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Testing the Open Source Waters

Is free software really worth it? One business owner describes his first experiences with OpenOffice.
July 28, 2005
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/200430

It was my fault--I admit it. I was cleaning my computer's file system, trying to speed it up a bit, when poof! My computer died. I was able to bring it back to life, but I lost a lot of programs I had to reinstall. Unfortunately, at some point during a move six months earlier, I had lost my Microsoft Office disk and now was in a bit of a jam: I was working on a project for a client, the deadline was coming up quickly, and it was too late to go to the store to buy another copy.

That's when I turned to Google. On a hunch, I searched for "Alternatives to Microsoft Office" and there I found OpenOffice.org. A quick read of OpenOffice's website revealed a program that's intended to be similar to Microsoft Office in look and feel, and that can read and save files in the Microsoft Office format, among others.

Here's the kicker: OpenOffice is free. Regardless of how many workstations you use the program on, it'll never cost your company a penny. Compare that to the cost of licensing Microsoft Office Professional for just five workstations: According to a sales associate at the online retailer CDW, that'll cost you upwards of $2,000.

Being convinced--and desparate--enough to give it a try, I went through the download and install procedures, which took only a few minutes using my cable modem. I was very pleased with what I found. There's a "Word"-like program, called Write, for drafting documents. There's also a spreadsheet program, called Calc, that's very similar to Excel and a presentation program called Impress that's similar to PowerPoint. There's also a program called Draw, which is comparable to Paint.

After I became more familiar with OpenOffice, I discovered many useful features that other business owners will appreciate:

Though it's easy to learn how to use the programs--and easy on any company's budget--OpenOffice does have some drawbacks:

Overall, OpenOffice provides users with a versatile office suite. Many small-business owners will find that the office suite is a gateway to the larger world of open source software. For instance, when you find that OpenOffice doesn't offer an Outlook-like e-mail service, you might soon discover Mozilla Thunderbird, another open source program that looks and acts very much like Outlook. Soon you may begin wondering why so many thousands of your business's hard-earned dollars went to software suites, when similar software is available for free on the internet.

Donald Carroll is the founder of Calvary Copywriting in Kansas City, Missouri. Specializing in the peculiarities of small to mid-sized businesses, Donald takes pride in helping the little guys fight big competition.