MS Office vs. Open Office.org – a writer’s point of view

A few years ago , I was developing elementary-level textbooks which included tutorials on MS Office applications – MS Word, MS Excel, MS Powerpoint, and MS Access . I run these applications on a Windows emulator called Virtual PC on my Macintosh computer, for the purpose of capturing screen shots. I used an Apple Mac utility called Grab to capture the screenshots , and Open Office.org Writer ver 1.x to write the textbook . Running these two applications at the same time gave me the opportunity to compare MS Office 2003 and Open Office.org 1.x. At that time, I had the impression that MS Office 2003 was superior to Open Office.org 1.x in terms of features and performance.

My stern deadlines had consistently pushed me to find better, more efficient software. I experimented with several kinds of software- both proprietary and open source- for wordprocessing, drawing, flowcharts, spreadsheets, presentations, and many others. A few years on, I tried using the newly released version of Open Office.org 2.2 . Originally designed to compete against Microsoft Office – emulating its interface and capabilities, it had similarities with MS Office 2003 but it also had some unique features.

A very important Open Office.org 2.2 feature for me as a writer is the Navigator, which let me jump from “Chapter 3: Wordprocessing” to “Chapter 9: Computer Ethics” in a single click. It also lets me transfer an entire chapter from one location to another without having to use cut and paste. All I had to do was click on the name of the chapter in the Navigator box, then click on an up arrow to go up a chapter ahead or the down arrow to go down a chapter below. It saved me a lot of time . Open Office.org 2.2 also has a Styles and Formatting box , which let me format and modify page, frame and list styles. MS Office 2003 has neither, and is limited to providing an outline view of the document.

I needed lots of cliparts to complete my textbook. OOo’s Gallery does not have a search feature and contains very few cliparts . Due to my pressing need , I purchased cliparts on CD’s, which turned out to be a pitiful waste of my P3,000. It was a few months later when I learned that there were hundreds of free public domain clip-arts from http://www.openclipart.org/ . Openclipart.org let me search and download as much cliparts as I needed. I just downloaded the whole night away !

In terms of capabilities, MS Office 2003’s Media Gallery was much better than Open Office.org 2.2’s Gallery. MSO 2003’s Media Gallery is tied to the Web , contains a search facility, and the cliparts are organized by Themes. The downside is that Microsoft does not give away free cliparts.

I always include my name and the name of the document in the Properties dialog . To do this, go to File > Properties > General. The Apply user data checkbox includes or removes information .

OOo 2.2 also includes some features that MSO 2003 does not , such as the built-in Export to PDF option and the word completion feature. In MS Office, word completion is available in MS Excel, and not in MS Word.

An interesting feature of Open Office.org 2.2 is version control. I can save more than one version of a file under one file name and each version that is saved is complete. Then I can select the version I want to open in read-only mode using the version drop-down . To access this option , use File > Versions . In MSO 2003, only the current version can be opened because each version contains all of the changes that have been made to the document.
It is a good idea to set the default locations for file storage . When the file autosaves, it is stored in the default location. This serves as a backup of your file. In Open Office.org 2.2, it can be specified by accessing Use Tools > Options > OpenOffice.org > Paths. In MSO 2003, the default location is in My Documents.
Both software have support for digital signatures, strong encryption, and have secure paths for macro execution. The languages available in Open Office.org 2.2 for macro development are OpenBasic, Beanshell, Java, JavaScript, and Python. However, MSO 2003 only suppports VBA . Aside from macros, some office suites can have extended features with plug-ins. In the case of OpenOffice.org, the source code could be modified using C and C++, Java and Pyton . MSO 2003 only uses C and C++.

One last feature to discuss: price. To get Open Office.org, simply download it from http://www.openoffice.org/ or ask a friend to download it for you. You can burn as many copies to CD legally and give it away to friends. One copy of Microsoft Office 2003 Basic Editon will cost you at least P11,000. (The Microsoft Office 2007 Home and Student OEM costs P7,000 plus).

MS Office vs. Open Office.org – which would you choose?

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