Why I Like Open Office

Slashdot is running this article about the fourth birthday of OpenOffice. Not unexpectedly, there are only two comments under the story: Either “I hate this about Open Office!” or “I love this about Open Office!”

I’ve been using Open Office for a couple of years now, although it has been my exclusive office toolset since I became an independent contractor. Before that, I always had a license from my employer to install Microsoft Office at home. Now that I am on my own, though, it’s important to make the dollars count, and blowing ex-hundred-dollars on an Office install when there is a free alternative is stupid. So, because I wanna be like Slashdot, here are three things I like about Open Office.

Let’s start with one of the most often touted features of OpenOffice - PDF export. You can take any document and export it to PDF with one click. Done. That’s it. Period. I pretty much send out any documents as PDF now. It’s great.

Another thing I really like about OpenOffice is the logical layout of the application. Here’s my canonical example: How do you change the formatting of the page in Word? You know, something like whether you’re editing in portrait or landscape. What’s that? First you go to the File menu, and then to the Page Setup choice? Wait - and all of the other formatting options are under the Format menu? Oh that just makes perfect sense! In Open Office, you go to the Format menu, and then to the Page choice. It’s grouped right there with Character formatting and Paragraph formatting.

My favorite feature of OpenOffice, though, is its structured simplicity. Creating a document that follows a strict structure is very easy to do, and it sort of leads you into creating a good document whether you want to or not. Since Open Office doesn’t implement all of the zillion extra features that Microsoft Office does, there isn’t a lot of extra bunk in there to distract you from the document you’re creating. A great many professional writers will tell you they prefer a typewriter to a modern word processor because the older device eliminates distractions and helps focus their creativity. I feel the same way about writing functional specs using Open Office. In a way, fewer features is actually a feature in its own right.

So anyway, I’m done. That’s it. Check out Open Office if you’d like - it’s worth it. And if you’re curious, I write these posts in Metapad.