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103. free office software suite

By Andrew D. Wright

Word or WordPerfect document. Excel spreadsheet. PowerPoint presentation. These are familiar terms for anyone who has worked in an office in the past fifteen years.

The software to produce these kinds of files can cost hundreds of dollars. is a completely free Open Source office software suite that not only can read and write to the various commercial office software file formats, but also natively writes to the now-standard OpenDocument Format. consists of six programs: Writer, for word processing; Calc, for spreadsheets; Impress, for presentations; Draw, for editing or creating graphics; Base, for using databases; and Math, for complex calculations and formulas.

International support is strong with 93 different languages supported to some degree. will run on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Solaris and FreeBSD operating systems. was originally a German commercial software package called StarOffice developed in the mid 1990s. Purchased by Sun Microsystems in 1999 in order to reduce their own in-house office software costs, the source code was made public a year later.

StarOffice still exists as a low-price commercial product from Sun but it's now based on the source code rather than the other way round, much like the way the Netscape web browser is now based on offshoot Mozilla's Firefox web browser source code.

Using is very similar to using any other office software package. The controls and options will be familiar to anyone with experience using other office software suites and there are online support forums and documentation.

Files created by other office software programs can be opened in and will look almost identical to the way they looked in the original program. Since the original commercial file formats are proprietary, meaning the details of the format are not public, there can be some minor differences in appearance and some files may need to be modified slightly to look the way they did in the original program.

It can take up to a minute for Calc to open complex spreadsheets created by other software. Macros, or scripts designed to automate repetitive tasks, are currently not well supported though work on improving this situation is ongoing. prefers to save files using the OpenDocument Format or ODF, an open international standard that is designed to make it easier to access structured information such as document files and spreadsheets.

Governments and corporations around the world are switching over to the ODF standard since it means that information is not locked away in proprietary data formats only some programs can understand.

In particular the archiving of information so that future software might easily access it is a driving force behind the growing movement towards ODF. Even Microsoft is now joining the bandwagon by paying for the development of an ODF plugin for Microsoft Word. is a free download about 100 MB in size. The software is updated every three months with the next due in March 2007. The present version, 2.1, has no currently exploited software vulnerabilities.

ODF converter for Microsoft Word XP/2003/2007:

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Originally published 25 February 2007


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