For the longest time, I remember religiously upgrading my Microsoft Office suite as a new one came out. Microsoft Office ’97, XP, 2003 and so on. Then I realized as a student, the software was expensive, and I wasn’t exactly getting a whole lot better. I also spent many hours yelling at Word’s formatting! In the past few years some new free, open source alternatives have come out. The first major one, Open Office, was a bit kludgy through version 2, and also had compatibility issues with the .doc files I was trying to edit. OpenOffice has gotten better, but currently I’m using LibreOffice a fork of the former’s software code.
LibreOffice 4, the newest version was released recently and I recommend trying it. The price is right: zilch, nada, zero. The feature set is getting quite robust, although I don’t see a lot of new stuff I will use in 4. I created my resume on it (and OpenOffice), and wrote my personal statement for the University of London. Earlier, the support for opening Microsoft Office files was a bit dodgy, but it has improved quite a bit.
Even as Open Source projects become more ubiquitous (this blog is written on an open source publishing software called WordPress) the economics is a bit dodgy. Open source software depends on skilled programmers who could realistically spend their time charging for the service they are doing for free. Who gives away their labor? Especially because programming is not skittles and beer; although sometimes it devolves into beer. Programming is work, what is the incentive for groups of programmers to donate large amounts of time to a project without making a dime (see farthing)?
I don’t claim to know. Perhaps programmers don’t respond to monetary incentives the way the rest of us would. Perhaps the long hours staring at an LCD screen makes them irrational. Perhaps, we should hit the tip jar. Perhaps we should take advantage of them and get the the freebies before they realize what we’re doing.
Give it a shot on the next paper you write, if you don’t like it you can always export the document to .doc.
Jay is studying the Diploma for Graduates in Economics by distance learning with the University of London International Programmes.