A weekend with OpenOffice.org


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As I mentioned in my recent post about Time59, I had a short-notice brief writing project to do over the weekend. A new client called Wednesday and asked for a summary judgment motion that was due today. Since I have been dabbling in free and open-source software lately, I decided to use OpenOffice.org Writer to draft the brief.

OpenOffice.org (“OOo”) is a free and open-source suite of office software. It compares very favorably with Microsoft Office, although it does not include a personal information manager like Outlook. I have played with OOo before, but this was the first time I tried it in earnest. Primarily, I wanted to test its compatibility with Microsoft Word, which 90% of my contract clients use. Most of my clients will make some changes in my drafts before they finalize and file, so compatibility is very important.

First, OOo Writer is a pleasure to use. The only glaring annoyances are the word autocompletion feature, which always chooses the wrong word, but is easily switched off. The other is a Clippy-like lightbulb that pops up in the corner when it thinks you need help. I couldn’t figure out how to shut this feature off, but at least it didn’t keep popping in and criticizing my formatting like Clippy does in older versions of Office. Other than these things, OOo Writer has far fewer nanny-like features than Word. Even though the Ribbon is nice, I didn’t mind the older interface in OOo Writer. Although the ease of implementing styles in Word is far nicer.

The numbering in Writer takes a bit of getting used to, but in the end, it isn’t any worse than the numbering in Word. Neither works very well.

But as for compatibility, Writer was spot-on. I was using Word files rather than OOo’s XML-based .odt files. I expect OOo’s native format will be easily compatible with Word’s new XML-based format. But when saving to Word files, compatibility is perfect. I didn’t have a single glitch, mess-up tab, bad line break, or anything else when opening up the final draft in Word.

So now I am wondering why I bothered upgrading to Office 2007. I should have just bought Outlook 2007 and stuck with OOo for the rest.


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