Back in February, I decided Office 2007 (with the exception of Outlook) was good, but not great. Soon after, I decided to make the switch to OpenOffice.org entirely. By May, I had switched most of my templates to OOo (you don’t have to do this, but for reasons I have already discussed, the Open Document Format is superior to Microsoft’s formats), and since then, I haven’t looked back.

Why I left Microsoft Office 2007

I left Microsoft Office 2007 because it really didn’t do anything to enhance my practice. The new style implementations are great, but it took me forever to get my own styles set up, and the built-in styles are worthless even for kindergarten book reports. Even when I did get my own styles set up, it was a pain to implement them across templates.

There is also the problem of the outdated .doc format and proprietary .docx format. I have already discussed some of these problems, and in the end, I decided to go with Open Document Format. I think its longevity prospects are better, and it is far easier to implement, meaning that it will be easier to migrate to different software any time I feel like switching.

All in all, I just didn’t like it very much, and OOo looked like the better choice in the long run.

Using OpenOffice.org

Overall, OOo handles a lot like Office 2003. The menus in particular have a similar feel. OOo Writer does emphasize styles a bit more, especially in bulleted lists and to create things like page numbers only on pages after the first. This is a good thing, as it puts control back in the hands of the user. Fortunately, I discovered this OOo blog, which has a wealth of information on adjusting to OOo’s quirks.

OOo Calc, the spreadsheet program, works pretty much like Excel, and I found it an easy transition. Most of the basic formulas and spreadsheet operators are exactly the same as in Excel. I have heard some say that Calc is less useful for more complex work, but I am just adding up columns for timekeeping and billing, so I don’t need those extra functions. Most (even accountants, apparently) won’t even notice a difference between Calc and Excel.

OOo Impress is the slide creator, similar to Powerpoint. Linux.com recently did a side-by-side comparison of the two. I agree that Impress is perfectly adequate for building slideshows. Although slideshows still need to be converted to .ppt files for playing on strange computers, Impress (and all the OOo apps) is perfectly compatible with Powerpoint’s native file format.

Room for improvement

OOo (with the exception of Outlook) is a full replacement for Office, and then some. But Office 2007 is just a bit more polished across the board. This is to be expected, though. Open source software generally focuses on functionality, not aesthetics, although this is changing.

As a result, everything is prettier in Office 2007. The fonts render smoother, the text looks better, and it is just nicer visually to work in Office 2007. This is especially true for Powerpoint, true for Word, and negligible for Excel.

I still prefer working with Powerpoint for slides. It is just a nicer place to work, and the built-in templates are much better than those in Impress. Further, compatibility with strange computers is very important for slideshows, and unless and until the Open Document Format for slideshows becomes popular, slideshows still need to be finished in Powerpoint format.

I also prefer working in Word when using the editing and track changes features. Writer has all the same capabilities in this respect, but Word implements them far better. This is really only important when it comes to editing and grading my moot court students’ assignments. Otherwise, editing with other attorneys is usually limited to redlining settlement agreements or amended pleadings, and Writer is perfectly adequate. So I use Word about four times a year for grading. I also use it on the occasions when I get something in .docx format. But this is rare at the moment, and future versions of OOo will support .docx, so this need should not last long.

For me, Calc doesn’t have any deficiencies as compared with Excel. I have not started Excel in at least six months, and do not anticipate the need to do so in the future.

Will I go back?

Nope. I don’t see any reason to. The only reason I still use Office 2007 is for editing my students’ papers. And that is a matter of mild preference, not worth the high price tag of the Office 2007 software. When my wife’s company “upgrades” to Office 2007, I plan to uninstall my copy and give it to her so she can use it for work (although Writer and Word are perfectly compatible, there is some awkwardness in switching between the two, so I think it is better to stick with what your company uses if you will be sharing documents with coworkers). From then on, I will be OOo-only.

For those looking for another flavor, IBM recently released Lotus Symphony (beta), a free office suite based on OOo with some changes and additional features. I have not installed Symphony yet, but I am planning to give it a test run and compare it to Office 2007 and OOo in the near future.

*I am still deciding what to use for a PIM post-Outlook, but I think I will use some combination of Thunderbird and Sunbird or Lightning, if the latter projects continue to move forward.