Download this free office suite to create word documents, spreadsheets and databases, and edit presentations and graphics
If the cost of Microsoft Office is putting you off, Open Office is a serious alternative and has no price tag thanks to its open-source roots. It's also a good choice if you are not a fan of the new Ribbon interface in Office 2007 and 2010.
Writer is the word processor and includes all of the features that we have come to expect including AutoCorrect, AutoComplete and AutoFormat. Open Office can also use Styles to format documents. Styles make it easy to make document wide changes and can do clever things such as automatically number headings. Read our guide to styles in Open Office. Writer can create indexes and tables of content. It can open documents from all versions of Word as well as a wide range of other word processors.
Calc takes care of spreadsheets and can cope with enough rows, columns and sheets to handle all kinds of jobs. One area which doesn't compare well with the recent versions of Microsoft Office is Conditional Formatting, which is still limited to three conditions.
Presentations are created with Impress. There are some templates and both 2D and 3D effects. Like all programs in Open Office, Impress can export documents as PDF files but Impress can also export presentations as HTML and Flash files.
Draw is an illustration editor that can be used to make images as well as flowcharts, organisation charts and plans.
Open Office also comes with a database editor. The Microsoft equivalent, Access, is only available with the most expensive version. Databases tend to be used for more advanced tasks, but having it part of Open Office means that there is no cost to giving it a go. There is a useful plugin available that lets Base access and edit website databases. This is much more accessible than using other web based tools such as PHPMyAdmin. Read more about accessing website databases here.
Open Office is also available as part of the Portable Apps suite that can be run from a USB memory key.
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