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.
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?