Thursday Thoughts: An Alternative to Microsoft Word?

Last summer when I got a new computer, my 10-year-old CD of Microsoft Office 2000 finally bit the dust. The disk had become corrupted; the files would no longer copy from it to install.

So I investigated alternatives. I ruled out the new version of Office immediately: we have Office 2007 at work, and I hate it. Most people who, like me, have been using Office for many years hate it too, or at least did until they resigned themselves to its new interface. Come on, the “ribbon” takes up way too much screen space, even on a big monitor. And I have to re-learn where everything is? Just give me back my damn menus!

Microsoft Office ribbon

Oh, Office Ribbon - how do I hate thee?

Of course, there are older versions of Office for sale, unopened, on Ebay, some at great prices. But none were certified to run on Windows 7, which came with my new computer (and I’m quite happy with). Luckily, there’s also another alternative, for an even better price: OpenOffice. And it’s free – honest-to-goodness, legally, free. Just go to and download it.

It includes an alternative to each of the major components of Microsoft Office: Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Access. It also comes with a drawing program.

The only part I’ve used enough to really evaluate is Writer, the Word-alternative. I’ve dabbled a bit with the spreadsheet, and so far, it seems like a decent facsimile of Office 2000’s Excel.

Open Office menus

Yay! Menus!

Which makes me happy, because I don’t need all the whiz-bang features Microsoft’s added to the later versions of Office. OpenOffice has most of them, but best of all, it has menus, not that silly ribbon interface.

Granted, not everything’s in the same place. For example, Word’s Track Changes feature is on the Revisions ribbon. In older versions, it was in the Tools menu. In OpenOffice, it’s in the Edit menu, and it’s simply called Changes. But if I have to hunt around for features, hey, I’d rather do it in a free program! (They do take donations, if you’re so inclined.)

I have run into a few problems with OpenOffice Writer, however. Most of these show up when I save a document in a format other than .doc (Microsoft Word 2003 and earlier) or .odf (OpenOffice’s native format). .rtf is the worst. I’ve seen it muck up line spacing, and change fonts – and the latter not consistently. It’s made the first letter of every paragraph – and only the first letter – a different font- sometimes even a Chinese character!

It also corrupted the .doc file of my manuscript for Time’s Enemy. I didn’t find this out until I sent it to my editor, and it crashed her system every time she tried to open it in Word. I thought this might have been due to the fact that she uses a Mac, but when I tried it on my daughter’s computer (which still has Word 2000 installed on it), that blew up, too.

Luckily I could still open it on my computer in OpenOffice, and copy the content, and re-save as an .odt file. I then opened it in Word at work, and resaved as a .docx file, which worked fine for my editor.

So is OpenOffice a true replacement for Microsoft Office? After a year, the jury’s still out. But hey, at least the price is right! Now all I have to do is find a newer version or replacement for Quickbooks, that will read my Quickbooks 2005 data…

Know of any accounting software I should check out? Or do you have a software WTF to share? Feel free to vent here – we feel your pain!