Monday, October 31, 2005


Towards Ending the Digital Divide: Free Office Applications

A major factor in the digital divide is the issue of cost. The October 2005 Census Bureau report shows that only 30% of those earning less than $25,000 a year have a computer with Internet access at home versus 80-90% above $50,000. One of the problems of computer integration has been the high cost of the most basic computer applications, such as word processors and spreadsheets. For computer integration to be effective this means that homes and public school systems must also buy the same applications and many families are more challenged than school systems to come up money to buy the hardware and software. The retail price of the dominant Microsoft Office suite of applications can cost $500 or more, which is more than a low cost computer. The open source community has a pair of options called OpenOffice and StarOffice that changes this price from free to $30 to $100 depending on how much direct telephone support is needed. This does not solve the problem of getting a low cost computer (see prior posting), and getting free Internet access which is a topic for another posting, but it is a major piece of the puzzle.

These two alternatives share the same code base, whose applications run across multiple operating systems, including Windows, Macintosh, Linux and Unix operating systems. Where OpenOffice is free for the download (all 80 megabytes of it), StarOffice charges but then provides commercial level support that is critical to business and organizational needs. They both provide the same suite of applications which are integrated, including: word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, draw, and database. These applications can also work interchangeably with and open files of the same application type from Microsoft Office.

Read the reviews to get a sense of the big picture, then check out the tutorials. The tutorial resources to teach and learn these programs is currently small, but growing rapidly.

Software Download Sites

Product Reviews

Tutorial Resources

News of new reviews and new tutorials would make a great follow-up comment.

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