Throughout the last decade the office domain has typically been dominated by MS Office, and, let's face it: the Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats are industry standards that you will have to deal with sooner or later.
This monopoly situation of Microsoft proved to be a big disadvantage for getting new users to Linux, so a group of German developers started the StarOffice project, that was, and is still, aimed at making an MS Office clone. Their company, StarDivision, was acquired by Sun Microsystems by the end of the 1990s, just before the 5.2 release. Sun continues development but restricted access to the sources. Nevertheless, development on the original set of sources continues in the Open Source community, which had to rename the project to OpenOffice. OpenOffice is now available for a variety of platforms, including MS Windows, Linux, MacOS and Solaris. There is a screenshot in Section 1.3.2.
Almost simultaneously, a couple of other quite famous projects took off. Also a very common alternative to using MS Office is KOffice, the office suite that used to be popular among SuSE users. Like the original, this clone incorporates an MS Word and Excel compatible program, and much more.
Smaller projects deal with particular programs of the MS example suite, such as Abiword and MS Wordview for compatibility with MS Word documents, and Gnumeric for viewing and creating Excel compatible spreadsheets.
Current distributions usually come with all the necessary tools. Since these provide excellent guidelines and searchable indexes in themenus, we won't discuss them in detail. For references, see you system documentation or the web sites of the projects, such as
Try to limit the use of office documents for the purposes they were meant for: the office.
An example: it drives most Linux users crazy if you send them a mail that says in the body something like: "Hello, I want to tell you something, see attach", and then the attachement proves to be an MS Word compatible document like: "Hello my friend, how is your new job going and will you have time to have lunch with me tomorrow?" Also a bad idea is the attachment of your signature in such a file, for instance. If you want to sign messages or files, use GPG, the PGP-compatible GNU Privacy Guard or SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificates.
These users are not annoyed because they are unable to read these documents, or because they are worried that these formats typically generate much larger files, but rather because of the implication that they are using MS Windows, and possibly because of the extra work of starting some additional programs.
In the next chapter, we start configuring our environment, and this might include editing all kinds of files that determine how a program behave.
Don't edit these files with any office component!
The default file format specification would make the program add several lines of code, defining the format of the file and the fonts used. These lines won't be interpreted in the correct way by the programs depending on them, resulting in errors or a crash of the program reading the file. In some cases, you can save the file as plain text, but you'll run into trouble when making this a habit.
If you really insist, try gedit, kedit, kwrite or xedit; these programs only do text files, which is what we will be needing. If you plan on doing anything serious, though, stick to a real text mode editor such as vim or emacs.
An acceptable alternative is gvim, the Gnome version of vim. You still need to use vi commands, but if you are stuck, you can look them up in the menus.