibreOffice simply feels better put together with less rough edges. However, if you want to try it out, I suggest that you wait for the upcoming version 4.0 when all the forks are finally merged.
Oxygen Office Professional
Oxygen Office Professional is basically Open Office with some extra bells and whistles. For instance, there are thousands of royalty-free clip-art graphics, photographs, fonts and document templates bundled into the default installation. There is also an extensive online help system included.
Kingsoft Office Suite Free 2012
Kingsoft Office Suite Free 2012 is, as the name suggests, free. Though it isn’t Open Source, it does seem to have garnered some favourable reviews online. But, although it appears to have no telling faults, there also doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason to invest time in learning to use it either because the competition from LibreOffice is simply too fierce. The only real negative aspect to this product are that some incompatibilities have been reported when using documents saved in Microsoft Office 2007 or 2010 format.
At the moment LibreOffice is undoubtedly king-of-the-hill. While Oxygen Office Professional is convenient for the novice user as a one-stop-shop, LibreOffice is still the suite I’d recommend for most users. It is just so much slicker and bug-free than all other suites based on the OpenOffice code-base. If you want to try something a little different, wait until Apache OpenOffice reaches version 4.0 and merges with IBM Lotus Symphony. Finally, if your needs only stretch to a word processor and you can live without a spreadsheet, presentation software or a database, then you might just want to try out a lightweight word processor like Abiword.