As a writer and editor, I live most of my desktop life staring at a word processor; the rest of my time is spent running business and other data through a spreadsheet, or preparing presentations in a slide-oriented package. Like most PC users, I’ve spent the last several years using Microsoft’s ubiquitous Office Suite to do those chores, and while I have my complaints, I’ve been happy for the most part.
But it’s tempting to look around once in a while to find out what the rest of the world is like. Frankly, that’s a small portion of the computer-using world — Microsoft estimates that over 600 million computers have its Office Suite installed, and that number is hard for any competitor to cope with.
But cope they do, and I’ve lately taken a look at Corel’s new X3 edition of WordPerfect Office and Sun’s StarOffice 8 suites in particular to see just how well other products would enable me to do my work. What I have found is that if you can live with a couple of limitations and quirks, you can spend a lot less money on the non-Microsoft products and do all the work that you want to do.
That’s because these are very fine products that have been developed by skilled software designers and engineers, and they’re made even better by offering a seemingly unbreakable level of compatibility with the Microsoft products. That means you can share files with colleagues or business partners who are using those products without fear of losing information.
They do operate a bit differently here and there, but that doesn’t really matter, because within a few hours or days you’ll be used to those differences and forget they were ever there. Look, there is no such thing as a non-quirky software product, so why should Microsoft have exclusive rights to oddly designed interfaces?
The limits may, however, be important to you. StarOffice, for example, does not provide an e-mail client, something you really have to have unless you do all your e-mail using Web-based services or can live with Outlook Express or another product. The new X3 edition of WordPerfect Office has a very fine e-mail client, but it doesn’t support Microsoft Exchange, and that may be a problem for you. Neither suite has a database manager like Microsoft Access, but I can’t think of a reason to consider that a deficit.
Many if not most of you are very used to the Microsoft Office products, and you may feel uncomfortable with learning another product’s quirks and twists and turns. Let me assure you, there are not very many of them, and you may be able to save enough money to upgrade that PC you’ve been getting so tired of.
John Dickinson is editor of SmartCompany.com.