Test Center review: Office killers pack some heat
Cloud-based Google Docs and Zoho, as well as desktop-bound IBM Lotus Symphony and OpenOffice.org, put Microsoft's productivity suite on noticeFollow @infoworld
The presentation section of Symphony is also quite capable, though it doesn't have the same rich set of multimedia functions that come with PowerPoint. Neither does it have a wide range of ready-made background and layout templates to jump-start your creativity. If you don't need those – for example, if you want to create solid, basic presentations for business or academic purposes – then the presentation package in Symphony should take care of you nicely.
Can Symphony do all you need in a personal productivity package? If you require solid functionality in word processing, spreadsheet manipulation, and presentation creation for a Windows platform, and co-authoring those files isn't critical, then yes. Symphony's feature set isn't as rich as Office's, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Straightforward, rich functionality for an individual or small group – that's nothing to sneeze at.
OpenOffice.org is the granddaddy of Office alternatives. A product for nearly 20 years, the current version is available in 21 different languages on platforms that include Windows, Linux (RPM and Debian), Solaris (SPARC and x86), and Mac OS X (Intel and PowerPC). It's widely available, well supported (through active user and developer communities), and stable. The question remains: Is it good enough to be your only personal productivity suite?
The word processor (screen image) has a look that will seem familiar to folks who have been using Word for a number of years. When you dig into the interface, you find that OpenOffice.org includes many features that are missing from other products in this comparison, such as mail merge and style galleries for business users, as well as bibliography, footnote, and cross-reference functions for academic and research users. There are also multimedia capabilities for Web 2.0 folks (extending to video and audio), along with HTML-editing features when you want to take your documents directly online.
In some areas, OpenOffice.org has user interface features that make common capabilities easier to employ than they are in competing programs. Inserting a table, for example, brings out a floating toolbar for sizing and formatting the table without having to resort to multiple trips to a menu structure. That's nice, as is the word processor's native PDF output ability. The only features that seem significantly lacking are those for collaborating with multiple authors; you can insert a note, but more sizable collaboration capability would be welcome.
OpenOffice.org's spreadsheet (screen image) is a capable numeric- and data-analysis tool, with an interface that will look more familiar to longtime Excel users than the revamped ribbon scheme of Office 2007 did. On the issue of macros, OpenOffice.org's spreadsheet and word processor both support them, but they're not the same macros that run in Office. They're similar, being based on Basic, but there are differences between Office's VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) and OpenOffice.org's Basic API. This is yet another case in which each of the products is a capable tool, and each will open documents created by the other (assuming, of course, that you save the files in the proper format), but you shouldn't assume that you can blithely toss complex files back and forth between the suites with no intervention required.
The presentation creator that comes with OpenOffice.org is fully featured, with superb capabilities for sorting and organizing slides, and a very nice wizard that can get you started if you're unsure about how to begin your presentation. As with the word processor, there are multimedia capabilities, so you can easily build a business presentation around the latest video you found on YouTube.