You don't have to pay for Microsoft Office. I mean, you can if you want to, but you don't have to.

First there is Star Office

Sun's StarOffice application suite of word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications has proven to be a viable alternative to Microsoft's market-dominating Office software. Sure, it doesn't have all the bells and whistles Office has, but as a free download, StarOffice is a remarkable value, considering its functionality, intuitiveness, and feature set.


The main feature of StarOffice is its all-in-one desktop environment called the StarDesktop. In the StarDesktop, users can launch the appropriate application to create text documents, spreadsheets, or presentations. But the StarDesktop isn't limited to just office tasks. You can use it to surf the Web, check email, and keep track of your busy schedule.

The StarDesktop actually sits on top of an existing Windows, Linux, or Solaris desktop and incorporates many features of its host. In Windows, for example, the StarDesktop actually has its own start menu, which provides access to all your control panels, installed applications, recently used documents, and more. Also, any items on your current desktop will appear on the StarDesktop. There is even a program similar to Windows Explorer, which lets you quickly browse through your system's folders and files.

How does it compare?

StarOffice is packed with enough features for users to be just as productive as they were with Microsoft Office. Most helpful are the intuitive Microsoft Office-like interfaces. For instance, each application sports customizable toolbars for easy access to formatting features such as changing font attributes and adjusting text alignment. Menus are also easy to navigate, making quick work of searching for the right option.

To see how StarOffice's Writer (word processing), Calc (spreadsheet), and Impress (presentation) applications compare with Microsoft's Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, friends have performed several tasks to simulate how an average user would use each app. To our delight, we found that each task could be completed effortlessly in each suite, although StarOffice lagged slightly behind in speed. Editing text in documents often resulted in waiting for StarOffice Writer to catch up to our typing, and launch times for each StarOffice application were a couple of seconds slower than their Microsoft counterparts. Additionally, graphics rendered differently in our Excel spreadsheet and PowerPoint presentation.

StarOffice's bright future

Sun released the source code for its StarOffice software suite late last year, making it available to any developer interested in making additions, bug fixes, or other changes to the code. In its current state, the project, as it is called, is in its infancy, but with the open source movement behind it, we feel that it will soon mature in features and performance to become a significant competitor to Microsoft's Office.

Is it right for me?

The real question is, "What can it do for me now?" Well, our brief run with StarOffice was a positive one. We were impressed with the number of productive tools the suite provides. Since the package is free, we definitely recommend giving it a try.

Summary: StarOffice 5.2 gives you all the applications and features necessary to be productive without Microsoft Office.

Pros: Feature packed, intuitive interface, free.

Cons: Slow performance.

Company: Sun Microsystems
Price: Free download, $39.95 for packaged version.
Available: Now
Category: Software -- office suites
Platform: Windows, Linux, Solaris

Now you have heard of Sun's free office suite, StarOffice, but at 13.6MB (compared to StarOffice's 63.6MB), 602Pro is quite a bit smaller.

What 602Pro PC Suite has


Word processor (includes a good spell checker)
Spreadsheet program
Photo-editing program
Photo album

602Pro is an MS Office clone, and a pretty good one at that. It even features a few additional amenities, such as the ability to preview items as you explore. You no longer have to guess a word-processing document's contents by its name -- 602Pro let's you preview the first few sentences of a document.

All the programs are compatible with their MS Office counterparts, so don't worry about not being able to open documents.

What 602Pro PC Suite doesn't have


A presentation program (such as PowerPoint; Sun's StarOffice includes a decent one)
A text editor (such as Notepad; StarOffice also includes this)
A thesaurus for the word-processing program
Text-to-speech capabilities
Free tech support

If you already have MS Office, you don't have to ditch it in order to download 602Pro (or StarOffice). You can try it and if you don't like it, I'm sure Microsoft will take you back.


Download 602Pro


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