Many new computers come with either Microsoft Works or a time limited version of Microsoft Office pre-installed. So most users will have tried the Microsoft products and not even thought about using a similar package from another company. OK, I was as guilty of this as everyone else. Until, that is I was sent a copy of StarOffice 6 as part of my Open University Course Software. As it was free, I thought, what the heck and installed it, and can honestly say, I haven't used the Microsoft equivalent since.
So What Is StarOffice?
StarOffice is an open source office suite, that consists of :
* Word Processor
* Presentation Program
* A Drawing Tool
* Spread Sheet
In fact almost the same applications as you would get in the Microsoft version.
The really nice thing about Star Office, is that along with it's own format, it can open and save documents in the Microsoft format. This means that other people will be able to open your work, and you will be able to open theirs, even though you are using different software.
To install and use this program your computer will need to meet at least the following requirements:
Pentium compatible processor
64MB RAM (128MB recommended)
200MB Free Hard Drive Space
The program also works on the Linux and Sun Solaris platforms, but I'm unsure of the specifications required for these. (If anyone who is using it on these platforms, wants to give me that info, I will happily include it)
The computer I actually installed it on had the following specifications:
Athlon 2600+ processor
100gig Free Hard Drive Space
Installation was a simple if somewhat lengthy affair. My copy was on a CD and I simply browsed to the installation program, and double clicked it. You can also get the most upto date version by download from Sun, but I'm not exactly how this would work.
Installation actually took just over 10 minutes on my reasonably fast computer, so I would imagine that if you're using one that's nearer to the minimum requirements it could, in theory, take even longer.
I have only had limited use of most of the programs in the Microsoft Office suite, except perhaps Word, but as it is the most popular office suite, I will try to use it as a comparison (with what knowledge I do have)
The Word Processor (Writer)
While not looking quite as fancy as the Microsoft version, it is certainly full-featured and has much the same feel. Having previously used word, I found it very easy to begin writing documents. It features a spellchecker, that while not quite complete, does a reasonable job and you can always add the unknown word to the dictionary. There is also a thesaurus, for those times that you feel you've used a word too many times, or want to sound cleverer or even more adroit than you are.
* Adroit was found using said thesaurus.
One thing, that it does not feature is a grammar checker, but never having used it in word, its not something I actually miss. Other than that it appears to have all the same features as word, including, formatting, tables, fonts, colours and even that annoying office assistant.
So to sum up, a nice full-featured word processor.
The Presentation Program (Impress)
Having never used Microsoft's version, I cannot make any direct comparison here. I did however find it very simple to make a slideshow, when I tried. Again, there is nothing fancy, and the colour schemes available weren't all that impressive, but it was simple and intuitive to use.
The Spread Sheet (Calc)
On opening this, you will notice how similar it is in appearance, both to excel, and StarOffice's word processing program. To my eyes, it has all the same functionality as Excel. But I am not a business user, all I have produced are calendars and a list of the DVDs I own. These however came out very nicely, thank you, and it was easy to add nice colour schemes.
This is an excellent graphics program, which puts the Microsoft module to shame. Not only is it integrated into the word processor and presentation programs, but it is also a standalone program. While you can do everything that you can in word with graphics, IE. create shapes, lines etc., you can also import and modify graphics such as your own photos.
Help and Support
The suite has a very comprehensive help function, which covers all aspects of the suite. And if you don't find what you're looking for offline, Sun offers excellent online support, including a knowledge base, patches and a forum at http://www.sun.com/supportraining/
StarOffice 6 is available at amazon for £20 used, while the newer version StarOffice 7 costs £58.38 (inc. delivery) from eBuyer. I, however received my copy free as part of a course.
Also available on-line at http://www.sun.com/software/star/staroffice/get/download.html
For $39.95 US (remember you will have to add any charges your card will make for currency conversion to the total).
Schools can, however, receive this program for free via download.
This is a low cost alternative to Microsoft Office, and one that works extremely well. I ditched Word after using this, and the review that you are reading was composed on StarOffice Writer. I would recommend this program, to home and small business users, as well as those who use the Linux platform. It is a truly, compatible program that allows you to share your final documents not only when using different programs, but also over different platforms.