I've given NeoOffice, the Mac port of OpenOffice.org, a workout recently, editing and annotating word-processing documents, printing them out, and sharing the files. It's got me wondering: Why do otherwise sane people pay for Microsoft Office?
I don't mean that as a rhetorical question. I mean it sincerely. I know many intelligent people continue to buy and use Microsoft Office, and I'd like to know why they do it.
OpenOffice.org has shortcomings. What are they? And, considering OpenOffice.org is free, why is it worthwhile to pay for Microsoft Office? The prices I've seen quoted for Office start at $121 for the student and teacher edition, on up to $400 for some versions.
I'll tell you one area where OpenOffice.org falls short: Adding comments to word processing documents. Microsoft Office lets you highlight a section of text, select "Insert Comment," and the comment appears in a bubble in the right-hand margin, with the text being commented on highlighted, and a lovely little line connecting the text and the comment. The comments appear the same way in printouts. You can also set the comments to appear in a separate window.
By comparison, the comments in OpenOffice.org are awful. They're called Notes. To insert a note, you click on a section of text, select "Insert Note" from the menu, and a little yellow square appears where your cursor is. There's no way to highlight a section of text to indicate that you're commenting on that particular section.
Then you get a pop-up box into which you can type your notes, without any formatting or even line-wrapping. To see the notes, you hover your mouse over the yellow square and the notes appear in a balloon.
The notes are even worse in printouts: You have your choice of the notes appearing on their own page after the page of printouts, or they can appear at the end of a document. That makes it nearly impossible to tell which text your notes are supposed to relate to. The notes contain line numbers to refer back to the original text -- but as far as I can see, there's no way to make the printout contain line numbers, so the line numbers in the notes are useless.
All in all, notes in OpenOffice.org are horrendous. They're vastly better in Microsoft Office.
But that's not worth $300 to me, so I'll continue to use OpenOffice.org. If you've made the opposite decision -- if you've tried OpenOffice.org and gone back to Microsoft Office -- I'd like to know why, with as much specificity as you have the ability and time to muster.
In general, I think OpenOffice.org has done a lousy job of marketing. It stresses two reasons to use its software: Because it believes open source is inherently more moral, or because Microsoft is evil. I don't agree with either of those points, so I ignored OpenOffice.org until I faced the prospect of having to pay for my own software -- rather than just using what my employers gave me -- when suddenly the thought of saving hundreds of dollars began to seem darn attractive.