Tuesday, February 10, 2009

OpenOffice is the best free open source Microsoft Office alternative

As some regular readers would know, I had installed and used Microsoft Office 2007 for a little while now.

Well one of the big things that has always frustrated me is Word's drawing capabilities.

I do a lot of sales proposals with diagrams and the like. Word's drawing system mystifies me. The inconsistencies in the way that things are laid out and objects sometimes do not snap to where you'd expect them to have caused countless hours of frustration. I guess Microsoft figured that their Visio application is specialised for this sort of thing but I have always found Visio quite chunky and clunky and not integrated enough with Word. Having used it before from time to time as a Microsoft Office alternative, I have found Open Office to excel in this area.

Using Open Office Draw, however Open Office 3.0 has given me an all new appreciation for the Open Office suite. This is a very well put together application. Even though I am now used to the ribbon (which is apparently to feature quite heavily in the new Vienna edition of Windows), I am constantly drawn to the classic and simpler to use Open Office interface.

I don't want to turn this into a Microsoft Office 2007 vs Open Office 3.0 debate, because for the time being I'm happy to run both side by side. Most computers these days can handle the additional space and processing power required.

I was once compelled to use Microsoft Office because of the integration of things like Outlook, the synch and Business Contact Manager. However frustration with these applications has reduced my reliance on the integrated approach. I still find Outlook's calendaring and invitation system (because many other clients also use it it can be handy), however I now use these apps independently of each other. An open standard for calendaring and meeting invites would be the icing on the cake. So I've really started to question whether I am locked into Office 2007 at all (aside from its obvious buying price).

I really think that Microsoft Office 2007 has matured as a product and while using the Open Office suite, this is very evident. The Writer is, in more opinion, more solid than Word. I've found that it supports almost everything I need to do. I've used the Calc application as an Excel and found it to be just as good. I've also used the Impress application, which is the equivalent to PowerPoint and can confidently say that it offers everything that PowerPoint does. To top it off, even though I know Open Office 3.0 runs using Java, it does seem a lot snappier, possibly moreso than Microsof Office 2007. However I do get these annoying Java pop-ups from time to time on Windows Vista (doesn't happen on my XP machine) that I'm not sure yet how to turn off.

Anyway, I'd just like to share with you the fact that integrated features in Open Office are truly impressive and has come a long way. I would definitely recommend giving it another go.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Inkscape - free Adobe Illustrator alternative an Illustrator killer ?

Had my first experiment with Inkscape 0.46, this week.

I searched for and found this vector graphics editor similar to Adobe Illustrator because I can't afford the exorbitant licencing for Adobe Illustrator and CS2, CS4 or whatever the latest is. I'm not a designer, but I occasionally do however need to work with vector art.

Vector graphics is the use of geometrical primitives such as points, lines, curves, and shapes or polygon(s), which are all based upon mathematical equations, to represent images. With applications like Illustrator, you don't need to know the science behind it, but you typically do require some sort of knowledge.

Anyway, I must say, I'm very impressed with this application. I actually found it to be simpler, self explanatory and more intuitive than Illustrator. Most people take Adobe Illustrator courses to do the sort of stuff I was doing within minutes of picking up Inkscape. It is certainly quicker, snappier and less bloated for machines with a lower spec and it is very easy to pick up and run with.

While I don't use the top end features of Illustrator (I'm certain some design gurus would tell me that this freeware application doesn't quite have the grunt or power of Adobe's product), Inkscape is great for the occassional vector designer.

As a Windows user and novice designer, I'd have to say in terms of Inkscape vs Illustrator, Inkscape is much better for me.