It is very easy to buy decent PCs these days that will fulfill most needs such as cad and graphics applications without spending a fortune. It is only when you wish to purchase specialist equipment such as lightweight laptops that the cost starts to rise.
Many paid-for office productivity applications, such as word processing and spreadsheets, could set you back in excess of £300 a licence, yet with a few small compromises one could pay absolutely nothing. Free applications exist that can read and write to the very latest versions of popular products such as Microsoft’s Office 2007. For example, I am writing this on an old Apple iBook G4 using Neo Office Writer which I have just updated to the latest release. The original program cost nothing, and the free update, which took 15 minutes to download and install, is fully compatible with Office 2007. I am using software that is functional, attractive and I can send my output to others. The interface is familiar, the way it works is familiar — I can perform all of the things I normally do in the paid for package on my desk at work. The old adage of people using 10% of the functionality should be remembered. Many applications offer a lot, yet most of us will never use more than a spell checker (and some of us not even that). Why pay for what you won’t use?
Neo Office is a Mac compatible version of Open Office, an easy winner for PC users. Open Office is readily available and supported by a large community of software developers. Sun Microsystems’ Star Office is based on Open Office. The software is now so popular that Microsoft’s Office 2007 will read and write Open Office file formats, so the compatability is complete; Open Office has always inter-operated with Microsoft file types. Upload it at http://www.openoffice.org, or for Mac users http://www.neooffice.org
Both the PC and Mac versions of the software include databases and presentation tools as standard. The presentation tools are not the best, but the quality of the speaker outweighs the quality of the slides. Like the other tools, the database is good enough for most users.
Google hosts applications online. Word processing and spreadsheet applications are now available. The files can be saved as Open Office format, Microsoft Office or Adobe PDF at no cost. They can be easily emailed using a Google Mail account. The software is free and works for Mac users too – though those who are using the Safari browser rather than Firefox may experience some problems. Word is that Google is developing more applications to add to its suite of tools. Go to docs.google.com, though you will need a google mail account — also free — to gain access.