Apache OpenOffice is a direct descendant of the original OpenOffice, which in itself was descended from StarOffice. It consists of: Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, Math and Base, which are respectively a word-processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, a graphics editor, a mathematical editor and a database.
In look and feel, Apache OpenOffice stays true to its history, right down to the white birds in a blue circle on the home page. Personal taste will determine whether the interface is classic or just dated (and few would argue that it could be much prettier) but it’s intuitive and for the most part those making the switch from Microsoft Office should find it straightforward to navigate their way around Apache OpenOffice. The icons and toolbars are arranged in a way reminiscent of Microsoft Office prior to the introduction of the ribbon. Again, whether this is seen as convenient or merely cluttered will depend on personal taste. Fortunately Apache have kept the same keyboard short-cuts as Microsoft for core functions such as saving.
Unfortunately the Apache OpenOffice interface suffers from a number of minor niggles, which can become tedious over long usage. For example, although it has a perfectly effective word-count function, it has to be activated every single time from the menu rather than simply running in the status bar. Similarly the idea of using a sidebar to hold common functions is solid but the choice of functions on offer can seem illogical. In terms of functionality, Apache OpenOffice is best described as being roughly equivalent to Office XP, which was released in 2001. In itself this is likely to be more than adequate for many home users and it does have some decent options for those who want to use it for business, at least for working from home from time to time. Calc supports pivot tables and macros, Writer supports comments and has some DTP functionality and Impress supports master pages.
Unfortunately OpenOffice’s support for the new Microsoft Office formats such as .docx and .xlsx could be greatly improved. Currently it will open existing files and let OpenOffice users make and save changes to them, but files created in OpenOffice can only be saved in the older formats. While this may be acceptable to those who only need the software for personal or educational projects, it could prove a more significant stumbling block for users interested in having a personal Office suite, which can also support home-working.
While OpenOffice used to be Microsoft’s only serious rival, there are now a greater number of contenders for that crown. Foremost among them is LibreOffice, which is the creation of The Document Foundation, which was formed as a breakaway group from the original OpenOffice.org project. LibreOffice provides strong compatibility with Microsoft Office, including the new formats and has a more up-to-date interface, with user-friendly touches such as a running word-count in the status bar.
Kingston Office has more basic functionality than either Apache OpenOffice or LibreOffice and it therefore makes less demands upon the hardware, making it an excellent choice for older machines and mobile devices, particularly budget tablets. GoogleDocs is even more basic and requires a broadband connection for it to work at any kind of speed (and even then it can suffer from lag). On the other hand, users can rest assured that their work is kept safe and they can access it from anywhere.
It’s worth remembering that Apache OpenOffice is the first release of the OpenOffice suite from The Apache Software Foundation, that it comes after a long hiatus and that it has come about in spite of the absence of the experienced developers who moved to the LibreOffice project. Seen from that perspective the current release of Apache OpenOffice could well be a sign of positive future developments and the software is well worth watching. At the moment, however, LibreOffice is likely to be the more suitable choice for users looking for an alternative to Microsoft.
About Apache Software Foundation
The Apache Software Foundation has long been a stalwart of the open-source movement. Although it is best known for its networking software, with much of the internet depending on Apache servers, it actually runs a huge variety of projects. In 2011, it took over ownership of OpenOffice after the Oracle Corporation took over Sun Microsystems and decided to discontinue support for the project and donated both the code and trademark to the Apache Software Foundation. OpenOffice was a highly respected Office suite which was regularly updated. There was a break in development between Oracle's purchase of Sun and Apache's full adoption of the project, but the software is now once again available as a full and functional release.
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