Whether OpenOffice 3.0 is right for you comes down to this decision: can you live without the latest features in Microsoft Office 2007?

OpenOffice.org is a powerful productivity suite - including tools for word processing, spreadsheets, slideshows and more - with one major additional feature: it's free. It works for Windows, Mac and Linux systems.

Most of the tools you need for productivity are included in OpenOffice.org 3.0, minus an email client. There's Writer, a powerful word processor; Calc for spreadsheets; Impress for slideshows; Draw for basic drawing and graphics; and Base to serve as - you guessed it - a database.

OpenOffice.org 3.0: major improvements

OpenOffice.org 3.0 OpenOffice 3 is a major upgrade over the previous version, with plenty of new features, native OS support, and all the tools most people would need to get their work done. You begin in a splash screen called the Start Center, with new icons for the different applications you can select (you can't start the individual apps from the Applications folder). You can share data between apps, and run more than one module at the same time.

OpenOffice 3.0 is fast. The Writer application zips along, formatting a 200-page novel at lightning speed - like we were using a basic txt editor.

Calc, the spreadsheet program, also runs fast. OpenOffice.org - which is a collaborative effort from developers who donate their time - does not post the minimum processing speed to run the apps, and says that only 256MB RAM is required. However, we'd recommend you have at least a gig of RAM.

There's another major change in the latest version of the software: OpenOffice.org 3.0 supports the OpenDocument 2.1 (ODF) standard, a popular format that's used around the world, especially by government agencies. Speaking of format support: Writer supports Microsoft Word files, so you can open them and then save them in Word format or as ODF.

However, if you want to save a document in Word format, you must continually choose "Save as" because the program does not natively support Word. In fact, the Save menu is dimmed when you open a Word file. This forces you to make a decision about whether you should start using ODF, a format that is still not supported by Microsoft Word.

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