Although it’s arguably one of the most comprehensive packages on the Mac, not everyone wants to run Microsoft Office. Some can’t afford it, while others simply don’t want to run Microsoft software. However, viable alternatives arethin on the ground. AppleWorks is long in the tooth,and iWork lacks a spreadsheet and, some would argue,a host of essential features.
Enter NeoOffice/J, a Java-based conversion of the open-source OpenOffice project that runs on Mac OS X. Although the words ‘Java-based’ are likely to send some scurrying to the hills, the developers have done a good job of making it look like a Mac application, albeit with some rough edges around the interface. There’s even a plug-in for Spotlight, which allows you to index and search NeoOffice/J documents.
Based on OpenOffice 1.1.4, NeoOffice/J includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation package and drawing application. Although there’s no database program, it does come with a built-in bibliography database allowing you to manage citations within word-processor documents, a very handy feature for students and academics. It’s also capable of connecting to databases, including those based on MySQL.
The word-processing package is comprehensiveand closely resembles Microsoft Word in functionality. It includes full support for styles – essential for long word-processing documents – plus bookmarks, footnotes, cross-references and more. Of all the packages, it’s the most fully developed, and is good enough for day-to-day use for virtually all users. As it has the ability to both read and write Word documents, it’s an excellent option for anyone who can’t afford Word.
Unfortunately, the spreadsheet isn’t quite as good. Although it offers a standard array of formulas, charts, and so on, it’s let down by its import capabilities. In theory, it should be capable of importing Excel documents and preserving formulas. In practice, it had a tendency to convert a cell with a formula into one with the result of the formula as a number – a serious issue for anyone who needs to work with Excel documents. The other two packages – presentation and drawing – are fairly bare-bones applications which will serve for basic work, but thatare easily eclipsed by commercial programs.
If the majority of your work is word processing then NeoOffice/J presents a very viable option. The word processor is powerful, works well with the majority of Word documents, and has some nice features. And, of course, while Office will set you back several hundred pounds, NeoOffice/J will cost you only the time spent downloading it. A good option for anyone on a budget.