When it comes to word processing and spreadsheets, it's an all-Microsoft world. But you don't have to pay hundreds of dollars for Office to create and read Microsoft files; you can instead download a free office suite.
For better or worse, the Windows world has settled on Word and Excel as the word processing and spreadsheet standards. But as anyone who has recently bought a new computer can tell you, buying an office suite that includes them can push up the cost of your computer by several hundred dollars.
If you want to play well with others, you need to be able to create and read Word and Excel files. That doesn't mean, however, that you need to buy Microsoft Office. In fact, you can download a free office suite that includes a Word-compatible word processor, an Excel-compatible spreadsheet, as well as image-editing and photo album software. It's called the 602Pro PC SUITE, and it is available from 602 Software (http://www.software602.com).
The word processor, 602Text, reads Word documents, including all formatting, and can format and save Word documents as well. The spreadsheet, 602Tab, reads and writes Excel files. You won't get a number of Office extras, such as being able to use macros, but at least one feature of the program is superior to Word. When you open or save a document, you're shown file thumbnails that have the first several lines of the document, as shown in Figure 9-7. Look closely, and you'll see a small magnifying glass in the lower right of each document. Click on it, and you'll see even more of the text. It's a great way to preview information in files so that you know you'll be opening the right file.
The OpenOffice.org office suite (http://www.openoffice.org) is a free, open source software suite that includes a word processor, spreadsheet, drawing program, equation editor, and presentation software. It opens and saves Microsoft Office formats as well as many other formats. Versions are available for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, and Solaris.