Free Software For Writers – OpenOffice.Org

A comment on my last post got me thinking about the software that writers can use to do their work. Microsoft Word is of course the dominant word processing program on Windows and perhaps on the Macintosh, but for those who can’t afford it or (like me) don’t run Windows or Mac, that’s not an option. So I thought I’d do a post or two about other choices that are available.

I do my writing in OpenOffice.org, a free and open-source office suite that includes a word processor (where I spend most of my time), a spreadsheet (which I use to keep track of submissions), a presentation package, a diagramming/drawing program, and a database application. I find the database a bit primitive, but the rest of suite is quite polished, with functionality comparable to Microsoft Office circa 2000-XP. (This is fine with me; I use Microsoft Office 2003 at work and to be honest I think Microsoft Office 2000 was better.)  OpenOffice.org will open files from other office suites, up to and allegedly including Microsoft Office 2007 (if you have the correct plug-in for Office 2007).  I haven’t tried opening an Office 2007 file so I can’t verify this ability.

One of the most useful features of OpenOffice.org Writer is the ability to export directly to PDF, creating a file that (a) will look the same for everyone who views it, and (b) cannot be easily modified by anyone who gets it. This comes in extremely handy for things like electronic manuscript submission and self-publishing (I’m using PDFs in my Lulu self-publishing project).

For the average user, OpenOffice.org is a more than adequate substitute for the Microsoft Office suite.  Power Office users may find that some critical feature that they use is missing, but as OpenOffice.org is free to download and use, there’s no risk or cost to trying it out.  OpenOffice.org s available for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux, although I would recommend that Macintosh users try NeoOffice instead.  NeoOffice is an OS X port of OpenOffice.org, so it fits in better with the OS X environment.

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