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What Is NeoOffice/J (and Can It Replace MS Office)
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Presentations with Impress

As we all know, presentations can vary widely depending on the presenter. On one end of the spectrum, a presentation could simply be some formatted text on a solid background. On the other end of the spectrum, a presentation might contain embedded multimedia, hyperlinks, extra markup, animated transitions, and sound effects on every single slide. Most of us probably lie somewhere toward the middle and probably lean toward keeping things simple.

Overall, I found Impress to work very well for presentations started from scratch. You create a slideshow just like you would in PowerPoint, there's a very similar feel overall, and you control the slideshow in front of an audience just like PowerPoint.

Impress, however, is lacking a little behind the rest of the suite when opening and converting existing PowerPoint documents. Presentations have an inherent focus on visual formatting and multimedia. Since you're usually not giving presentations unless it's for some type of public or professional function, these are times when you definitely don't want to mess things up. Be advised that you might have to put a little extra work in when opening existing PowerPoint slide shows with Impress, and this is especially true if they have a lot of pizzazz. But if you're starting from scratch anyway, give Impress a shot and see if it meets your needs.

The "Certificate" slides I used as a simple document test can be found here. This slideshow opens fine, but unfortunately, slide shows containing much more complexity might require some extra work. At least you can't complain about the price.

PowerPoint Impress
The masses will fawn over your presentations, and Fabio would say, "I can't believe it's not PowerPoint!"

Spreadsheets with Calc

Although minor variations in formatting are frustrating, and often a possibility with any WYSIWYG app like a word processor or presentation creator, spreadsheets are generally a different story. They're intrinsically more about content than presentation. Accordingly, the criteria you use to evaluate Calc should be somewhat different from Writer or Impress. When evaluating NeoOffice/J's spreadsheet, ask yourself if it has the power to do the types of calculations you need it to do, and try to convert some existing Excel documents (making sure to back them up first.)

The Excel documents I opened up in Calc had your typical first and second order statistical function in them, and Calc kept everything right on track. When looking through Calc's help menu (which is very good), I noticed that it certainly didn't implement every function in Excel. But before you let that bias you, ask yourself how many of Excel's features you use regularly. If you're working on Wall Street, or want to convert sheets with a lot of macros and very advanced features, you'll probably find Calc to be horribly lacking, and complain that it can't do such things as notify you when your mother's birthday falls on a Saturday, if it's a leap year.

If you're analyzing loan options, doing typical university-level statistical analysis, budgeting, and similar tasks, however, you'll find Calc to work very well for your needs. It also has support for some basic scripting so that you can write custom macros. Even if you're a true Excel guru, there's still a good chance you'll find Calc to work well for your needs. Just remember to turn to the help menu if a function doesn't appear to be working out. Although the ones I looked up were named the same, there are bound to be some that vary.

You can get the "Car Loan Worksheet" template here if you want to see how Calc compares to Excel for what seems to be a "typical" spreadsheet.

Excel Calc
Calc stands up to the challenge of analyzing a car loan, your mortgage, leasing vs. buying, and much more.

Common Objections Against Using NeoOffice/J

Here are a couple common arguments I've heard against using NeoOffice/J. I'll play devil's advocate for NeoOffice/J.

NeoOffice/J doesn't have this one feature I want...

NeoOffice/J does most everything you'd want, but like anything else, there's always that one feature. Submit a feature request with a small donation to the developer, and I'll bet your feature request moves far up in the queue--especially if your request is a reasonable one. Of course, if you wear a pocket protector to work, there's a good chance you can probably implement this feature yourself. For such efforts, you'd get immortalized forever on the list of contributors and your fame would stretch to the outermost parts of the universe. What could be better than that?

In the case of small businesses, you could pay a contractor to customize the application for you as a one-time deal, or hire a programmer to continually streamline and troubleshoot your open source software as needed. Making the switch might save you enough money to pay for a part-time salary and then some. Do the analysis and see if it works out for you. Having the control to streamline and customize is one of the most exciting aspects of open source software.

I already own Microsoft Office...

If you already own Microsoft Office, then you'd be using NeoOffice/J to simulate something you have already purchased, but there's still a few reasons you may want to try NeoOffice/J:

  • When Microsoft products crash, it reminds you of the days when you used Windows
  • You don't want to continually worry about security issues and get patches
  • Upgrades are going to cost something eventually
  • Supporting open source software is cool
  • You want to gradually wean yourself away from expensive commercial software
  • You need to convince yourself that you couldn't have bought a kegerator with the money you'd be saving
  • You could still learn how to help your friends and family save money by introducing them to it

contextual menu
If you already own Microsoft Office, and don't want to quit cold turkey, you can still use contextual menus to easily open its documents in NeoOffice/J.

Ok, I'm done playing devil's advocate. Ultimately, you have to look at your situation and decide if it makes sense for you to pay for something. For some of us, the very high compatibility has with Microsoft Office just won't cut it. But there are many of us who could save quite a bit by using free software. If you're a business, government, or nonprofit organization, you might especially enjoy transferring money from your software budget (to include maintenance and upgrades) to somewhere else. Maybe advertising, customer service, or employee benefits would be a good starting point?

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