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April 4, 2009 2:04 AM   Subscribe

Experiences with StarOffice?

I'm thinking of switching from Office to StarOffice. The problem is, I have to mail word docs to people every day, and they have to be able to read those files hassle free. Also, I have to be able to work on them, save them and retrieve them hassle free.

I found an old thread back from 04 where StarOffice and OpenOffice were discussed, and there seemed to be a number of glitches still. I was wondering if those had been ironed out in the meantime.

I am not so much interested in the philosophical and moral qualities of the product (it's open, it's free, it's not evil MS, that sort of thing). Just the mundane: "does it work like MS office?" stuff.
posted by NekulturnY to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It depends very much on the particulars of the documents you're mailing, in particular the degree of formatting and how critical it is.

Is there a reason why downloading, installing and testing out OpenOffice while still keeping MS Office installed is not an option for you?
posted by Busy Old Fool at 2:18 AM on April 4, 2009

Response by poster: I will probably do just that, Busy Old Fool, but first I'd like to hear some opinions from other users. To know what to expect, I guess.
posted by NekulturnY at 2:23 AM on April 4, 2009

I've been using StarOffice/OpenOffice since, hmm. Since 2000, which is a lot longer than I thought. And at the same time, I have worked in offices that have used MS Office 2000, 2003 and 2007. I've always been able to pass Word documents between home and work, including some where spacing was fairly important. The problems I've run into most frequently tend to revolve around document margins, which can vary a little between the two programs. I've done Excel workbooks and Powerpoint presentations as well, again without much problem, but most of my focus has been on Word.

There are a few considerations with going from MS Office to OpenOffice. First: are you doing a lot of sending documents back and forth with people who use a lot of MS Office 2007 features? OpenOffice will open docx, xlsx, pptx and other MS Office 2007 files, but it has to save them as 2003 doc/xls/ppt files. These are, of course, readable in Office 2007, but there may be some newer features that get lost in translation. If they are really into MS Office 2007, that might present a problem for you. Second: are you dealing with really complex VBA code? That might also be an issue.

If the answer to both questions is "no" then I think OpenOffice would be fine for you. The UI is a little different, but nothing major, and people with MS Office should be able to open your documents without a hitch. I'd certainly advise trying it yourself first, but I wouldn't anticipate major issues.
posted by graymouser at 3:10 AM on April 4, 2009

I've been using Staroffice/OpenOffice (Currently using OpenOffice 3.0) for years and for the most part it works just fine. However, do the recipients have to modify them, or just read them? If they only need to read, one of the things I LOVE with OpenOffice is the export as PDF feature. Works like a charm and that's one way to guarantee your recipient sees it formatted like you wanted it to be. I send people exported PDF versions of my documents all the time and everyone's happy.
posted by barc0001 at 3:33 AM on April 4, 2009

Re-reading my comment, it makes it sound like OpenOffice is flaky when it comes to saving formatting in other formats, and generally that's not the case, it works just fine for the most part. Sometimes with exotic formatting things get a bit screwy though. I mentioned the PDF thing because it's one way to guarantee what you see is what they get, with no quirks.
posted by barc0001 at 3:35 AM on April 4, 2009

I switched over this year from Excel to OpenOffice Spreadsheet when version 3 came out. My subjective experience is that it can functionally do everything that Excel can and maybe a bit more, but where the Office suite has a poor interface, Star/Open has a terrible interface. Formatting cells for currency types turned into a straight-up human-as-machine grind with no apparent way of filtering hojillions of options or setting better defaults (there may be a way of doing this, but it was not discoverable by me in the time available for my spreadsheet tasks amongst OpenOffice's security-through-obscurity approach to having a setting for everything and nested settings for everything inside the settings for everything). It has that OSS-written-in-Java "runs on any OS, doesn't conform to human interface guidelines on any of them" feel that gives a sense of hard-to-nail-down unease and distance from the UI, like you're sort of throwing a user behavior into the void and curious to see what comes back out of it. I detest waiting for the JVM to start up and start being a resource pig on first run after restart (this is also why I ditched Jira in favor of Redmine – it could just be a pet peeve of mine).

Upsides: free, open, real bug reporting and public security-issue information, great functionality, helps break an ill-earned monopoly that is harmful to the technological ecosystem and consequently harmful to many unrelated industries and endeavors. They need to find a seasoned UI designer who is willing to battle it out with the coders over how to expose deep functionality (there are more options than "all at once" and "via many levels of hiding – er – hierarchy"), and probably pay him or her in actual folding money for doing that thankless task, and then they can take over the world. I realize that the usual response to this is "it's open, port it like NeoOffice" but if the original codebase UI would be a good one, even the ports would be way better than they are.

I also got my spouse using the Word replacement for a while, but she got too many complaints from co-workers that they couldn't open her files and after one unsuccessful round of "ask them if they can open this one", she requested that Word be re-installed, and I'm not the kind of spousal geek who argues with such requests. Thing is, I don't know if that happened because there are so many not-that-cross-compatible Word file versions floating around, or because OpenOffice was doing something unhelpful (maybe there was a "be nicer" checkbox that I overlooked somewhere), because the "I couldn't open your file" reports were not very descriptive, and it would not have been cool for me to make Mrs. YTMS's co-workers give repeated bug reports until we got it right. I suspect it is probably more about the Word file formats. I'm only telling this story because the extra layer of compatibility mystery that using OpenOffice brought to the table was the precise thing that resulted in it going in the circular file, unfair as that may be, and it is what you are asking about.

