As Mister Spock would say, there are always “alternatives.” Does it bother you that Microsoft Office 2004 for the Mac costs almost as much as a Mac mini? Are there alternatives to Office?
The answers for Mac users: yes, and yes. One alternative is actually free.
Of course, there’s always AppleWorks. This venerable all-in-one application comes bundled on both the Mac mini and eMac. AppleWorks is a great application. Though it hasn’t been updated since 1871, there are no other ‘integrated’ applications that work as elegantly as AppleWorks.
Compare: AppleWorks is $79 from the Apple Store. Microsoft Office is $399.
How about iWork? The promise of iWork may not show up until Macworld 2006. For now, iWork consists of Pages (an attractive word processor with layout features), and Keynote (what Microsoft’s PowerPoint should be), the presentation application.
For now, iWork is missing a database module and a spreadsheet, so it’s no Microsoft Office killer. Yet.
What’s left? What can compete with Microsoft’s Office 2004 for Mac (remember that $399 price tag?)? True, there are word processors here and there. Spreadsheets, too. Even databases. And presentation applications.
Bundled into one package, is there a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program with drawing—that works like Microsoft Office? For less than $399?
Yes. NeoOffice/J. It’s Open Source. That means free. The surprise? NeoOffice/J works very well.
Need I remind you that the key to understanding how Open Source applications work, and the benefit you’ll get from using NeoOffice instead of Microsoft Office, is the need to understand your own needs.
Simply put, if your office or Mac must have 100-percent, no-gotcha, A-Number-One, Triple-Distilled, full compatibility with Microsoft Office, then cough up the nearly $400 and stop sweating. You still won’t be 100-percent compatible with Office (even the Windows Office versions are not 100-percent compatible with each other).
For $399 you’ll get close to full compatibility. For free, you’ll also get close. Why? The idea behind the Open Office project was to create file compatibility for Microsoft Office, and have enough features so that most people could benefit from, well, Open Source. Free.
Click to the NeoOffice site and you’ll be greeted with this—
“NeoOffice/J is a fully-featured set of office applications (including word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and drawing programs) for Mac OS X. Based on the OpenOffice.org office suite, NeoOffice/J has integrated dozens of native Mac features and can import, edit, and exchange files with other popular office programs such as MicrosoftTM Office.”
What that means is that NeoOffice is very much like Microsoft Office (Mac or Windows). There’s a word processor that reads and writes Microsoft Word files. Same with the spreadsheet; it reads and write Excel files.
Did I mention that NeoOffice is free? Do you really get what you pay for? In this case, of course, you get much more than you pay for.
I put NeoOffice through a test spin on my PowerMac. Start with the download. Then get lunch. The whole NeoOffice download weighs in at a whopping 120-megabytes. It’s worth the weight. Or wait.
“What are the negatives? NeoOffice looks more like Microsoft Office for Windows than for Mac. But everything you’d expect to be there is there. Buttons. Features. Except it’s free.”First, I used NeoOffice to open a bunch of my Microsoft Word files. A bunch. Some of there were rather complicated, but I certainly don’t take advantage of ALL the Word features (I’m betting that you don’t either).
Every Word file opened and displayed fine in NeoOffice.
Next up? Spreadsheets. I have some whopper spreadsheets with multiple pages in the work book. NeoOffice opened each one with no problem. I don’t doubt that there are some CPA firms with spreadsheets that would make Dan Bricklin choke, but mine opened and ran fine.
Finally, presentations. PowerPoint is the basic presentation standard. Apple’s Keynote is a worthy competitor. Most PowerPoint documents open fine in Keynote, and Keynote saves files in PowerPoint format. Mostly. Sometimes there’s an adjustment or two or three to make; as expected.
The same holds true with the presentation component of NeoOffice. It opened a number of PowerPoint documents with zero trouble. A few had to be modified as graphics had moved. Some transitions needed to be modified.
If your requirement is NOT 100-percent full-on, no-holds-barred compatibility with Microsoft Office, then you will be pleased with NeoOffice? Why?
It does word processing like Word. It does spreadsheets like Excel. It does presentations like PowerPoint. It works as advertised. It’s free.
The next to last summary you need is found on the NeoOffice home page: “Released as free, open-source software under the GNU General Public License (GPL), NeoOffice/J is fully functional and stable enough for everyday use. The software is actively developed, so improvements and small updates are made available on a regular basis.”
The last summary you need is a test drive. It’s free. Click Here to read the detail and download.
What are the negatives? NeoOffice looks more like Microsoft Office for Windows than for Mac. But everything you’d expect to be there is there. Buttons. Features. NeoOffice seems to like horsepower, so RAM is a must. So is Mac OS X (Panther or Tiger). There’s no email module similar to Entourage or Outlook (try Thunderbird).
As always, YMMV (your mileage may vary). If the $400 for Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac doesn’t bother you when the price of a brand new 512 meg Mac mini is only $99 more, then give NeoOffice/J a look.
It’s not Office, but it’s close. You’ll be impressed.