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OpenOffice.org (often referred t as "OO.o" or "OOo") is a free cross-platform office application suite that as of the new 3.0 version is now available in a native Mac OS X format. Designed to be a competitor to the popular Microsoft Office suite, OpenOffice has established itself as a serious alternative to the Microsoft suite.
The download link from the main OpenOffice.org page didn't work for me, but I was able to successfully download the Mac version of OpenOffice 3.0 from this page. The download was a hefty 163 MB (not hefty compared it to Microsoft Office which has a footprint that starts at 1GB) and installed smoothly on my MacBook Pro running Mac OS X 10.5.5.
My initial impressions of OpenOffice 3 are all very positive. It had no problems opening or modifying any of my MS documents or spreadsheets, and could easily save them back into the native MS formats. In some simple testing I could not find any translation issues between MS and OOo files. The user interface is clear and simple, and it seemed to have all the features I typically use, but not the feature over-kill or overwhelming user interfaces that MS Office apps are prone to having.
Two things you'll notice right off the bat is that OOo acts a little more like one unified program than MS Office and the actual name of OpenOffice is "OpenOffice.org", which is what appears in its menubar. Personally, I find the program name with the ".org" at the end of it a tiny bit confusing, I keep seeing it and wondering if I'd done something to access the OpenOffice web site, but I'm sure I'll get used to it.
The unified nature of OpenOffice means that there is only one program to ever open, and all the applications are available from within the main program inteface. I found that simpler and more straightforward than having to deal with the multiple applications the way you do with MS Office.
The user interfaces for all the programs were simple and clear, and I found them very easy and intuitive to start using. As someone who gets regularly frustrated with MS Office, I'm excited to give OpenOffice a try. I'm going to attempt to do all my work in OOo as I review the different parts of this office application suite. In the next article I'll take a detailed look at the OpenOffice.org word processor.