OpenOffice 2 is an undeniable bargain. This robust, free productivity suite offers full-featured word-processing, spreadsheet, database, and presentation apps--and it won't cost you or your business a dime. Too often, freeware carries a you-get-what-you-pay-for caveat, but OpenOffice is the real deal and a solid alternative to Microsoft Office 2003, particularly for small-office or home users who don't mind browsing online forums for product support. OpenOffice reads and writes Microsoft Office files--albeit imperfectly--and it supports multiple operating systems, including GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Sun Solaris, and Windows. Still, while Sun and its allies are far from creating a multiplatform suite that ends the market domination of Microsoft Office, they've made OpenOffice an inexpensive alternative that's worth a look.
OpenOffice 2 is the open-source version of Sun Microsystems'desktop suite, which costs between $70 and $100. In 2000, Sun made the StarOffice source code publicly available and invited the open-source community to join Sun's developers in shaping future upgrades. has more extras, including additional presentation backgrounds and clip art, as well as better administration and Microsoft Office-migration tools.
At first glance, OpenOffice 2 and StarOffice 8 are identical. The core applications in each suite (Base, Calc, Draw, Impress, and Writer) have matching interfaces, but you'll find differences as you dig deeper. Take the Impress presentations program, for instance: StarOffice provides more than 70 visual backgrounds in its Presentation Wizard, while OpenOffice has only three. StarOffice also comes with more than 1,800 clip-art graphics, while OpenOffice provides less than half that number (though you can download more at the Open Clip Art Library). And only StarOffice provides a variety of tools for administration and Microsoft Office migration.
Like StarOffice, OpenOffice lets you save documents as PDF files--a handy feature for sending read-only files via e-mail, and one not found in Microsoft Office 2003. The Calc spreadsheet in version 2 can handle spreadsheets as large as 65,536 rows (same as Excel), which is great for importing huge Excel files.