Free to Low Cost Business and Communication Tools: Part 9: OpenOffice

Given the high cost of investing in a comprehensive office suite like Microsoft Office, it is great to be able to consider free office suite options while you allocate your budget to more pressing items.

If you haven’t heard of it yet you may want to check out 3.2, “a suite of programs for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases and drawings that is free to download, use and distribute.”

It was first introduced by Sun MicroSystems back in 2000 as an alternative to the “closed-source”  programs like MS Office. An on-going project developed by a large international community, it continues to be managed by Sun – its founder and biggest contributor.


  • Available in more than 100 languages
  • Works on all popular computers (Linux, Mac, Windows, Solaris, and other operating systems)
  • Cross-platform sharing possible between PC and Mac users, for example
  • Stores data is ISO standard open format
  • Can read and write docs from MS Office including MS 2007 xml docs
  • Post to the web
  • Share files

Although the programs are similar to MS Office, (OOo) is in fact a different product and does take some time to get used to, particularly if you’re accustomed to MS Office. Below is a summary of it principle applications and tools:

Writer: full-featured word processing:

  • good for pretty much any document creation from simple letters to multi-page reports with tables, graphics, charts and headings
  • export work in PDF, OTF or MS word format
  • PDF import extension enables you to import and modify PDFs
  • zoom slider tool allows for viewing multiple pages on a single screen simultaneously

Calc : spreadsheet application:

  • great for data analysis using complex graphics and charts
  • calculates, analyses, shares data quickly and easily
  • wide range of charting options, especially 3-D
  • spreadsheet collaboration feature allows all members involved in project to share their data and work on a spreadsheet concurrently (great for remote office workers and communications between satellite offices – reduce travel expenses)
  • collaboration feature even makes sure editing conflicts are avoided by requiring the spreadsheet be saved once a change is made to activate sharing mode – this way all users can see changes effected in real time
  • solver tool helps users to solve optimization problems such as “optimizing ad buys for a marketing campaign”

Impress: presentation application

  • great tool for making multi-media presentations for sales, demonstrations, or training
  • can integrate 2-D and 3-D clipart, font works, special effects, animation and high-impact drawing tools
  • can share work in multiple ways including PDF, PPT (power point), HTML (web page) and Flash
  • presenter console extension supports multiple views so that the presenter can look at the upcoming slides, speaker notes and time passed on a separate screen invisible to his audience while he is presenting the slides which are visible to his audience
  • effective presentations are possible as the presenter is given ample tools to present with confidence

Draw: drawing application

  • flexible program lets you draw quick sketch or complex diagram
  • manipulate objects – rotate in two or three dimensions
  • create photorealistic images
  • Smart connectors make short work of flowcharts, organization charts, network diagrams, etc.
  • Styles – a common feature – help you control your work easily and precisely

Base: data base application

  • manipulate database data seamlessly within 3
  • built-in HSQL database engine
  • create and modify tables, forms, queries, and reports, either using your own database or Base’s own HSQL
  • depending on your level of data base expertise you can choose to work with Wizards, Design Views, or SQL Views for beginners, intermediate, and advanced users respectively

Mail Calendar, Tasks: communicate, schedule and manage tasks

  • Mozilla Thunderbird is the email client and Mozilla Lightning is the Calendar
  • customizable SPAM and PHISHING protection tools built-in
  • manages appointments and To-Do’s either on a local or server-based Calendar

Not only is the suite free to download, use and distribute, it is truly a robust solution that allows you to cost effectively meet your data and office productivity needs. For all operating systems, download the suite and extensions by visiting the website.

I’m sure readers would be interested to learn how you like the suite. Please return to share your experiences.