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OpenOffice: An enterprise open source solution

As more companies look to save money in their IT operations, Sun's OpenOffice may be more attractive. Key features of the multi-platform supported open source software are described. The software can be used in Windows or Linux environments with connection to an AS/400 database.

Jim Mason
This is the first part of a two part article that reviews OpenOffice, the open-source suite from Sun Microsystems. Microsoft Office is the clear leader today in Office applications market share. Despite Microsoft's dominance, I'll ask the question is OpenOffice the right solution for your company. We'll look at some of the advantages OpenOffice offers. You can decide if they apply to your situation.

OpenOffice is an open-source solution from Sun Microsystems that I classify as an Enterprise Open-Source Solution (EOS). EOS combines the best features of both open-source: flexible license options, open-standards, lower ownership costs, large user base and commercial products: quality service, support and training options.

EOS combines the best features of both open-source: flexible license options, open-standards, lower ownership costs, large user base and commercial products...

OpenOffice continues to grow in popularity with version 3.x. StarOffice is the commercial version Sun offers based on the same code base. Sun offers a variety of support and service plans to fit your specific needs. Unlike Microsoft's proprietary document format, OpenOffice uses ODF (Open Document Format), an open-standard, xml-based document format.

OpenOffice applications
OpenOffice includes Writer for text documents, Calc for spreadsheets, Impress for presentations, Draw for drawings, Base for database access, forms and reports and Formula for math calculations.

Writer: Writer is a full-function word processor that is functionally equivalent to Microsoft's Word. In my experience on both XP and Vista, it is clearly faster than Word as well. Writer can easily read and save documents in Word 2003 format or earlier making it easy to work with existing documents.

Presentation: Presentation is similar to Microsoft's Power Point to create slide presentations. Presentation can read and save existing Power Point 2003 documents or earlier making it easy to work with existing presentations.

Base: Base is a database application environment similar to Microsoft's Access. You can create a Base database as a standalone database and share it or you can connect to other databases to access server data ( eg MySQL, DB2/400 etc). Once you've opened a database connection, you can create queries, database forms for entry and update and reports.

Spreadsheet: Spreadsheet provides functionality similar to Microsoft's Excel. Like Writer, it can read and save spreadsheets in Excel format making it easy to work with existing spreadsheets.

Drawing: Drawing is a great application for building graphical documents for the Web or other applications. Not only does it support drawing, import of other graphics, it also includes scanning so you can bring in photos from your scanner as well as graphical controls for Web pages. That means you can create Web charts, tables, and embed movies on a Web page.

Formula: This application lets you create and test mathematical formulas of many different types. It's a very useful application for students or engineers.

Other key features of OpenOffice
HTML Writer: Creates static HTML pages quickly and easily, similar to other Web page editors.

Built-in PDF generation: A nice feature missing in Microsoft Office. Easily generates PDF files from any application. Combine this with the import of a PDF file to Writer and you have an easy way to update or edit any PDF file without buying special software.

Built-in PDF generation: A nice feature missing in Microsoft Office. Easily generates PDF files from any application.

Save and open documents from mobile devices: Like Microsoft Office, you want to be able to read, edit, save any Mobile files in a standard format after synching with your Smart phone (e.g., Palm, Pocket Word, Pocket Excel).

Scripting extensions: Nice to know if you want to customize or extend the behavior of OpenOffice applications you have more options than just Basic (e.g., OO Basic, Bean Shell, JavaScript, Python).

API for high-level languages: If you need to integrate documents, spreadsheets or presentations into your business applications (e.g, Basic and Java).

Supports Microsoft Office formats up to Office 2003: You can set OpenOffice to read and save Microsoft Office document files in their current formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt ) instead of the default OpenOffice formats. This helps minimize the adjustments users have moving from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.

Office 2007 documents can be saved as Office 2003 format for Open Office: OpenOffice doesn't automatically support Office 2007 document formats fully. As a result, you may need to save an Office 2007 document in Office 2003 format so it can be easily accessed from OpenOffice.

Extensions support: A wide variety of plugins exist for adding functionality to OpenOffice

Open source: One of the core strengths of OpenOffice is that it is open-source. Sun supplies both binary and source distributions of the product. Even if you don't want to build the product from source, knowing the source is available can help answer questions on how the product works. This is one of the advantages over Microsoft's propriety Office suite.

Sun support options: There is a variety of both community support and full vendor support plans available.

Multiple platform support: OpenOffice runs on many platforms including Windows, Unix and Linux

Open Document Type format (ODT): ODT is an international standard XML document format for universal document exchange.

Compatibility with Word user interface: Out of the box, OpenOffice has about 95% of the same behavior as Microsoft Word. The other 5% of differences can easily be set to work the same as Word in you choose by using the Tools > Customize options. This makes transition to OpenOffice from Microsoft relatively easy for most users.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim Mason is Engineering Services Director at ebt-now, a System i Web specialist delivering: architecture, development, implementation, support, and training services for IBM System i Web and Enterprise Open-Source solutions. Beyond Web solutions and delivering QuickWeb skills transfer workshops, Jim is president of the virtual IBM WebSphere Community Edition user group – IBM's free version of WebSphere for all platforms.

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