OpenOffice – now in version 3.0.0 – is a free software suite available by download from OpenOffice.org. As the name suggests, it's open source software: that is, the code is created, developed and maintained by a group of volunteers on a non-profit basis. Unlike the code for Microsoft Office, which is a rigidly controlled trade secret, the code for OpenOffice is freely available. Anyone who thinks they can spot a bug or improve on a process is welcome to do so – and many do. But despite their software being free, the OpenOffice team welcome donations, and you can make them at their website.
The OpenOffice suite for Windows contains four main modules – Writer, Impress, Base and Calc, designed to compete with Word, PowerPoint, Access and Excel respectively. OpenOffice is also available for Linux, and generally comes preinstalled on the major distributions like Ubuntu, OpenSUSE and Fedora, although here the Base component is omitted for reasons of size. It can be downloaded later if required. A full Windows download requires 142 MB and takes about an hour over DSL. For users with unreliable connections, OpenOffice is also available over BitTorrent.
OpenOffice applications can read and write all the standard Microsoft and generic file formats, with one important addition – OpenOffice will save a file directly to PDF format, whereas Microsoft applications need to go through an external program like Adobe Acrobat. An OpenOffice user should have no difficulty sharing data with an Excel user – or a Lotus 1-2-3 or Quattro Pro fan, for that matter.