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!

5 Responses to \

  1. You might want to try out LibreOffice – it’s a fork of OpenOffice and is much more streamlined and lean, but with the bells and whistles you actually need and use. LibreOffice forked when OO got a little too bloated with Java. LibreOffice runs with or without Java, and it’s not a memory hog, either.

    With LibreOffice, I’ve been able to rescue corrupted files, and even raise some old Word Perfect/WordStar/other mystery word processor files from a death from obsolescence.

  2. LOL @ Athena, I thought this might draw you out! And thanks for the tip – I just might have to try that one!

  3. Omigosh I HATE Word with a frothing, unreasonable hatred. LOL It’s what I learned on and I hated it from day one. I now use Open Office Writer exclusively and love it because it’s so intuitive and Just. Makes. Sense. The *only* thing I’ve noticed that Word does that Writer does not is alert me when I have the same word twice.

    Also, using Writer saved in Word to upload to Kindle can result in some wonky formatting which also makes me froth at the mouth. LOL

    But my answer is a resounding YES. Writer is superior (if you don’t save in rtf) in almost every way and will help lower your bloodpressure. Also, I just found out to update, it’s now called Libre because somebody bought O.O. or something. Anyway, here’s the site for Libre:

  4. Have you ever heard about this: Classic Menu for Office Professional Plus 2010

    Anyway, I think that the RibbonUI is more comfortable than menus and toolbars. The most annoying thing is toolbar is to finally find what you’re looking for (it’s usually hides in a sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-menu), and when finally you do somehow the cursor moves and the menu next to it opens instead.

    BTW, let’s see how comfortable this is for you.