There are plenty of office suites as well as a whole host of other productivity software freely available for GNU/Linux. Most of these provide the average user with all the functionality they need from a word processor, desktop database or spread sheet application. Some will even open documents created in Microsoft Word or Excel with varying degrees of success. There will be some issues when it comes to documents containing Macros, but then even Microsoft Office can have issues running macros created in another version.
I will give you a quick overview of the various office suites available for linux before detailing the individual applications in the suite in the next few sections of this article.
OpenOffice has had the most exposure out of all the freely available Office suites, as it is available on all the popular platforms and is available as Star Office as a boxed product with support from Sun Microsystems. It is also available as Novell OpenOffice which includes a Microsoft OpenXML translator, allowing it to open Microsoft Office 2007 files.
It saves its files in the ISO standard OpenDocument Format (ODF) which is supported by a number of office applications. It is available directly from openoffice.org which includes a windows application style installer. It is also available as an automatic update from the sites of the popular Linux distributions.
KOffice is an office suite from KDE. Like OpenOffice it uses the OpenDocument format for saving its files so you can share your files with users of OpenOffice. For distributions that use KDE as default, this will most likely be preinstalled. If that isn’t the case, you can get it using your distributions auto updated facilities.
Gnome Office isn’t really a suite like the two mentioned above in the sense that you do not download and install one single package. It is a collection of applications such as Word Processors and Spreadsheet software you install individually. These should all however be available from your auto-update facilities in the same manner as KOffice.
Most of the applications listed below are available as part of the office suites mentioned above. In addition to the typical office software such as word processing, spreadsheets and presentation packages, I’ve included a few others that can also be classified as productivity software.
Most people use just a tiny subset of the features provided by word processor applications. If you are among this majority who use your word processor just for writing letters or typical documents you could easily switch to a word processor you are comfortable with and which doesn’t cost you a penny to upgrade.
Writer (OpenOffice.org) is simple to use and has a user interface similar to that of pre-2007 Microsoft Word. It has all the features a typical user would expect from a word processor. It supports PDF export which is great for sending read-only copies of your document around or placing them online for download. It flawlessly handles documents spanning over a thousand pages so is great for the budding authors out there, something older versions of Microsoft Word found difficult to handle.
OpenOffice.org includes Math and FontWork which are quite useful for inserting text objects that cannot easily be typed in directly. Math is an mathematical formulae editor (like Microsoft Equation Editor) which can export to PDF or MathML as well as being used directly from the OpenOffice applications. FontWork is a 2D and 3D text designer similar to WordArt found in Microsoft Office.
KWord (KOffice) is word processor which makes complex layouts easy using its frames concept. You can create frames within frames and manage the layout as you would in a Desktop Publishing Program. However, it didn’t feel as intuitive as OpenOffice Writer, and it would also seem unfamiliar to regular Microsoft Word users. But having said that, even as a first time user you would not have any problems just starting it up and writing a letter you need to quickly print out.
Abiword is a lightweight word processor that is supplied with the gnome desktop environment. It is still perfectly adequate for typical use, but does not seem to have a professional appearance. Also it took quite long to embed images, that appeared instantaneously in the other two. It works very well on low-end/old computers and with its PDF export feature, you can share your documents with a wide audience. If you need the files to be edited by a number of other people using other software or platform, you may be a little less successful as it doesn’t have full support for the OpenDocument Format (ODF).