If you're thrifty and you use an office suite, it's hard not to like OpenOffice.org. Version 1.0 does most things Microsoft Office can do. And it's free. So what's to improve?

OpenOffice.org 2.0, still in beta testing, adds a database creation application similar to Microsoft Access, but many of the other changes are tweaks that probably won't change the way you work.

In addition to Base, the database application, OpenOffice.org 2.0 includes a word processor by the name of Writer; Impress, which is a presentation program and Draw, a nifty illustration program. The beta is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems. We tested the Windows version.

In addition to this there's the frustratingly titled Calc, which is a spreadsheet application, and with the worst name of all, Math is a tool for creating mathematical formulas. The suite's developers seem to have tried to make Base look and act just like Access - unfortunate, since Access is often baffling. A better plan might have been to create a database app similar to FileMaker Pro - that is, much easier to use than Access.

As for the tweaks, Calc now supports as many rows of data as Excel does, eliminating one problem for serious number crunchers. And if, heaven forbid, you're a fan of transitions and sounds in between
your slides, you'll love the fact that Impress now has buckets of them. While OpenOffice.org 2.0 includes features worth having, the beta version is a work in progress. We experienced several crashes, and the file-recovery system had some glitches.

OpenOffice.org 2.0: Specs

  • Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
  • Linux kernel version 2.2.13 or higher
  • 128MB RAM
  • 200MB hard disk space
  • Windows 98/Me/2000/XP
  • Linux kernel version 2.2.13 or higher
  • 128MB RAM
  • 200MB hard disk space

OUR VERDICT

Once a final edition of version 2.0 is released - there's no firm schedule - you may doubt the wisdom of paying £400-plus for Microsoft Office Professional. OpenOffice.org 2.0 offers everything you need in an office suite for free. We can't give it final ratings as it's still at beta stage, but we like what we see so far.

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