OpenOffice.org offers a suite alternative

If you're thrifty and you use an office suite, it's hard not to like OpenOffice.org. Version 1 does most things Microsoft Office can do. Plus, it's free. So what's to improve?

OpenOffice.org 2, still in beta, adds a database-creation application similar to Microsoft Access. Otherwise, many of the changes are small tweaks that probably won't radically alter the way you work.

In addition to Base, the database app, OpenOffice.org 2 includes Writer (a word processor), Calc (a spreadsheet application), Impress (a presentation program), Math (a tool for creating mathematical formulas), and Draw (a nifty drawing program). The beta is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems. I tested the Windows version; see also our take on the Linux one.

The suite's developers seem to have tried to make Base look and act just like Access -- unfortunate, since Access is so frequently baffling. A better plan might have been to create a database application similar to FileMaker Pro -- that is, not like Access but much easier to use.

As for the tweaks, Calc now supports as many rows of data as Excel does, eliminating one problem for serious number crunchers. And if, heaven forbid, you're a fan of transitions and sounds in between your slides, you'll love that Impress now has buckets of them.

While OpenOffice.org 2 certainly includes features worth having, the version I tested remains a work in progress. I experienced several crashes, and the file-recovery system had some glitches.

But once a final edition of version 2 is released (there's no firm schedule), you may doubt the wisdom of paying US$300+ for Microsoft Office.

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Edward N. Albro

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