Mohammad Al-Ubaydli’s blog

Software solutions – OpenOffice

Posted in Articles, My publications, Technology by Dr Mohammad Al-Ubaydli on September 24, 2005

My daughter is going to university. Do you know where I can get her a cheap copy of Microsoft Word?

You should give her OpenOffice. It’s available free of charge and works like Microsoft’s Word, Excel, Power-Point, and Access. It even includes a drawing program, something you don’t get from Microsoft Office (MS Office).

All that free of charge? There must be a catch—bugs, spyware, or adverts to get me to buy something?

It has none of these problems. It matches Microsoft’s software for every feature that you use, and has a few extras to boot. Because it runs efficiently it works well even on older machines that could not cope with new versions of MS Office. It has no spyware, and we know this because its entire code is available for anyone to look at—software with this freedom is known as Free Software. It has the same transparency and quality that peer review has in medical research.

And it really is free, although you can buy a version with technical support (www.staroffice.com).

Aha, it must be really difficult to use so you end up having to buy the technical support.

If you have managed to use MS Office, you will find OpenOffice easy to use.

Well maybe my daughter could try it.

And you should too. A lot of UK doctors use it, including locums and overseas doctors who do not get MS Office from the NHS. Others use it just because it doesn’t crash as often and is less susceptible to viruses.

Oh no, I can’t use it—other doctors keep on sending me Word documents that I need to read and edit.

OpenOffice can open and save all MS Office formats. For example, this article was written with OpenOffice but saved in Microsoft Word format because the editor does not (yet) have OpenOffice. Your colleagues would not notice that you have switched.

However, sending Word documents can be a bad idea. For example, if you are sharing a protocol the last thing you want is for the person reading the document to accidentally change a drug dosage and then share that incorrect document with others. And if you are sending a CV, Word lets your potential employer see all the changes and comments that the CV has gone through, which can be embarrassing.

That is why OpenOffice lets you save your document in PDF format—this can be opened by anyone else using
the free Adobe Acrobat Reader (www.acrobat.com) but they would not be able to edit it, nor see all your changes. It also gives a professional air to your CV.

Are there other features that OpenOffice has that MS Office doesn’t?

OpenOffice Draw is particularly useful. It helps you create posters for your teaching sessions and complex layouts for your team newsletter.

OpenOffice also supports other formats that Word does not, including AportisDoc for Palm Powered and Pocket Word for Pocket PC handheld computers. And it converts presentations into PDF or Flash files for easy placement on websites. Both options mean your presentation is safe from changes by the reader.

All right, how do I get a copy then?

To get the latest version of the software, visit www.openoffice.org and click on “Download”. On the right hand side are instructions guiding you through download and installation of the software.

The file you download will be about 70 MB in size so if your internet connection at home is dialup you might find it easier to download the software at work, transfer it on to a CD, and then use the CD at home. Alternatively, some computer magazines include the software on their free CD. Look out for “OpenOffice” on the CD cover.

Finally, for £10.99 you can buy a CD from www.8daysaweek.co.uk, which includes OpenOffice and several other useful Free Software tools.

However you get the software you have the right to install it on as many computers for as many colleagues
as you want.

Anything else I should know?

Computer skills are useful to your career and daily practice. You might want to speed up your switch from Microsoft Office by getting a copy of the book OooSwitch[1]. If you want to improve your typing skills, Tux Typing is another example of Free Software and you can get it from http://tuxtype.sourceforge.net/. Finally, my own book Free Software for Busy People[2] is freely available online at www.freedomsoftware.info.

Mohammad Al-Ubaydli is author of “Free Software for Busy People” and “Handheld Computers for Doctors”[3].

1 Granor TE.OOoSwitch: 501 things you wanted to know about switching to OpenOffice.org from Microsoft Office“. Hentzenwerke Publishing, 2003 (ISBN 1 930919 36 0).

2 Al-Ubaydli M.Free software for busy people“. Idiopathic Publishing, 2005 (ISBN 0 9544157 3 6).

3 Al-Ubaydli M. “Handheld computers for doctors“. John Wiley, 2003. (ISBN 0 470 85899 0).

Published in BMJ Career Focus 2005;331:101.

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