Current Favourite: Office 2003 Standard Publisher: Microsoft Retail Price: £286.96 OEM Price: £133
With every man and his dog running Windows, Redmond didn't miss a beat in making sure everyone was producing reports and presentations, or even just bashing out some homework, using Microsoft software. By combining word processor, spreadsheet, presentation (and later database) software together, Microsoft were able to corner every major application market in a single package.
These days, recruitment consultants will list specific Office applications as a requirement for various jobs. Applicants may be tested to see if they meet the 'Advanced Excel' standard needed - a powerful incentive to toe the corporate line and use Microsoft Office day to day.
For individuals like our friend Pete the Pirate, the need to confirm stems from the sharing of data, be it working from home or Pete Jr emailing homework to his teacher. 'Everyone uses Word & Excel', so therefore everyone else also has to use them.
Again, conspiracy theorists suggest that it is the ease in which Office can be copied that has lead to its market domination. This would account for the high penetration amongst home users, most of whom would baulk at nearly £300 for Office 2003 Standard Retail. Even £133 for an OEM copy is more than many are prepared to pay when they can download or copy it for nothing. Despite this, Office accounts for 45 percent of all Microsoft profits, to the tune of over US$8 billion a year, so someone is clearly doing the right thing.
Word and Excel - the backbone of office productivity since, like, forever
So what then, if Microsoft was able to enforce copy protection tomorrow with 100% accuracy - everyone with a dodgy copy of Office would need to find something else to use . Lucky for them, there is an extremely capable alternative that costs nothing.
Open Office is easily able to handle most things that regular users expect from an office suite. If you intend to create spreadsheets and type letters, this is perfect. Sure, it might not have the graphical bling of Microsoft Office, or the massive clipart library, or even some of the very advanced features; but it is free, open source and easy to install. Even if Pete couldn't bear to get rid of Windows, he could still save himself some cost by installing this instead of Office, since there are versions available for Linux, Mac and Windows.
The office suite is made up of Writer (the word processor), Calc (spreadsheet), Impress (presentation maker), Draw (a 2D art package) and Base (a database programme using the HSQL engine). The individual packages all directly relate to Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Access.
For a free product, you may be surprised by how sophisticated the programmes are. Writer has wizards for common writing tasks, a full AutoCorrect dictionary, arguably better desktop publishing / frames functionality and automatic table of contents generation.
You can also save your work in the new OpenDocument format. This XML-based format is designed to enable cross-compatibility between word processors and platforms, whilst also creating web-readable copy.
It goes without saying that Write can read and save as MSWord .docs.