Overall: after using Spreadsheet for an entire project, the reptilian part of my brain that doesn't want to stop, ponder, and scroll through a million keyholed options while interacting with a UI is trying to overrule my higher functions that want to support such a huge and difficult OSS project while simultaneously giving the finger to MS. It is anxiously requesting that I reinstall Excel. We'll see.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 4:03 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sorry, the spreadsheet thing is called Calc, not Spreadsheet.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 4:09 AM on April 4, 2009

Like others have said open office is good if you want to read office docs with not much formatting but when the document contains a lot of office 2003/2007 formatting it can screw up the document.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:28 AM on April 4, 2009

I've used OpenOffice since before 2000. I love it. I do work mostly solo, but on the occasion of needing to work with .doc and .docx files I've never had a problem. (Feel free to sent me some mefi-mail if you have more questions).

Two comments about YTMS's comment:

setting better defaults
This is done, usually, through templates. OpenOffice has a lot of options, and it really can be a pain to sort everything out to your liking (I find this to be true with any sophisticated program). By creating and setting your own default template you only have do that work once. The settings become the painless, automatic default from then on.

she got too many complaints from co-workers that they couldn't open her files
Of course, there could be a few reasons for this. One reason could be a user's occasional memory lapse about saving in (or forwarding) the correct file format. This has an easy solution. OpenOffice can be set to use Word files as its default format. So, that it automatically saves as .doc.
posted by oddman at 7:28 AM on April 4, 2009

- Man, I couldn't disagree more, YTMS. Having used Open Office for years, I find Excel to be mysterious and I can never find the function that I'm looking for. Want to change the margins? In Excel, that's under File>Page Setup. Open Office has it under Format>Page, which makes a hell of a lot more sense, if you ask me. (I'm not performing file operations, just changing the formatting)

- As stated above, if you share docs with co-workers a lot, and they're all locked into word, then Word may be a better choice. For that, blame MS for doing their damndest to make their products incompatible with everyone else. I use it full time, and generally send out documents in PDF format, because people rarely need to edit my stuff.

- Simple text documents work great, even moving back and forth between programs. However, if you get fancy, with embedded media, macros, or other advanced stuff, it's a crapshoot. Whether OOo is right for you depends largely on whether these caveats apply to you.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:35 AM on April 4, 2009

OpenOffice can be set to use Word files as its default format. So, that it automatically saves as .doc.

This was the first step I took when I switched her app, and the first thing I verified when the complaints came in. They were definitely file formats that were meant to be Word-compatible, but as I said, there are a few reasons why it might not have worked besides OO itself. The problem is only that OO adds an extra X-factor to those situations, so if you do a type of work in which people would consider it unprofessional to repeatedly send out incompatible Word docs, you might find yourself wondering how to proceed if you get more than a couple of those "couldn't open" complaints. If you work with technical folks it might be OK to ask for a few troubleshooting attempts, but if you work with people who are technophobes-as-a-class (doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc) it could be a stressor. I know not all persons in those careers are technophobes, before anyone schools me.

Man, I couldn't disagree more, YTMS. Having used Open Office for years, I find Excel to be mysterious and I can never find the function that I'm looking for. Want to change the margins? In Excel, that's under File>Page Setup. Open Office has it under Format>Page, which makes a hell of a lot more sense, if you ask me. (I'm not performing file operations, just changing the formatting)

Oh yeah, Excel also has a poor UI. For me, OO's was much worse and for reasons I'm subjectively more irked by, but I'm definitely not going to fly the flag for the awesomeness of MS interaction design, which is something I always imagine coming from a dude in a dark room chuckling and muttering "they're never gonna see this coming."

I think that at the end of the day, the simple things I'm doing with spreadsheets use more of the Excel default settings and fewer of the OO ones. Furthermore, none of the Office or OO applications are very close to my main line in terms of work – they are all here-and-there tasks I have to crank out in compressed timeframes and then not think about until next time, so I have a hard limit for how much futzing I consider healthy before I have to admit that it's stealing time from higher-priority stuff. But you know, there are a lot of users like me out there, so making OO a nice experience for us would be a worthy and productive design goal.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 8:54 AM on April 4, 2009

I tested Open Office vs. Word a year ago and reluctantly decided to stay with Word because (at the time, at least) OO didn't handle Track Changes very well. My Word docs make the rounds of several people who make changes with Track Changes and enter comments, and I found that OO's approach to accepting changes involved too many steps and so was cumbersome.
posted by PatoPata at 1:49 PM on April 4, 2009

As others have said above, it really does depend on what you use your documents for. If you have image-laden, highly-formatted documents (documents which shouldn't even be in .doc format in the first place, but you often don't have a choice) then you will see a lot of differences between the Word display and the StarOffice/OpenOffice Writer display. This is almost always because of Microsoft's Embrace, Extend, Extinguish philosophy; they figured out some years ago that open-source alternatives to Word were cropping up, and they actively sought to make it almost impossible to duplicate the Word display.

Anyhow, if you use your documents primarily for simple text with some formatting and different fonts and such - which is to say, if you don't have images in your files, and your formatting is minimal - you may want to check out an alternative that I quite like, AbiWord. It's fantastic primarily because it's so lightweight; I've found I can open almost any Word-created .doc, and editing and saving is effortless, but most of all it's nice because, unlike Word and OpenOffice (and StarOffice) it has very little load time and doesn't lag at all because it's a lot less feature-heavy. I don't tend to use Word .docs to write novels or create spiffy presentations, so AbiWord has just about everything I need - and it's free and open-source, to boot.
posted by koeselitz at 4:40 PM on April 4, 2009

I use OpenOffice on Mac and Windows machines. It is compatible with MS Office. Some functions work differently, but not enough to make it annoying. I recommend it to anyone instead of MS Office. But if you are a power Excel or Access user, stick with MS Office.
posted by fifilaru at 5:41 PM on April 4, 2009

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