Monday, September 06, 2004

OpenOffice: For Compatibility's Sake

Michelle Jackson, writing in today's (9/6/04) Boston Globe, opens her recommendation of OpenOffice, a free, open source suite of office tools, including a robust word processor, with this story:
Hoping to get some work done on a recent train trip to New York, I kicked back, opened my laptop, and clicked on Microsoft Excel. Up popped a prompt asking for the original program disk. Same thing with Word and PowerPoint. Nothing would run. Who the heck travels with their original program disks? I was dead in the water, left with nothing to do but play solitaire. That evening, I went online from my hotel room and did a quick search for ''alternatives to Microsoft Office" that turned up an interesting option: OpenOffice. And it was free.
Jackson goes on to describe how well OpenOffice worked. For those who aren't power users of Microsoft's Office Suite, who don't use its advanced features, Open Office is a fine substitute. For most writing teachers and most students in most writing courses, power using isn't necessary.

Open Office is something you can point your students to when everyone is using MS Word, but you have one or two students who have other word processors (AppleWorks on their iMac, for example). Yes, you can teach students how to save in Rich Text Format (and they should learn how to do this), but having Open Office is a good back up for when students forget. It's also useful for the student who doesn't have Word because even if every one in your class always remembers to save as RTF before sending a file to a classmate, those students will receive lots of Word documents from other sources.

Jackson also talks about Easy Office, which can also be had for free. It's a bit more robust, but it comes with a "nag screen," a screen that asks you to upgrade to for sale version with more features and abilities. Of the two options, I'd go with Open Office. It will cover what students need to do in most writing courses. With either Open or Easy, you can order a CDROM instead of trying to download the software over the Net. There's a small fee for pressing and shipping the CDR, but if you have a dial up connection, it's still a very inexpensive option.

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