OpenOffice.org vs. Microsoft Office
Calc and Excel have been in an arms race for years. Excel extends the numbers of columns and rows it can support in one release, and in the next, Calc matches it. Recent releases also have seen developers improving Calc's speed when processing complex equations. Consequently, both Calc and Excel now support spreadsheets that are so extensive, any sane user would have switched from a spreadsheet to a database long before bumping against the limitations. In much the same way, Calc always has been careful to match Excel function for function to maximize compatibility. In fact, Calc actually has several dozen more functions than Excel, not because Calc can do more, but because it often maintains two versions of the same function—one for compatibility with Excel and one with extra features that Excel lacks. Given the sheer number of functions in both spreadsheets, I cannot be completely certain that one has functions the other lacks, but if either does, those functions are specialized ones that average users are unlikely to miss.
For sorting cell entries and manipulating formulae, Calc and Excel have a roughly equivalent feature set. The main difference is in some of the names—for instance, where Excel refers to “pivot tables” and “trace precedents”, Calc refers to “datapilots” and “detective”. With the basics so close, the differences between Calc and Excel remain minor at best.
For example, pivot tables in Excel are easier to construct than Calc's datapilots and easier to manipulate later, although the use of cell and page styles in Calc makes formatting and printing easier. In the end, which application you prefer depends on what extras matter to you. Most users are unlikely to find any great difference in general functionality. Verdict: tie.
OOo Impress produces slideshows that serve the needs of most users. It always has been especially strong in object animation, and because it shares much of its code with OOo's Draw, it also is ideal for drawing charts and diagrams. One particularly useful feature is the ability to save object styles so that you easily can create copies and modify them all. Yet, despite such features, Impress always has struggled to catch up with MSO PowerPoint. Over its releases, it has narrowed the gap, adding built-in support for movie and sound clips and more recently tables. However, the gap remains in several key areas. For example, although PowerPoint allows the recording of continuous narrations, Impress is limited to adding sound clips to each screen. Similarly, Impress lacks the ability to use the pointer to draw on the screen during a presentation. If you want a Presenter View—a view that includes notes that display on your machine but not on the projector—you have to install the Sun Presenter Console extension in Impress. And, although PowerPoint includes a set of collaboration features similar to those found in Word, Impress's first step to match them is scheduled to arrive in only OOo 3.2, when notes will be added.
Another weakness of Impress is that it is divided into three panes: a slide pane, the current slide pane and a task pane. This makes Impress almost impossible to use except in a full-screen window. However, although PowerPoint occasionally opens a task pane, in general, its ribbon interface means that it does not usually need one. Verdict: PowerPoint.
Beyond the core applications, both MSO and OOo include other programs. Both include a small database, although OOo's ability to connect easily to other database sources gives it a slight edge. In some editions, MSO includes Microsoft Outlook, a personal information manager; Visio, a charting program; Publisher, a basic desktop layout program, and a dozen more. The only other application in OOo is Draw, an SVG graphics editor, but as free software, OOo can be supplemented by dozens of other applications. Although these applications may not always interact well with each other, neither do the components of MSO. And, at least an increasing number of free software applications support OOo's Open Document Format, which means that a document written in Writer can be opened in AbiWord or KWord.
Yet another consideration is that, although MSO has an ecosystem of dozens of trainers and instructional Web pages built around it, instruction and resources for OOo are much scarcer. Conversely, OOo has developed a community of extension writers that is second only to Firefox's, while MSO's extensions are far fewer in number.
-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)
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