UPDATE: The development community behind OpenOffice.org has created LibreOffice, which I now recommend instead of OpenOffice. Grab the latest version from libreoffice.org.
Friday saw the release of the first release candidate of OpenOffice version 3, the free and open source alternative to Microsoft Office.
The last thing an auctioneer needs when starting out or outfitting employees or workstations with new computers is to have to pay upwards of $200 for a copy of a piece of software when a clearly sufficient and arguably superior alternative is available.
OpenOffice includes Writer and Calc, alternatives to Word and Excel, respectively. Their functionality is above the basic needs of word processing and number crunching. We’ve been using Calc for inventory uploads for quite some time. The only piece of Writer that we’ve had trouble with is the mail-merge. For that process, we still have to dust off a copy of Microsoft Word.
Version 3 of OpenOffice brings a visual refresh, not to mention full-on support of Microsoft Office 2007 OOXML file formats – those annoying .docx and .xlsx formats that everyone complains about when you MS Office 2007 users forget to use save-as before you email.
OpenOffice.org is a great alternative to Microsoft Office. It’s like different brands of cars. The gear-shift may be in a different place, but a Ford and a Chevrolet both go forwards and backwards at about the same speed. If you’ve driven a Ford all your life, you may feel a little different for the first hundred miles in your Chevrolet, but it’ll take you where you want to go.
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Google released its entry into the browser wars Today. I’ve been playing with it all day. I like how it puts the tabs in line with the minimize / maximize / close buttons. I’ve wanted this in a browser for years. They have a long way to go to enable other features, but it’s blazing fast and minimalist, which are two big pluses in my book.
Some auctioneers, as well as my sister, have claimed that Chrome runs slower than Firefox and IE. Some speed tests have claimed that Firefox may be just as fast, though I haven’t see this behavior. If you’ve seen Chrome running slowly, let us know in the comments.
Flash is a very bad way to build websites. It’s not only about SEO. It’s about usability. For the same reasons that mature developers don’t use “fly-out” or “drop-down” menus, you shouldn’t use Flash because it requires you to do one of two things. You can either alienate the growing minority of users using alternative user agents or you can “sniff” to find out what the user is using and deliver one site if the user is using Firefox on a Mac and another site if the user is browsing using Internet Explorer on Windows Mobile. Either option is a bad decision.
Properly designed websites keep usability in mind for 100% of possible users. They’re made with semantically valid XHTML and CSS. They don’t start animation or sound without the user clicking somewhere to request it. They don’t require the user to download something special like Flash or Java. They load faster because of the lighter page weight caused by separating the markup (XHTML) from the layout (CSS). They have a good navigational structure that doesn’t rely on drop-down or fly-out menus. They can be browsed effectively with a text-based browser or screen reader. They are very well-indexed on search engines because they’re so accessible.
Flash does have one redeeming quality. It is the current, defacto standard for video distribution. Until Silverlight gets out of diapers, it appears we’re stuck with Adobe’s pile of steam for now.
Recently, I was astounded at the amount of anti-Vista sentiment at the National Auctioneers Association convention. Vista isn’t evil. It’s a much more secure operating system than XP and I rest easier at night knowing that most of my users are using Vista instead of XP. I have a bunch of complaints with Windows in general, but Vista is better than XP for the average user.
Vista has Windows Mail, which is a new name for XP’s Outlook Express. It’s the Microsoft equivalent of Thunderbird, and I can find no substantive feature differences between Windows Mail and Thunderbird in the limited investigation I’ve done. Out of the two, I’d use Thunderbird because it has an open-source community behind it.
Thunderbird is awesome, but it is email only. There are other functions of Outlook, like contacts and calendar, that Thunderbird lacks in its basic installation. If you use an Exchange server or a hosted Exchange service, which is a practice that unfortunately is still hard for me to not recommend, Outlook is about the only way to go. The closest product to Outlook as far as features go is a product called Evolution, but it only works on Linux.
My recommendation is to become one with the Google Apps suite. Their calendar is superior to that in Outlook, their email is the best anywhere, and they’re Docs and Spreadsheets package is getting more robust all the time. I wish we had taken that route instead of going with our hosted Exchange solution. Google Apps is the only realistic and free calendar-sharing system, and it also happens to be the best. Google’s Gmail product can be used by your domain, so you keep your email address, use Gmail’s absurd nearly 7 GB email limit, use Thunderbird to check your mail, and everything is in one place. It costs nothing and is a viable solution for everyone in your office to be better connected and better informed with schedules, contacts, etc.