I'm sat here writing this article not on Microsoft Office 2003 as I usually do but instead using a free alternative going by the name of 'Open Office' and the mean reason for change is my desire to test and introduce this product to you today.

The main advantage of Open Office is that it is completely free of charge and because of this I have always recommended it to non profit organisations or to businesses that need to deploy an office solution on a number of machines and can't afford spending £300 per machine for Microsoft Office licenses. This solution is available free of charge due to financial sponsorship from Sun Microsystems and because the software is known as 'Open Source Software' which means that knowledgeable members of the public can download the entire source code for the program and improve it themselves hence reducing the need to many expensive programmers.

I'm not going to lie to you and claim that this free solution is as good as Microsoft Office because frankly it isn't and to be fair you can't really expect a project supported by unpaid contributions and one bankrolled by a multi-billion dollar company to be same. Having said that the software is extremely capable and people still using older versions of Office may find that there are a number of features in Open Office not present in your older software.

When summarising a market for such a product I would say that it is ideal for those of you who don't want to invest a large amount of money every two years on the latest Office software or for those who don't require the most advanced features of Office and instead to have a solution to do the staple tasks of Word Processing and designing Presentations or Spreadsheets. I would certainly say that if you are using the standard Windows word processor 'WordPad' to type your documents then you certainly shouldn't hesitate in getting on-line now and downloading this program.

The four core components of the suite include :
–Writer; a tool for creating documents, reports, brochures which can include images and web content.
–Calc; an alternative to Microsoft Excel which can be used to perform complex spreadsheet calculations, create graphs and so forth.
–Impress; creates multimedia Presentations similar to those made in Microsoft Powerpoint with the usual special effects, animation and drawing tools.
–Draw; pretty self explanatory this one. Draw can by used to create simple 3D illustrations and special effects.

The more observant of you will see that an equivalent application to Microsoft Outlook is missing however Sun do recommend using a program based on Mozilla technology (www.mozilla.org) for e-mail composition. A Microsoft Publisher substitute is also missing from the bundle but to be honest this program doesn't come with all versions of the Office suite anyway so it's fairly unfair to consider it 'missing'.

If you have a new version of Microsoft Office then to be honest I wouldn't bother downloading this software however if your current Office suite is outdated or even worse if you don't have one then give OpenOffice a go; head to www.openoffice.org and download the latest version now! The entire installation is 45mg which took around 8 minutes for me to download on broadband but those on dial up may wish to look at the preferred resellers section of the site as one of them will sell you a copy on CD for around a tenner.

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