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.
OpenOffice 2 supports the OpenDocument Format (ODF), an open-source file format with the ambitious goal of replacing Microsoft Office's formats as the workplace standard. StarOffice 8 supports ODF too; Microsoft Office 2003 does not. Does it matter? Not yet. While the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has mandated support for ODF, most business and home users neither require the benefits nor want the headache of dealing with another file format.
So what's it going to be, OpenOffice or StarOffice? Businesses that want professional-caliber support and superior administration tools should opt for StarOffice. But for small-business and home users who don't mind combing bulletin boards for support tips, OpenOffice is a solid, money-saving alternative.
Because it's open source, OpenOffice relies entirely upon peer support, so you're out of luck if you were hoping for a company rep to walk you through a puzzling question via a toll-free call or an online forum. Luckily, OpenOffice has an enthusiastic developer community. The OpenOffice Web site includes community-written tutorials and manuals, including installation and usage guides for individual applications. These tutorials are well written but lack screenshots to illustrate the tasks being explained. Community support, frankly, is hit or miss. We browsed the mailing list archive and saw posts from users seeking help. Most had one or two replies from fellow users, but it was often unclear if they solved the original poster's problem. Such is the nature of free, community-supported software.