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Office Suite Software Without the Sticker Shock

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Software

Fortunately, there's another choice -- a free one, called OpenOffice.org 2.0. This open-source release doesn't do much to alleviate the complexity of office-suite software, but it has brought the cost down to a figure most people should like: nothing.

This set of programs (Win 98 or newer or Linux, free at http://www.openoffice.org/ ) is built around its Writer, Calc and Impress components, counterparts to Microsoft's Word, Excel and PowerPoint. OpenOffice also throws in database, drawing and math-equation tools -- but it lacks an equivalent to Microsoft's Outlook e-mail/address book/calendar.

OpenOffice can do just about anything that Microsoft Office can at home, and with no more difficulty. But that's not enough: OpenOffice, more so than most other programs competing with what comes out of Redmond, has to live in a Microsoft world. It can't just function on its own, but it also has to read and write Microsoft's closed, proprietary formats.

That's a challenge OpenOffice can usually meet. Among dozens of Word, Excel and PowerPoint files fed to OpenOffice, most looked the same as they did in Microsoft Office, down to footnotes, custom bullet points, reviewers' comments and change-tracking marks.

Unlike Microsoft Office, however, OpenOffice can also save your work as a Portable Document Format file that preserves every pixel of your creativity.

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