OpenOffice: The good, bad, and the great – A student’s perspective

Special guest post by Bri Castellini

When I got my first laptop, for my sixteenth birthday three and a half years ago, I needed a word processor. Because I got a MacBook, Microsoft Word didn’t really make a lot of sense (plus, it’s super expensive!), and so my dad HelpMeRick helped (hah) me make the switch to a free, open source word processor. I started out with a program called AbiWord, but the formatting was kind of strange and it wasn’t very compatible with Microsoft Office programs, which was important to me, as I was still in high school. Then we tried a program called NeoOffice, which had a really cool sailing ship logo, which worked great for the next year or so. NeoOffice is actually something of a “port” off of the bigger, more successful free word processor that was part of OpenOffice, which I eventually agreed to switch to.

I’ll admit, I was resistant to this change at first. Seriously, that ship logo was awesome. But eventually I gave OpenOffice a change, and I’ll be honest- I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the conventional, paid-for word processors. Heck, I don’t even need to.

What’s great about OpenOffice is that it has nearly everything Microsoft Word does- for 140 bucks less. It’s completely compatible with Microsoft Word because it can save automatically to the .doc  format, which is the Windows 97 version that is accepted by all new versions of the more expensive program. That means that even if you do work or school projects on OpenOffice at home, if you need to update or edit files at work or school, you’ll have no problems in between the two programs.

That said, there are a few drawbacks from being cheap. The first, and most obvious, is that OpenOffice isn’t as, for lack of a better word, fancy as Microsoft Word/Office. There are less formatting options for documents and powerpoints and such, and sometimes, formatting made in one program or the other won’t translate well in between them. I’ve found this is especially problematic in PowerPoint files- when I made a presentation on my home OpenOffice and take it on a flashdrive to present in class, sometimes the Microsoft program that I have to use to show the presentation has different size and design settings, so the pictures and words aren’t lined up. Sometimes, I even lost words or whole sentences because of the compatability issues around the formatting. Granted, I still left high school with something absurd like a 4.12 grade point average, but it was definitely frustrating for my beautifully designed slides crapping out on me in the middle of an important presentation.

The solution I found for this problem was Google Docs. Because I already had a Gmail account, it was easy to set up and learn. They actually offer an impressive array of presentation designs, and because you can present from the same program via the internet (oh, the internet. How I adore you), there aren’t any wacky formatting problems.

The only other issue I have with OpenOffice is the default settings. In Microsoft Word, from what I can remember, it was really simple to change your default document settings- font, line spacing, etc. Most of the documents I create are double-spaced with .5 first line of paragraph indentations, so for a long time I had to manually change to those settings for every document I created. Eventually, with the help of a nice boy from college, I figured out how to change that (File: templates), but still I had one more problem: default list formatting.

OpenOffice’s default numbering format is the bane of my existence, and a constant thorn in my side. In Microsoft Word, lists defaulted so the first indent was a number, the second indent was a lowercase letter, the third indent was a lowercase Roman numeral, and so on. In OpenOffice, no matter how many indents you make, it will only ever be a regular number. So your lists end up looking like this:

1. Something

1. Something else

2. Something more

1. Something off of something more

2. Something 2

1. Something else 2

(Incidentally, that demonstration took about ten minutes, because now OpenOffice has decided to make it even more difficult to create an appropriate list)

Something about not having different symbols for different levels of your list just bugs me. So hopefully when I update to LibreOffice (basically the newest OpenOffice version) with my new computer that’s coming any day now, this annoyance will be fixed, or at least they’ll make it possible for me to create my own default settings.

But, in all, I’m completely happy with OpenOffice, and it has gotten me through high school and one year of college! I may not be able to do that really cool “word art” that Microsoft Word can, but let’s be honest… does anyone use it anyways, other than second graders creating headers for projects? Probably not.


Bri is a sophomore in college in Forest Grove, Oregon, and blogs twice a week at her personal website. If blogs aren’t your thing, she also posts videos once a week on her YouTube channel, and tweets way too much, and says silly things on Facebook. You can find her almost anywhere on the web by searching for BrisOwnWorld.


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