If you’re thinking about buying the latest version of Microsoft Office, it’s going to cost you $399 for each PC you own (or $239 if you qualify for an upgrade from an older version). If you need at least five copies, you might qualify for some kind of volume discount, but even then you’ll probably still pay $200 plus per license. For a 25-person shop, that’s somewhere in the $5,000 dollar range. Or, you can forget Microsoft altogether and install OpenOffice — a free office productivity suite that runs on all major platforms — and use your money for more pressing needs.
You can either download OpenOffice (a 64MB file), or buy the CDs from one of the dozens places listed on the site. For example, 123Linux.net, offers the CD for $4.95 and an OpenOffice tutorial book for $31.95.
Pick an OS — Any OS
Note that you don’t have to use the Linux operating system to run Open Office. It runs perfectly on Windows or Mac too, as well as other operating systems. For the purposes of this article, though, we we’ll assume you have Windows XP on your computer. The following instructions below pretty much apply to other versions of Windows. You can find more detailed instructions in the OpenOffice help files and user documentation, or at OpenOffice.org. If you run into any problems, these sources will answer just about every OpenOffice question you can think of.
Let the Installation Begin
If you’re downloading over a dial-up line, prepare for a two-hour wait. It takes less than 10 minutes using DSL or cable. When the download finishes, Windows Explorer automatically opens and you’ll see one folder that has a long-winded name that usually starts with “OOO” (the name may vary depending on its source).
The folder contains compressed zip files so you have extract or unzip them. With XP, it’s easy as a wizard tells you what to do and it only takes a few seconds. At worse, for anyone with an aging version of Windows, you may have to download WinZip of some other extraction program. But you probably already have something that can do it on your computer.
Double-click on the file and you’ll see a screen filled with hundreds of files. Ignore them and scroll down to the bottom. There you’ll find files called Read Me, Set Up Guide and the most important one, setup. There may be two called setup. If so, double click the one with a computer monitor icon above it.
Once you get through the registration and licensing screens (which takes a couple of minutes), you are offered a choice:
- Standard Installation.
This is the default installation of 179 MB. It’s recommended for regular computer users. If you want the least hassle, click this one. But read about the other options before you decide.
- Minimum Installation. The minimum installation only installs those components needed to run the application. This option does not install the Help file or most of the sample documents and templates. But it does give you the basic applications such as:
- Custom Installation. Here you have the choice of all the Open Office applications as well as a bunch of optional components that you can probably safely ignore for now. If you decide you need things later, it’s a simple matter of going back and installing them. My advice — stick to the programs you actually need. If you never use spreadsheets or presentations, for example, why download them?
Writer: a decent word processor. Some people say it’s better than MS Word.
Calc: the OpenOffice spreadsheet program and a replacement for MS Excel.
Impress: a presentation program that replaces MS PowerPoint.
Draw: a two- and three-dimensional drawing program that many people rate more highly than the same functions within MS Office.
Note: OpenOffice does not have a counterpart to MS Access.
To deselect applications, click on the royal blue arrows of the programs you don’t want (they’ll turn pale blue), and just leave a royal blue arrow beside Writer. You can also de-select the arrows beside the help documentation if you never read such material. Deselecting applications reduces the size of the program considerably. Most people should install the documentation, as you’ll likely need it when it comes to specific functions within the various OpenOffice programs.
And although the designers were smart enough to keep it very similar to MS Office, there are a few peculiarities that don’t quite work the same way.
I suggest you choose the Custom Installation to avoid a nasty surprise. When you load either the standard or minimum versions, all the word documents on your computer appear as though they have been converted to OpenOffice documents — it’s only a cosmetic change as the underlying files remain exactly the same, but unless you choose the Custom install, your computer will automatically default to OpenOffice documents.
If you want to play it safe and run OpenOffice alongside MS Office until you become familiar with it, pay close attention during the Custom installation process. There’s a screen that asks you if you want your files to automatically default to all the OpenOffice document formats. Don’t select them if you want everything on MS Office to stay as before.
Save it in Word
The biggest issue to be aware of is the format for OpenOffice files (.sxw). I don’t recommend using it for the simple fact of exchangeability. If you send a file ending in .sxw to anyone who doesn’t have OpenOffice, they won’t be able to open it. Instead, when you save a document, select Save As and look for Save as Type at the bottom of the screen. Select Microsoft Word — the de facto standard for business documents — and feel safe knowing that now anyone can read the documents you send. Your printer will also thank you for selecting Word, as most printers are configured to accept Word and not OpenOffice files.
Spend a few days getting familiar with OpenOffice. Pretty soon you’ll discover that it has no real liabilities. Begin exchanging documents with customers and friends, and they won’t notice the difference. Once everyone in the office is familiar with the programs, you can uninstall MS Office and save yourself a bundle on licensing or renewal fees.
Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow’s Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.
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