What Freelancers Need to Know About Open Office

I’ve been a Linux user for several years–I made the switch back in college after being incredibly fed up with Windows Vista. With the switch came a new word processing suite: OpenOffice.org. Like everything that comes with Linux, it’s an open-source product.

I’ve used it since then with no trouble, including in my freelance business. What sets OpenOffice.org apart from Microsoft Office? Let’s take a look at the differences between OpenOffice.org Writer and Microsoft Word to see what freelancers need to know before making the switch.

1. Layout. One thing you’ll notice when opening OOo Writer for the first time is the toolbar. By default, the program has two screen-width rows which include all the standard icons: save, print, cut/paste, highlight, font (face/size/weight,) and all that other good stuff you like having at your fingertips.

OOo Writer also allows you to add or remove any toolbars as you see fit–you can even create custom toolbars that suit your specific needs. You can also completely customize your menus (file, edit, view, etc.) and keyboard shortcuts. Granted, you can do the same in MS Word, but it’s an easy feature to miss.

The major difference in layout is that MS Word’s toolbars are grouped into tabs while Writer has rows of toolbars. Not having to switch between function tabs can save valuable time.

2. Functionality. In the past, OpenOffice.org had some issues opening proprietary MS file formats such as .docx. However, the latest version can open any MS formats, even .docx, with no losses in formatting or otherwise. OOo Writer can also save in .doc formats, so you’ll have no trouble interfacing with clients who use MS Word.

That said, if you’re using OpenOffice.org on Linux, keep in mind that you’ll be missing out on many proprietary fonts. Linux doesn’t have fonts like Arial or Verdana but instead has approximations. Still, I’ve never found this to be a problem: The fonts translate correctly to their counterparts on a Windows machine and vice-versa.

3. Updates and Support. Arguably the best thing about OpenOffice.org is its free-use philosophy. OOo is an open-source platform, meaning it’s upheld by a large, supportive community, and the code is freely available. Because of this, you can download and update the program (and even get fantastic support for it) free of charge for any purpose.

OOo Writer lacks one freedom that MS Word has, though. MS Office 2010 has a feature that allows users to share a document over the Microsoft “SkyDrive” server. If this is a feature you frequently use, OpenOffice.org might not suit your needs.

Final Verdict

If you’re comfortable with Microsoft Word for your freelance business, making the switch doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. However, if you’ve had issues with the MS support system or if you have to pay for MS Office, give some thought to changing suites. You might find you like OpenOffice.org a whole lot more.

Also, if you’re considering a complete change to Linux, you’ll find you don’t miss MS Office one bit. Either way, the transition to OpenOffice.org is incredibly smooth; everything you need is there, even if you need to look for it a bit on your first run.


What word processor do you use most in your freelance career and why?

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Natalia Sylvester is the founder of InkyClean, a copywriting and editing company that helps small businesses, entrepreneurs, and startups find their voice and build their brand. She blogs about why business writing should never be boring at The Copywriter’s Soapbox and tweets about books, fiction, and copywriting at @NataliaSylv.

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  1. I'm a big fan of Open Office. The current version of MS Word has far too much nonsense for my needs. Basic (and free) work for me.

    • Carol a lot of people felt that way after the changes between Office 2003 to Office 2007. Open Office reminds a lot of users of using Word 2003

  2. I'm a fan of open source – But, … I can't stand a 'heavy' text editor. I like Bean, or on a mac Text edit, then I redraft in google docs, to share work in progress with my editor, and to format in web fonts. I like small files I can get under the hood with. I hated Office, like screaming mad computer rage, hated it over stupid things like invisible new line characters, messing up story line breaks.
    My recent post Chapter 2 Seeing through Sontria- page 60

    • Bean is cool because it's multipurpose–it's a text editor and a word processor; I like that. It's hard to compare it to Word or Writer, though, because it's so different. I like the way Bean's formatting tools are separate from the program, but I think that's just a function of OS X.

      I can see your point about using a text editor, though–word processors just muck up the whole thing with formatting and all that stuff.
      My recent post I Don’t Read Anymore

  3. Thanks! I have a friend with a Linux machine who is writing a book – I'll have to ask him about his experiences. Having used Word Star and troff to write technical manuals in the 80s, I could probably handle any editor myself, but I have gotten lazy over the years!
    My recent post writers on trial

  4. Thank you for this post. I don’t have Office and I’m just starting out as a full-time freelancer so funds are limited. I was trying to find reasons to not buy Office and this post sealed the deal for me!

    • Yeah Office can be super expensive. Open Office is a great alternative to try out before you go spend a few hundred with Microsoft.



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