Is Open Office a viable alternative to Microsoft Office? The short answer is maybe. If you don’t need to share files with anyone else, and you only generate documents for yourself, then Open Office may work for you.
I just recently installed it to get around a Microsoft problem. But unfortunately, it is not compatible with Microsoft Office documents. They claim to read and write Office files, but in reality, it does not work correctly.
If you open a powerpoint file in Open Office Impress (the presentation software), it butchers the PowerPoint, and you'll have to move every element on every slide around. It also doesn't support the nice shading that PowerPoint does. Then when you save the file, and open it back up in PPt, everything is messed up.
Same goes for Word and Excel files. Open Office software is great, if you don't need compatibility with anyone else, or if you don't want great looking documents, or if you don't use any other computers that have Microsoft Office loaded. But if you want great looking documents, Microsoft Office is better. The newest version has fantastic drop shadows and the animation is much smoother than Open Office.
If you need to share documents with other people, Microsoft Office is the way to go, since most people already have it. If you need to use other computers that already have Microsoft Office loaded, you don't want to learn how to use 2 different office suites. All the menus are totally different as well many of the keyboard shortcuts. I really wanted Open Office to work, but the above requirements rule out Open Office. Sometimes you just get what you pay for.
Here are some examples of Open Office butchering Microsoft Office files.
The first is PowerPoint vs OO Impress. The sample file is from a class that I occasionally teach to other agents in our system, Better Real Estate Photography. I skipped the intro slide.
I opened the file up in PowerPoint 2007 and did a simple print screen of the next 2 slides. They look great. Then I opened up the same file in Impress 2.4 (latest version) and did a print screen of the same 2 slides. You’ll notice that the fonts are different, much larger in Impress. This makes the text fall off the bottom of the slide. Also, you’ll notice that the first letters of each sentence is missing. Makes it hard to read.

The next slide also has issues. You’ll notice that the nice faded drop shadows behind the photos are ugly boxes in Impress. Also, for some reason, Impress chose to renumber my bullet points from 1,2,3,4 to a strange 3,5,7,4 numbering scheme. I don’t know why. They are standard bullets in PowerPoint, nothing special.It also lost the outdent that I have set in PPT.

Next I opened a file in Excel, two files actually. This graph uses data from a separate spreadsheet using the indirect function. Apparently OO Calc does not like the indirect function. Therefore the graph is blank. You can see on the data sheet, that there are errors in every cell due to the indirect function not working.

Now I opened a standard BPO form that was created by someone else. I downloaded this form from NRT. Note in Word, you can tab through the fields and enter data one field by one field. It also fits onto 2 pages. In OO Writer, the tab field thing is gone. You can’t enter data by tabbing through fields. Also, it changes the table row size so that the forms don’t fit onto 2 pages anymore. Now it’s 4 pages.

Next I tried opening one of my brochures created in Publisher. Oh, Open Office does not have a publisher equivalent. In fact, it none of its apps can open a publisher file.
Yes, I am running the latest version of Microsoft Office 2007, and I do save the files in the “Office 97-2003” format for compatibility reasons. I can open almost all of my files on my other computers running Office 200 and Office 2003 and have no problems with the formatting. I cannot say the same for Open Office 2.4 (the latest version). I’ve tried many files and most of them have some formatting issue. If Open Office is the only program you use, and you don’t need to share files with anyone else, it may work fine for you.
I’m not the biggest fan of Microsoft, in fact I wish there were other options. I know Office has its problems, but Microsoft Office works, and it works well. It’s not even that expensive. When you buy a computer, you can usually add the OEM version of Office Small Business Edition for something like $279. That’s what I do. That’s my 2¢. Take it for what it’s worth.

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