Whichever way you look at it, Open Office is a success. It's a highly capable office software suite. It's got 100 million users around the world. It's a worthy competitor to Microsoft's cash cow. And it's available for free.
However, since the hugely commercial Oracle corporation bought Sun (the driving force behind Open Office), a few people have expressed discomfort at the potential conflict of, well, not exactly interest so much as motivation.
And so, as often happens in the open sorce software world, OpenOffice got forked. Which is a technical way of saying that a group of developers grabbed themselves a copy of the source code (this is open source software, remember, so that's not exactly difficult) and set about turning it into something slightly new and different.
The end result is a new product called Libre Office. The first version, somewhat confusingly known as v3.3, is now out of beta. You can get it from www.libreoffice.org and it's available for Windows, Mac and Linux. It's around a 215 MB download, though. If you want, you can even download the source code and create a totally customized version (with installer) for yourself or your company.
What makes this fork of OpenOffice so interesting is that the developers, who go under the name of The Document Foundation, have support and sponsorship from the likes of Google, Red Hat, Novell and Canonical (the people behind Ubuntu Linux).
There's no doubting that Microsoft Office is the best Office product out there. But it retails for around the same price as an entry-level PC. If you can't, or won't, spend that sort of money, then an open source product such as this one is a welcome alternative. And if it keeps Microsoft on its toes, we all benefit in the long run.