07 March 2007

The great promise of OpenOffice

AIDED by my techie brother Patty, I managed to finally build a decent desktop PC a month ago that my kids will mostly use in their education. This morning, I saw for myself the great value of that investment, in the hands of my daughter-slash-future teacher Sofie.

I was preparing to report for work upstairs when I heard the familiar Windows logon tune; Sofie was booting up the unit, thanks to an account I set up for her. When I was having breakfast, ballet pieces suddenly played; she was using Microsoft Encarta for Kids and was scanning the items related to dancing. "I want to learn more about them," she explained. Which made me remember last year's dance lessons at the Ateneo; it seemed Sofie developed an unusual interest in the subject, so much so she played all the multimedia items available, aside from patiently reading through the accompanying text.

But it is in trying to prepare her own periodical test items -- based on their reviewers for the incoming division achievement tests -- that I saw the great promise of OpenOffice. I downloaded an installer early this week from the office, copied it on my USB flash drive, installed it that night in the home PC and then totally forgot about it, even the basic test drive of the software.

When Sofie asked for my help in preparing her test paper straight from Encarta, I told her the software she was using is not the right tool for the task; she should be using a wordprocessor. Then I remembered the OpenOffice suite I previously installed.

After going through the usual introductory routine that had me fill in Sofie's name and organization (The Prilleses of Pacol, but of course!), we dove straight into OpenOffice Writer. Amazingly, it was a leaner and simpler version of Microsoft Word and actually more useful to a child of Sofie's age. It doesn't have the bells and whistles that go with the most current version of Word, particularly the 2007 variety that my eldest Ezekiel actually likes better, but it can get the job done. For instance, we created a table that Sofie used in constructing her matching type questions; the icons were laid out differently but I had little difficulty in executing the needed commands. Sofie? We'll, she's finding our PC child's play and with very little exposure to Microsoft Office, there should really be no problem.

Now I understand why even the Ateneo de Naga University High School has shifted totally to OpenOffice; if I were in Microsoft's shoes, I'll be greatly concerned especially if the open-source movement starts setting the world on fire.