Monday, February 20, 2006

Best Software: Two Obvious Choices

This is the first in an ongoing short series of articles recommending some of my favourite software. I have done away with Microsoft products (other than Windows XP itself). I never want to buy another piece of bloated, slow, crappy, single-platform, proprietary, talking paperclip-infested software again. To begin with I'd like to alert you to two obvious choices, plus an innovative way you can install and use these apps.

 Use OpenOffice.org OpenOffice.org x o is a full office application suite. It boasts great compatibility with the common Microsoft Office file formats that you will need in order to operate in the business world. Applications include a word processor, spreadsheet, slideshow app, draw program, and a new database manager. It is available in more than 60 languages and has a full feature set including mail merge, powerful stylesheets, automatic cross-references and table of contents, etc. Check out the list of features new in version 2.0.

I recently laid out an entire book in OpenOffice.org and the experience was overall a pleasant one. Certainly there are some aspects of the programme that are not obvious but the documentation is improving all the time. It might have helped had I come across the article Creating A Book With OpenOffice.org Writer before starting.

There are some glitches and gotchas (what complex app doesn't have them?) but I have now put aside MicroSoft Word and PageMaker forever. And so has the state of Massachusetts, more than one Canadian province, the city of Vienna, and the entire nation of Brazil!

One thing I love is the small file size. The 218 page book (text, no images) fits in a file of 164KB. Producing a PDF for production printing is a piece of cake, and the resulting file is only half a meg.

I should warn you that this app is very large, currently around 80MB.

Available through a third-party venture is Portable OpenOffice.org the complete suite packaged as a portable app. The idea here is that you can bang it on a flash disk and use it wherever you go without needing to install anything. All programme files, configuration settings, temporary files, etc. stay on the flash disk.

Get Firefox! The second obvious choice is FireFox x o, a better browser than Internet Explorer in any number of ways: popup blocking, plugin availability, rendering, privacy controls, etc. The tabbed interface is to die for. Simply put: once you try it you will never be able to go back. In Europe Firefox has passed 20% market share and is unstoppable as far as I am concerned. Besides, it's got a cute fox logo.

As a bonus, a portable version is available, for those nasty internet cafes that are still stuck on IE. Full disclosure: I am just about to try this portable solution for myself, so it comes untested by yours truly.

o Open Source
x cross-platform

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