Open Office: like Microsoft, only free

openoffice1For years, PC users used Microsoft Office programs as a default option, and helped make Bill Gates very rich. Many PCs came with Office pre-installed,making it the path of least resistance. Despite their flaws, programs such as MS Word, Excel and Powerpoint went on to dominate the PC world.

In recent years a real option has taken shape, and it is free. Funded by Sun Microsystems, the Open Office suite includes the following elements (with the Microsoft equivalent after the colon).

  • Writer: Word

  • Calc: Excel

  • Impress: Powerpoint

  • Base: Access

  • Draw: Visio

  • Math: Equation Editor

For the vast majority of users, the Open Office programs are equivalent in features, stability and useability. Files are saved either in the native file type, in the equivalent Microsoft file type and many other options. Plugins are available for Microsoft users who wish to open files from the native Open Office formats. Neo Office is a Mac version of the Open Office suite.

Open Office reports that 100 million downloads of their software have been completed, with 50 million of version 3.0 alone. Open Office is popular with businesses and governments trying to cut IT costs.

As an open source suite of programs, Open Office hosts an community of programmers, who contribute coding and capabilities to the project.