Apr 27 2009
As software models emerge, the scenery of software changes. Only forces this strong could dethrone a dominant software suite like Microsoft Office. Both web-based services and Open Source software have produced the following free office suites.
Last week we looked at a couple free AJAX services, Writely and NumSum that respectively replace Word and Excel. But these are feature-limited and experimental. This week’s picks come with office-sized feature sets.
ThinkFree has years of experience in office applications. In its newest version, ThinkFree has taken its Java-based alternative to the web. This new online office suite opens, edits and saves Word, Excel and PowerPoint files. In addition to supporting all kinds of Office features, like columns, advanced formatting, graphics and more. ThinkFree Office Online also supports web-based presentation via document embedding in your blog.
Whats more, your files and the software reside online and are accessible from any computer with a browser and Java. The web-based aspect of the suite makes it convenient, but also requires patience as the software loads into your browser. The initial load is longer than subsequent ones. But unlike many Java applications, its performance on the Mac is more than adequate for regular use. While ThinkFree’s beta professes limited support for Mac, Linux, Firefox and Safari I found it to work well on both Mac browsers, Safari working better.
This Open Source project is in its fifth year of adapting Sun’s Star Office into a Microsoft Office replacement. While there have been some early criticisms of the new version’s speed, I have found it the best Office replacement yet. In testing the suite I found OpenOffice to handle complex features like conditional formatting, tables, columns and embedded graphics.
OpenOffice 2 for Mac is available now as an Advanced Build, a prelease version that is described as stable. In my testing I did not experience any troubles. This new build includes the complete suite and interface – making it the first OpenOffice version for Mac with full feature parity. This includes Base, the Access-like database tool and Math (used for scientific formulas) and Draw in addition to the standard Writer, Calc and Impress.
All that functionality comes at a price – more than 300 megabytes. The suite also requires and uses the X11 windowing system: a free install from Apple. But, this new version comes with valuable functionality and performance improvements. OpenOffice provides Mac users with a very compelling option. Mac Office has been incomplete in comparison to its Windows companion. With a full-featured replacement, there’s no reason to upgrade Office for Mac.
So, whatever your style of word processing and spreadsheeting – there is a compelling, complete and modern alternative to Microsoft Office. Isn’t freeware great?