So, you got a new computer for Christmas, or with that end-of-year budget surplus? Congratulations! But now you've spent the whole budget and you've discovered that your new computer comes with a trial version of Microsoft Office, which is going to stop working in 60, 59, 58, 57...days. You could spend a substantial amount of money in order to convert that trial version to a full-fledged version of the program. Perhaps you could take advantage of an educational or non-profit discount, which is a good way to acquire Microsoft products. (I'll write about this option in the near future.) You may also be able to use alternatives that are free and, in some ways, better. I would like to suggest a few of them.
Open Office is an open source office suite. It includes a word processor, presentation program, spreadsheet program, database program, and drawing program. All of these are able to open and save the corresponding Microsoft Office files. Open Office is developed by many people around the globe and there are new versions released frequently. While it cannot do absolutely everything that Microsoft Office can do, it is able to do everything that most people actually need to have done. It will run on modest computers, of both the Windows and Macintosh flavors. I think it is a good solution for those who are running older versions of Microsoft Office because it is patched and more secure than they would be. Open Office may be downloaded from www.openoffice.org at no cost.
Another option is Google Docs, found at docs.google.com. You need to have a free Google Account in order to use these services. Google Docs includes a word processor, spreadsheet, and simple presentation program. All three of these are able to open and save the equivalent Microsoft Office files. While not nearly as robust as Microsoft Office, these tools provide most of what people need on a regular basis. They also provide a great solution for those who routinely work from multiple machines. Once you sign-in to the website, you can access your files from any internet-connected computer, running any modern operating system and web browser. Another noteworthy feature of Google Docs is that you can collaborate on files with multiple people at the same time. It is very interesting to be editing a file and watch text in another portion of the document get changed as someone else edits the file simultaneously. There are easy ways to e-mail files, download them as Adobe PDFs, and to share Google Docs files with website and blogs.
There are some other options available as well. For a "vintage" computer, Abiword is a free word processor that runs well with minimal system requirements. It can be downloaded from www.abisource.com. It will also open and save a variety of file formats. Some people will need to use Microsoft Office, but for many people, it is over-kill and over-priced and one of these other options will serve their needs quite nicely. I'm writing this article using Google Docs, because I can easily work on it from different computers. If I really wanted to, I could even view it on my cell phone!
God's blessings on the ministry you do each day,
Pastor Andy Arnold
ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Tech Geek