Friday, November 7, 2008

Why I've given up on Microsoft Office.

Now, don't get me wrong. At work I use Microsoft Office for the Mac and for Windows on a daily basis. It's a necessary evil. People just send me attachments in the all too familiar doc, xls and ppt formats. When the clock strikes 5 and I get off work, that's where MS Office and I part ways.

As a student it just doesn't make sense to pay $150 for the student edition of Microsoft Office! If you're a non-student this price balloons to $317 if you want all the trimmings. I still have papers to write, presentations to prepare and spreadsheets to crunch. What is a student to do?

Well, In the past year I've found the perfect solution to my office troubles. This solution is a combination of free and for-pay tools.

OpenOffice - this is completely free. It has programs that do essentially what Microsoft office does, for free! And, it's quite compatible with Microsoft Office files, so you don't have to worry (much) about opening files that your friends and colleagues send you.

Google Docs - this is a free service by google. It allows you to create word documents, presentations and spreasheets. You have a lot of the functionality of traditional Office programs and you get to save it on the internet. This means you don't have to worry about forgetting your flash drive or your homework files at home!

Plain text editors - On the Mac you can use TextEdit and on Windows you've got WordPad. These programs are good enough to get you started on that research paper - to get your ideas on paper, edit the content, proof read and grammar check everything, and it will allow you to do basic word processing functions. When you're done, save as an RTF and upload to Google Docs or save on your flash drive. AbiWorld is also a free word processor that one can use and it offers more functionality than TextEdit and WordPad

iWork - If you REALLY must pay for software to feel good about using it, and if you're a Mac user, iWork is for you. It costs $79 (half the price of the student version of Microsoft Office), and it has a capable word processor and publisher-like program called Pages. It has a Spreadsheet called Numbers and it has a GREAT presentation program called Keynote which is far better than PowerPoint! The best part of iWork is that it is 100% compatible with Microsoft Office documents, so you can open and save as a Microsoft documents so your friends can be in the loop.

For poor grad students (heck even undergrads), there is no need to spend the money to buy Microsoft Office, and there is no need to 'borrow' that install CD from your friend's friend's friend. Just use the free tools, or if you have to pay, there are cheaper options.

One program that I never recommend is Microsoft Works. While it can open word files, I do not believe that it can save as a word file, which makes it pretty pointless. Why pay for sort-of Office compatibility when you can get better compatibility for Free with OpenOffice?
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