Some people are not familiar with the various office applications and suites available. This article discusses some of the available applications and what they do.
The basic set of office applications includes a word processor, a spreadsheet program, a slide presentation tool, email, calendar, task manager, drawing or image editing tools, and desktop publishing.
- Word Processors - a word processor allows you to edit text in a WYSIWYG ("What You See Is What You Get") environment. This means that if you mark a word or phrase as bold, underlined, or italic, that it actually appears that way on the screen. So, what you see on the screen is how it should appear on the paper. Word processors allow you to format text, apply consistent styles (e.g. "title", "heading 1", etc.), and create tables, illustrations, indexes, etc. Most word processors include both spelling and grammar checking and most auto correct errors as you type. A word processor is a good choice for creating letters, reports, homework, or even a book or family newsletter. Because of their versatility and universal applicability, a word processor is probably the most fundamental of office applications.
- Spreadsheet - a spreadsheet is just a table of rows and columns. Each cell in the table can hold a number or text. You can create formulas that reference other cells by column and row. Formulas can also include common math functions such as trig functions (sin, cos, etc.), statistical functions (average, mean, standard deviation, etc.), financial functions (present value, future value, etc.), time and date function, and a host of others. Spreadsheets also support a wide variety of graphs and charts based on the date in the spreadsheet. Many people use a spreadsheet to balance their checkbook and to track spending. You can also use a spreadsheet to filter and sort data.
- Slide Presentations - A presentation tool allows you to make those cool slides that everyone uses at conferences, workshops, and business meetings. The presentation can include multimedia components (music, sound clips, videos, etc.) and animated transitions between slides. The speaker can add notes to each slide and, with a dual monitor computer, can view his notes on one screen while displaying the slide on another screen or through a projector. Most presentation tools allow slides to be printed in a variety of formats as handouts for participants.
- Email / Calendar / Task Manager - A close second behind word processors, email programs are a ubiquitous part of today's office applications. Nearly everyone has an email account and uses either a web interface (e.g. Hotmail, Gmail, etc.) or an email client to read and compose messages. When combined with a calendar and task manager the program or suite becomes a PIM (Personal Information Manager). Other features include calendar sharing, appointment scheduling and tracking, folders, categories, and rules for routing and responding to (or even rejecting) mail.
- Drawing / Image Editing - There are two classes of image manipulation tools: raster or vector. Raster images are pictures where each pixel represents part of the image. Vector images are descriptions of each image element along with it's relative position, orientation and size (think instructions like "draw a square in the lower right corner"). Image editors allow you to manipulate existing images or create new ones. They may operate on 2D or 3D objects. In addition to editors, there are also picture organizers and digital photo albums.
- Desktop Publishing - Desktop publishing (DTP) is distinct from word processing. While a word processor focuses on the text itself, a DTP package focuses on the overall layout or look of the page. A word processor might be used for a simple newsletter while DTP is more appropriate for a magazine or advertisement. DTP uses frame based layout. Each frame can be independently moved and precisely positioned on the page. A number of visual cues are available to assist with the layout task including guidelines, margins and rulers. DTP programs typically output files appropriate for professional printing (color separations, etc.).
There are a number of packages available in each of these categories. Some are commercial products such as Microsoft Office while others are open source (free) software such as OpenOffice. Below are some links to various packages in each category.
Microsoft Office is a suite of software that includes a word processor (Word), a spreadsheet (Excel), a slide presentation tool (PowerPoint) and other tools (email - Outlook, note taking - OneNote, database - Access, desktop publishing - Publisher, etc.) depending on the version you buy. The student / home version is $150 at the low end and the ultimate version is $700 at the high end.
OpenOffice is an Open Source (free) office suite that includes a word processor (Writer), a spreadsheet (Calc), a slide presentation tool (Impress), an image editor (Draw), and a database (Base). All of the OpenOffice tools know how to read and write the corresponding Microsoft Office (and many other) file formats so you can share files with those using other office suites.
AbiWord is an Open Source (free) stand-alone word processor. It features all the common tools (spell checking, grammar checking, etc.) and online collaboration.
The Mozilla Suite is an Open Source (free) suite that includes an email client (Thunderbird) and a calendar and task manager (Sunbird).
Paint.NET is free image and photo editing software that started as an undergraduate college senior design project mentored by Microsoft. It is currently being maintained by some of the alumni that originally worked on it. Originally intended as a free replacement for the Microsoft Paint software that comes with Windows, it has grown into a powerful yet simple image and photo editor tool.
Picasa is free photo editing software from Google. In addition to simple photo editing tools, it includes photo organizing (photo album) capabilities.
Scribus is an Open Source (free) program for professional page layout. It has a combination of "press-ready" output and new approaches to page layout. Scribus supports professional publishing features, such as CMYK color, separations, Spot Colors, ICC color management and versatile PDF creation.