By far, the most popular suite of office programs for Macintosh users is Microsoft Office 2004. This group of programs includes Microsoft Word, Excel, Project Center, PowerPoint, and a rather good e-mail program called Entourage. However, it is a bit "pricey" at $300 to $350.
Savvy Mac users all know that the $150 Office 2004 for Macintosh for Students and Teachers contains most of the same programs. Of course, that lower-priced suite of programs can only be legally licensed by full- or part-time students, home-schooled students, or full- or part-time faculty or staff of an accredited educational institution. I am sure that nobody would ever lie about their student or teacher status when registering this product, right? Nudge-nudge-wink-wink. Of course, that is illegal and immoral. Sadly, I hear of it happening often.
However, even $150 strikes me as being a bit expensive these days. Cheaper alternatives are available to all. In fact, why register something improperly when there are excellent free alternatives?
The first product I'd mention is called OpenOffice.org. It is freeware; even the source code is available if you are a programmer and would like to modify the program. OpenOffice.org is available at no charge for Windows, Macintosh, Linux and other operating systems. It is a great suite of office productivity programs and has perhaps 85% to 90% of the capabilities of Microsoft Office. I have written about OpenOffice.org several times. See http://tinyurl.com/38an9f for my past articles.
While the Macintosh version of OpenOffice.org works well, it has a rather important limitation: it does not use the Macintosh "Aqua user interface." Indeed, it looks like a Unix program grafted into a Macintosh front end.
Luckily, an even better alternative is available. Remember that I mentioned above, "The source code is available if you are a programmer and would to modify the source code?" It seems that a bunch of dedicated Macintosh programmers have done just that. They modified OpenOffice.org to fully utilize the Macintosh Aqua interface. They call their modified product NeoOffice.
NeoOffice for OS X is a great combination of programs that look and feel like true Macintosh programs. Since NeoOffice is based on OpenOffice.org, it includes a word processor that has about 90% of the capabilities of Microsoft Word. It also contains a spreadsheet program (compatible with Excel), a presentation program (compatible with PowerPoint) and a drawing program. It fully uses the Macintosh Aqua interface. Best of all, NeoOffice is available free of charge.
NeoOffice contains about 90% of the capabilities of Microsoft Word 2004 for Macintosh. The equivalents of Excel and PowerPoint are probably a bit less comparable, but they are still excellent for casual use. If you are an Excel guru who commonly uses extensive macros, you may be disappointed with the spreadsheet in NeoOffice. However, the rest of us who are not power users will find the NeoOffice spreadsheet to be more than powerful enough for our needs. The same is true of the NeoOffice presentation program that competes with PowerPoint.
Unlike Microsoft Office 2004 for Macintosh, there is no e-mail program built into NeoOffice. However, that's not much of an issue as Macintosh OS X systems already include Mail, a very capable e-mail application that works with most e-mail services plus .mac, a powerful application that works with Apple's own e-mail service. If that's not enough for you, look at Mozilla's free Thunderbird e-mail application. I use Thunderbird and love it.
I use NeoOffice frequently and am pleased with it. I mostly use the word processor but have occasionally used the spreadsheet and presentation programs. All work well, satisfying my admittedly non-sophisticated requirements.
If you are looking for a high-end word processor, presentation program, and spreadsheet program, I'd suggest that you spend some money and purchase Microsoft Office 2004 for Macintosh. However, if you are looking for mid-level products that meet the needs of most of us and are available free of charge, I'd then suggest you look at http://www.neooffice.org. Then have some fun with money you save!
NOTE: This article was written with NeoOffice 2.0 on a MacBook laptop computer.