Love it or hate it, one of the most popular software packages for Mac users is Microsoft’s Office for Mac. Mac Office ranges in price from about $150 to nearly $500.
Is there a suitable alternative? Yes. Open Office, popular for many years as an Office substitute on Windows PCs, is now looking great on the Mac, complete with a great price tag. Uh, that’s no price tag, as in free.
The latest version of Open Office is grown up, attractive, fast, loaded with features, and comes to Mac users ready to compete with your need for Microsoft Office compatibility but with a price you can afford.
There are basic reasons why Mac users go for the expense and complexity of Microsoft Office. There’s an overriding need to be file compatible with Office on Windows.
After all, if everyone else uses Office for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations, via Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, why should you want anything else?
Good question. The answer is rather simple, but starts with a few questions. Do you need full compatibility with Office? Can you afford the $150 to almost $500 price tag?
If you say no to either question, Open Office may be an excellent choice to replace Microsoft Office. Open Office 3 no longer requires X11 on OS X, so it’s faster, more attractive, and more feature compatible with Microsoft’s Office than previous versions.
How compatible? Open Office 3 reads and writes documents saved by Microsoft Office 2007 or 2008 in a variety of file formats, including, but not limited to older formats and the newer .docx, .xlsx, .pptx formats. It can also read and write documents using the increasingly popular OpenDocument Format (ODF).
The only thing missing is an email component to match Microsoft’s Entourage, though Apple’s Mail, iCal, and Address Book do a good job already.
Open Office 3 starts with a Start Center and, for the first time, ever, it looks like it was made for Mac users. The icons are attractive, simple, self descriptive, and uniform.
Start by clicking on an icon for Text Document, Presentation, Database, SpreadSheet, Drawing, or Templates. Or, open a file already on your Mac.
The Text Document component is called Writer, which brings up a rather busy word processing document, not wholly unlike Word, yet with a little less clutter. Every Word document I tried on Open Office worked fine, with few formatting changes required.
Experienced Office users will know that Mac Office is not fully compatible with Windows Office, but close enough that most documents look the same on both platforms.
Writer has a tool bar across the top which is loaded with tool icons, each of which displays a hint when your mouse pointer nears the icon.
The Spreadsheet component is called Calc, and looks remarkably similar to Excel, though the tool bar really looks like Writer. This version of Open Office supports up to 1,024 columns in a spreadsheet, complete with sharing options for multiple users who need to work on a single workbook.
Impress is the Open Office equivalent of PowerPoint. Draw is the drawing component for creating and modifying graphic elements.
Office Mac users don’t have a database equivalent to Windows Access, but Open Office comes with a database, creatively titled Base. You can create a database, or follow the Wizard to create a new database.
Open Office’s template section lets you start with pre-built templates for databases, drawing, spreadsheets, presentations, text documents, labels and business cards.
I’ve been using every component of Open Office for the past two days and so far it’s performed nearly flawlessly. For both Excel and Word documents, I had to make a few formatting changes from Mac Office files.
The new Open Office also has support for some Visual Basic documents. I prefer to use Apple’s Keynote to Office PowerPoint, but Open Office opened PPT files with each, though, again, some elements required reformatting and repositioning.
What do you get for free? Open Office is a good substitute for Microsoft Office, Mac or Windows. The Mac version looks, feels, and behaves like a Mac application suite.
The price tag, free as in open source, cannot be beat. The only real negative is that Open Office 3 for the Mac requires your Mac to be an Intel version. Sorry, no PPC.