Although OpenOffice.org has a long history and a notable pedigree, few law firms in South Africa have adopted it for use at the office. Perhaps that is an indication of the strong economy over the past few years, where the cost of software was not an issue for firms.
Or perhaps it is because it isn’t easy to find employees who know their way around OpenOffice.org. And of course, certain of the case management software (conveyancing, collections, etc) in South Africa doesn’t work on OpenOffice.org. But the fact is that as the economy tightens, OpenOffice.org presents a viable alternative to Microsoft Office. Of course, for home use, Microsoft offers its Student and Teacher edition, which is substantially cheaper than the full commercial product. On principle though, more and more home users are opting for free software. But with the release of version 2.4 (and version 3.0 pending), OpenOffice.org is becoming more and more of a contender.
Key points about the OpenOffice.org Productivity Suite, extracted from the OOo website:
OpenOffice.org provides everything most people need in an office productivity suite. It is stable, reliable, and robust, built up over twenty years of development. Unlike its major competitor, it was designed from the start as a single piece of software, which makes for higher quality software and a more consistent user experience. It is actively developed, with several releases every year. The main components of the OpenOffice.org Suite are the Writer word processor; the Calc spreadsheet; Impress for presentations; Draw for graphics; and the Base database.
OpenOffice.org is both easy to use and easy to migrate to, for both experienced users and beginners alike. It has a familiar user interface, and is able to read and write the vast majority of legacy file formats (including common Microsoft Office formats). It is supported in over seventy languages, with active support both community-based (free) and from commercial organisations (paid-for).
OpenOffice.org is released under an open-source licence (the LGPL), which means it may be used free of any licence fees, for any purpose: private, governmental, commercial, etc. Once acquired (either as a free download or as a CD) it may be installed on an unlimited number of computers, and may be copied and distributed without restriction. OpenOffice.org supports extensions, allowing users to add on extra functions easily from an extensions repository. This is a key differentiator from the competition.
Potted history of OpenOffice.org
OpenOffice.org is a mature software product, tracing its origins back over twenty years to a commercial software house in Germany, StarDivision. Following the acquisition of StarDivision by Sun Microsystems in April 1999, OpenOffice.org version 1.0 was released as open-source software on May 1st 2002. It proved hugely successful, and after more than 49 million recorded downloads, version 2.0 was released on 20th October 2005. OpenOffice.org 2 removed the last barriers to migration with a new user interface, improved support for competitors’ file formats, and a new integrated database component. It also became the first office suite to support the new OpenDocument Format for office applications (ODF) natively. ODF was adopted as an ISO standard on May 1st 2006 and is the only office document format to be approved at this level. The current version of the OpenOffice.org Suite (2.4.1) was released on June 9th 2008.
OpenOffice.org version 3.0 was released on 13 October 2008. Since then v3.0 has been downloaded over 6,000,000 times.