Review: OpenOffice.org is the best free productivity suite

Take advantage of a full-featured, top-quality business productivity suite that's also freeware.

Apache OpenOffice.org is the free open-source productivity suite that rivals Microsoft's Office suite, the business world's standard. OpenOffice.org is compatible with most Office documents and many other file types. Like Office, it's a collection of powerful tools, but you don't have to install all its modules. The latest version of OpenOffice.org supports Windows 8.

The OpenOffice.org installer's custom option lets users choose which Program Modules to install from Writer, Calc, Draw, Impress, Base, and Math, plus shared Optional Components. During setup, we chose to make OpenOffice.org our default program for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. OpenOffice.org comes with a lot of support in the form of Help files and other documentation as well as a huge community of users and developers. And, while its tools aren't Office clones, users who are familiar with Word, Excel, and other Office tools will find their OpenOffice.org counterparts easy to understand.

Clicking the OpenOffice.org icon produced a quick-start page that let us open documents, spreadsheets, formulas, and databases. We started with a new document in Writer, the suite's word processor. We quickly created a document and clicked Save to see our options. Writer offered 12 choices, including its proprietary ODF file format (.odt) as well as four Word standards, HTML, text, text encoded, and rich text. Not every format is completely compatible, though. Nevertheless, Writer offers as much as any top word processor. Impress is a presentation wizard, while Draw is a capable graphics editor. Calc is OpenOffice.org's Excel-compatible spreadsheet tool, and Base generates and accesses databases via the Database Wizard. Math is one of OpenOffice.org's advantages over Office: it's a standalone equation editor that can also insert formulas as objects into Writer.

One thing OpenOffice.org lacks that Office has is an integrated e-mail client like Outlook. But OpenOffice.org is compatible with a wide range of e-mail clients, including Mozilla Thunderbird, which many OpenOffice.org users recommend for use with the suite. Still, count us among those who'd like a fully integrated OpenOffice.org e-mail client. In any case, it's hard to find fault with anything OpenOffice.org does, especially since every bit of it is free.

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