The Open Office Experiment

Open Office is a free, open-source alternative to Microsoft Office. Based on Sun’s Star Office, Open Office has been around for a number of years, and has proved fairly popular with the geeks, particularly those who dislike being beholden to Microsoft, Apple or any other proprietary software developer. It’s the predominant office productivity suite on Linux, and comes bundled with distributions like Ubuntu.

I’ve experimented with it on and off for years, but never been particularly impressed — the software always seemed to be chasing after the last version of Microsoft Word and Excel, rather than trying to come up with its own interface. It also tended to be difficult to use; the interface with word was just similar enough to totally confuse you when looking to turn certain options on or off. The latest version of Open Office is a marked improvement; the interface has gotten softer, and stopped trying to be so slavishly devoted to the Ghosts of Word Processing Past.

But the big reason I haven’t used Open Office is that it didn’t run natively on the Mac. Oh you could jump through some hoops and get it running through X11, but as a writer, the last thing I want to do is make my life more complicated. I want to quickly launch my Word processor and go … and I want that word processor to work seamlessly with my operating system.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one who felt that way. Open Office has been ported to the Mac in the form of NeoOffice, a Mac OS X native version that uses the Aqua interface. While previous versions were slow and a little buggy, the current version – 2.2.2 – promises speed enhancements that make it faster then the Microsoft suite.

Has Open Office finally arrived? I don’t know, but I’m going to find out. For the next week I’m going to do all of my word processing and spreadsheet work using NeoOffice and then blog about the experience. I’ll be using it to create new documents as well as edit old Word ones.

If the opportunity arises, I’ll also try sending some NeoOffice-spawned Word documents to friends to see if they have any trouble working with them. I’m looking for feedback on how to stress test this software, so if there’s some task you’d like to see me try, leave a comment or e-mail me at

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