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Our Rating : is a free suite, based on the same code as Sun Microsystem’s StarOffice. In our last office software round-up (Shopper 235), we found the two so similar that we could see little point in paying for StarOffice.

Since then, has improved further. One of the most noticeable changes to Writer is its notes, which now appear in the margin with the author’s name and date. They can’t be anchored to specific text, however. There’s also a new zoom slider in the bottom right. Sadly, the OpenOffice community hasn’t removed the light bulb that pops up nearly every time an auto correction is made.

Writer has a couple of other minor irritations. The Word Completion feature seems inconsistent and is far more intrusive than WordPerfect’s suggestion box. When inserting a hyperlink, you have to click Apply and then close the dialog box – there’s no OK button.

Calc, the spreadsheet application, has also been improved, with support for 1,024 columns rather than 256. Advanced users will appreciate the improvements made to the formulae solver, which now includes new operators and a time limit for solving. Useful features such as the Navigator, which helps you set and return to specific areas, remain.

The database application Base is impressive. You can use it to create relational databases and it’s compatible with SQL, but despite having wizards to guide you through tables, forms and reports, it’s less approachable than Access.

The changes made to aren’t dramatic, but they are an improvement over the earlier versions, which were already good. There are still some inconsistencies between programs, but with its comprehensive range of powerful applications, an active development community and a free licence that covers commercial use, the suite’s quality is staggering. It’s our Best Buy.

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