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Creating stunning documents, spreadsheets and slide-shows with OpenOffice 4

With the cost of Microsoft Office going up, not to mention the subscription / non-subscription thing, it's nice to know there are alternatives out there. One of the best office alternatives has to be OpenOffice. And it just so happens that the Apache Software Foundation recently released a new version of their free productivity software, OpenOffice 4.

The main screen inside of OpenOffice 4
The main screen inside of OpenOffice 4

For those who are not familiar with it, OpenOffice is a suite of office productivity programs that rivals Microsoft Office. It has everything you could need for creating great looking documents, spreadsheets and slide-show presentations. Here's a complete list of all of the programs included in OpenOffice 4.

ProgramEquivalent toProgram type
Writer Microsoft Word Word processor
Calc Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet
Impress Microsoft PowerPoint Multi-media slide-show presentation
Draw Microsoft Paint Graphic design
Base Microsoft Access Database
Math Design Science Mathtype Formula creation

OpenOffice 4 has some major improvements over previous versions. There's a new Sidebar that contains the most commonly used functions for that program, which can be docked, floating or completely hidden. There is also greatly improved compatibly with Microsoft Office documents. The drawing, graphics and gallery functions have also been enhanced, along with the copy & paste and drag & drop functionality.

The new Sidebar inside of OpenOffice 4 shown docked and floating
The new Sidebar inside of OpenOffice 4 shown docked and floating

OpenOffice does use Java, but it's not required for installation, as it can be added in later on. Compatibility with other document formats is pretty impressive, but Star Office is no longer supported. OpenOffice can automatically load / convert and convert / save Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) and Design Science Mathtype documents. The only file types that it cannot save to is the Microsoft Office 2007 - 2013 .???x formats.

And since OpenOffice is open-source, there are hundreds of third party extensions to expand on the functionality of the applications. Add in a copy of GIMP or Paint.NET and you have a complete, and free, desktop publishing package.

OpenOffice 4 is available for the Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems. For more information on OpenOffice 4, just follow the links below:

Apache OpenOffice Open Source Project
OpenOffice 4 Release Notes
Download OpenOffice 4

My five favorite free programs of 2011

At Geeks in Phoenix, we like to spotlight useful programs (most of them are free). And in this day and age, who couldn't use some free programs! We had some really great free programs released in 2011. From streaming music to creating websites, the offering was quite nice. Let's take another look at my five favorite free programs of 2011 (in no particular order).

Easily create, customize and publish web apps / websites for free with Microsoft WebMatrix

Microsoft WebMatrix web gallery screen
Microsoft WebMatrix web gallery screen

What a great package from Microsoft! You can get all of the software you need to create and publish a website. And you need is a hosting plan and you're ready to go. Yes, it does take a little time to install all of the software, but it's well worth it. Read the full article here.

Streaming music from the cloud for free with Google Music

Google Music website library
Google Music website library

If you want to stream your music collection from the cloud, Google Music is the program for you. With storage for up to 20,000 songs, it's by far the best free music storage / streaming service. As of this writing, I have over 1,800 songs on Google Music. Read the full article here.

Be more productive in your office for free with OpenOffice 3

OpenOffice3 main screen
OpenOffice3 main screen

OpenOffice is not new program, it's been around for a while. But it is the best alternative to Microsoft Office. And it's completely free. What more can I say. Read the full article here.

Try Windows 8 for free with Windows 8 Developer Preview

Metro interface inside of the Windows 8 Preview
Metro interface inside of the Windows 8 Preview

What can I say, I love to play around with new operating systems. And when I can do it for free, that's even better! If you want to give the Windows 8 Developer Preview a try, remember to use a virtual machine (like VirtualBox) or a computer that is non-productive. Read the full article here.

Calling on the cloud with Google Voice

Google Voice website
Google Voice website

I use Google Voice all the time. I love saving money on long distance and international calls. And for free, come on, it's a no brainier. All you need is a gmail account. Read the full article here.

Be more productive in your office for free with OpenOffice 3

A client recently asked me if I knew of any alternative to Microsoft Office. As a firm believer in open source software, I told him about 3 from Oracle. It is a complete office software suite with a word processor, spreadsheet, multi-media presentation, graphics and database programs. is Java based and requires it to be installed. It is compatible with other commercial office software and can read / write various file formats. XSLT and StarOffice formats are supported, but you will need to choose the custom installation to enable these filters. You can also expand the functionality of by using third party extensions. And you can also export to PDF in all of the applications. And best of all, it's free.

OpenOffice 3's Main Screen 3's main screen

Programs included in

Writer lets you design and produce text documents that can include graphics, tables, or charts. You can then save the documents in a variety of formats, including the standardized OpenDocument format (ODF), Microsoft Word .doc format, or HTML. And you can easily export your document to the Portable Document Format (PDF).

Calc is a spreadsheet application that you can use to calculate, analyze, and manage your data. You can also import and modify Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

Impress lets you create professional slide shows that can include charts, drawing objects, text, multimedia and a variety of other items. If you want, you can even import and modify Microsoft PowerPoint presentations.

Draw lets you create simple and complex drawings and export them in a number of common image formats. You can also insert tables, charts, formulas and other items created in programs into your drawings.

With Base, you can access data that is stored in a wide variety of database file formats. Base natively supports some flat file database formats, such as the dBASE format. You can also use Base to connect to external relational databases, such as databases from MySQL or Oracle.

Math provides numerous operators, functions and formatting assistants to help you create formulas. 3 is available for the Windows, Linux and Mac operating systems. For more information on 3, please visit their website

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