Microsoft Office 2010 takes on all comers

OpenOffice.org, LibreOffice, IBM Lotus Symphony, SoftMaker Office, Corel WordPerfect, and Google Docs challenge the Microsoft juggernaut

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Choosing an office suite
If you're already on Microsoft Office 2007, an upgrade to Office 2010 won't be as crucial, but for those on previous versions of Office the changes -- and the new features -- are well worth looking into. OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice have remained competent but developmentally stagnant; they're useful as quick-and-dirty Microsoft Office substitutes, but tougher to use as full-blown, across-the-board replacements in places where institutional dependence on Office runs deep. IBM's Lotus Symphony, itself an OpenOffice.org derivative, takes the open source suite in a promising direction, but it too lacks certain features that would make it a true drop-in replacement.

SoftMaker Office comes remarkably close to being such a replacement and with a price and licensing terms that many people will find more agreeable than Microsoft Office's. Google Docs does accept a wide variety of common document types for import, but it's best used to compose original documents for HTML or PDF export -- and even then it's hidebound by the limits of what can be accomplished in a browser. Sadly, WordPerfect Office has become little more than a holding action, with too many legacy functions preserved across revisions and too few modern features to deserve a look.

The level of cross-compatibility between any two suites in this roundup varied wildly. Even Microsoft Office still has issues with OpenDocument formats, and the fidelity shown by the other suites when importing documents depends on what you expect to see preserved. SoftMaker Office did a consistently good job, but even it didn't catch everything. For native PDF creation, though, OpenOffice.org and its derivatives were at the head of the pack.

On the plus side, every application here -- including Office 2010 itself -- is available in a trial edition, which runs for enough time to give you a hands-on idea of how well documents convert and are handled. Because everyone's cache of documents is bound to be different, using a trial may ultimately be the most fruitful way to find out what you can switch to and to what extent.

Office suites pricing, platforms, and applications

 CostPlatformsApplications
Microsoft Office 2010$149, $279, or $499Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, email client, database, desktop publishing
OpenOffice.org 3.3.0Free open sourceWindows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Solaris 10, Linux, Mac OS XWord processing, spreadsheets, presentations, drawing, database
LibreOffice 3.3.1Free open sourceWindows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Solaris 10, Linux, Mac OS XWord processing, spreadsheets, presentations, drawing, database
IBM Lotus Symphony 3.0Free proprietary licenseWindows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Linux, Mac OS XWord processing, spreadsheets, presentations
SoftMaker Office 2010$79Windows, LinuxWord processing, spreadsheets, presentations
Corel WordPerfect Office X5$99, $229, or $359Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7Word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, email client, database
Google DocsFree serviceChrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari Web browsers on Windows, Mac OS X, and LinuxWord processing, spreadsheets, presentations, email client, drawing

This article, "Microsoft Office 2010 takes on all comers," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in applications and Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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