July 24, 2009

Creating text documents, spreadsheets, presentations and databases; almost like you did in Windows.

One of the hardest parts of switching to Linux for me was how was I going to replace the Microsoft Office Suite. Ok, in reality this was almost painless for me. A little story about my past... At one time I left a comfy desk job to work at my old companies shipping dock and was eventually promoted to the lead clerk and had my own office of sorts. I had an antique pentium 3 computer with no productivity software whatsoever. I asked our local IT departments "computer expert (1)" for a version of Microsoft office even if it was only 97 or 2000 but I was denied because I didn't need it. Well anyone who really knows IT, knows that a no is just an opportunity to find another way. So I found my way to the great people at Sun Microsystems and their Open Office free productivity suite. I was able to do all my documents and spreadsheets and that was enough for me at the time. So enough about my ancient history.

According to their website, Open office is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers. It stores all your data in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose. As an introduction only I'll give you a rundown on their products and the Microsoft equivalent.
  • Writer: This is almost identical to Microsoft Word. You can open almost all word documents with the only exception I've found so far is the newer graphical add in's found in Office 2007 like the colorful spreadsheets and such.
  • Calc: This is almost identical to Microsoft Excel. You can open all excel spreadsheets and be able to use the calculations. The only exception is that macro's are not compatible.
  • Impress: This is almost identical to Microsoft Powerpoint. You can open most any PPT presentation from powerpoint.
  • Draw: This similar to Microsoft Visio. The graphics aren't in my opinion nearly as nice as in Visio, but... you can get graphics from anywhere... but I'd never suggest to do anything to infringe upon other software products. Enough said.
  • Base: This is somewhat similar to Microsoft Access. You can open Access databases with Base, but only the tables will import. As an advanced database programmer I was disappointed that the forms are not compatible... at this point. I'm holding out hope that at some point in the future this will be "fixed". In the meantime I'm still looking at base and may learn how to create forms and do all the things I do now with Access.
One other program that I relied on heavily from the Office Suite was OneNote. A beautiful and easy way to take and organize notes. There is a program in Linux that I love just as much, but that is for another article. One thing to remember is that no set of software is perfect and so easy that it can be mastered in one sitting. It took me 10 years and 5 versions of office to consider myself a power user and perhaps a SPE (software product expert) or SME (subject matter expert) so give yourself a break and take time to learn Open Office and it's own set of special features and tricks.

(1) a two year degree in computer science from the local junior college shouldn't be construed as being a computer expert by any means.

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