Very few things in free are life, but for people who purchase new computers, regardless of flavors, a free office suite is available for download onto your Mac, your Windows XP netbook, or your Linux loaded computer. Vista flavors are also available. Just search for OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org) for Windows or Linux, or NeoOffice (for the Mac).
The images shown are for NeoOffice, which is a direct native port of OpenOffice into OS X. It offers a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, a line drawing program, and a database. In OS X, you can publish directly to PDF format or export to Microsoft Office formats.
This ability trumps any need to purchase a Microsoft Office license. I have found that most people use only 10 percent of the functionality in any software, and the increasingly complex versions of Office offers no benefit. Still, their document formats are the lingua franca of business, and being able to open attachments and see them correctly formatted is a big thing.
The programs are fast and very functional. This all builds into my basic premise that Microsoft and its dance partner, Intel, have reached the end of their upgrade rope. Basically, with the current set of Windows XP netbooks, you can watch get on the internet, check email, watch video, and do work. You can do it on a Mac even better. If you need to frag aliens on a shooting game, then you need a high powered rig, but the basic items of fast internet connection and ability to read the basic file formats: MPEGS, Flash, and WMV’s (movies and music), DOCs (wordprocessing), XLS (spreadsheet), PPT (presentations), and databases, allows to do 95% of computing work. It’s available for free. If you can create PDF’s it’s even better because you don’t have to waste paper.
Even better, you don’t need a computer if you sign up for a Google Docs account. You access it with your gmail login -and you can create the basic triumvirate of doc, xls, and ppt documents right on-line. No need for a flash drive or burning CD’s.
So what is the value added for paying for software? I use iWork from Apple because stuff created on it just looks better and blows away anything you can make on the free stuff or on Microsoft Office. You have to get something in return for what you pay for.
But the free stuff is great, because it levels the playing field. It means your four year old computer does not need to be upgraded because you can still create documents on it. It means your netbook that you bought for 300 bucks can do anything the laptop your company tries to load on you, but only lighter and simpler with battery life. It means that by getting a Mac, you get a competitive advantage if making presentations and documents is your livelihood because the stuff on it just looks better. It means being free of the Microsoft/Intel duopoly that demands a tithe every three years.