Open Office

Special thanks to Todd for jump starting my brain for this post. I had meant to talk about Open Office a while ago, but got lost in the flurry of beginning a new job, settling in with a new baby, and spending too much time after school playing with the kids’ laptops.

Open Office is a completely free open-source office suite, providing tools for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, databases, and more. While it may not seem fairly important to many at first, having an open source solution to office productivity tools is something more schools should consider in these ever-increasing budget crunch times. Eliminating the cost of Microsoft Office from new computer purchases can save thousands of dollars on computer software for a district (even with discounts Microsoft currently affords schools). Open Office also has the ability to save documents using MS Office file formats, making both office suites compatible across Windows and Mac platforms. Those familiar with MS Office will find that Open Office is not terribly difficult to learn, with some tools and menus in slightly different locations. Sitting down with the word processing program from Open Office only took me a few minutes to figure out how to change margins, page layout, and make other simple changes that are most often used. If you’re looking for a few more excuses to try this completely free program out, or need some good reasons to have your tech coordinator install it on a machine or two for a trial run, feel free to use these or list your own as comments:

1. It’s FREE; your school doesn’t have to pay for it.
2. Open source means that improvements and upgrades are timely and pertinent.
3. Students are able to download the program for use on home computers.
4. Exposure to non-Microsoft software encourages students to increase their ability to work within unknown environments.
5. Every bit as powerful as MS Office.
6. Fully compatible with current MS Office files.


  1. The problem I have with Open Office, though, is that it’s crashing an awful lot on my computers and things are not terrible intuitive. For instance, to add page numbers, I had to search for quite some time until I found this:

    Change the default measurement from centimeters to inches? That took me another month or so (literally) to figure out. Sure, once I found out how to do it, it was easy to modify on all the computers. It took some doing, though. I like that it’s free, but I’m not sure I agree with #6: several students have brought a paper to my room to print that where Open Office totally messed up the margins and fonts and such. “Fully compatible?” How about *mostly* compatible.

    You make good points and I agree with you, overall, but Open Office needs to be a better application very quickly and it needs to start with some assessment of usability.

  2. I agree that I painted an overly rosey picture of Open Office. There are still many bugs and quirks that exsist within the office suite, especially when going back and forth between Microsoft Word and Open Office. Trying to make mailing labels is just one pain, among the other your listed. Thankfully, Open Office has a much quicker development cycle than Microsoft Word does since it is is constant development by coders and open source junkies around the world. I start using Open Office about this time last year and within that time I have seen vast improvements in the build while Word has undergone minor changes (if any at all). Granted Word has had a longer time to get it’s kinks worked out, but Open Office is catching up very quickly.

    Perhaps in future conversations I’ll leave out the fully compatable with Word comment per your suggestions. You’re right in that it does need some work before it can “play nicely” with Word completely.

  3. The main problem with open office that I find as a language student is the lack of spellcheck in common languages such as Spanish and French. For this alone I am considering buying office.

  4. Actually, Open Office supports a number of languages, French and Spanish included. If you click on the Tools menu and look under Options you should be able to change the default language setting. In fact, I had a student mysteriously stuck in the Italian Spellcheck dictionary the other day.

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