Is OpenOffice really a free version of Microsoft Office?

I’ve come across a free office productivity suite called OpenOffice. Is this really free? What’s catch?


Roger from Aurex Limited asked me this question when he came across the ASUS EEE PC. It’s a cut-down laptop running Linux that comes with a version of OpenOffice. Roger’s confusion lay in the fact that he had always been a Windows users and the concept of free software was a bit difficult to grasp. The funny thing is that there are a number of people out there who consider the concept of paying for software a bit difficult to grasp 🙂

The reality is that there is a growing body of software that is not only free, but also open for others to build on an enhance. The Open Source movement is gaining more credibility in user circles and coming up with real, viable alternatives for organisations who want to avoid getting locked into proprietary systems. You can find Open Source alternatives of operating systems, office applications, games, budgeting software, financial packages and pretty much everything under the sun.

Open Office is a great example of Open Source. It’s not related to Microsoft Office in any way except that you can share files between the two systems (assuming you have the right conversion functions in place). Functionality between the two suites is pretty similar. They both come with the same set of tools: a word processor, spreadsheet, database and presentation make up the core set of products; which is probably most of what you need for office productivity. The biggest difference between the two is that Open Office it totally free. OpenOffice is also a cross-platform package which means you can get a copy that will run on a large number of operating systems.

Hope that answers your question!

3 thoughts on “Is OpenOffice really a free version of Microsoft Office?

  1. The biggest difference from a user point of view is that OpenOffice (and the Mac version that I use, called NeoOffice) does not have anything akin to Outlook. This is a major hole if you’re using Office in a business environment, but would probably be less serious for home users.

    Whilst OpenOffice will open and save the MS file types, this is through backward engineering so it is not always perfect. I had a major issue with a complicated Excel document, which contained many graphs and relative functions, which OpenOffice would only open after a severe wait and which it then would not save properly.

    On the whole, OpenOffice is a good piece of software – and even better because it’s free – but it does have its limitations. If 100% compatibility with MS file types is important to you as a user, it might not be the suite for you. If you can live with less than 100% compatibility (or are prepared to change all your MS files to OpenOffice ones), and if Outlook is not important to you, then it’s definitely worth checking out.

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