It's much easier to notice the similarities between the programs in the free OpenOffice.org suite and their Microsoft Office counterparts than to see their differences. Unfortunately, it's the differences that can slow you down as you make the switch from Word to Writer, Excel to Calc, and PowerPoint to Impress.
For example, you may find that you don't have the same selection of fonts available in Writer as you did in Word, nor will you have access to the templates you used in Office. This doesn't mean you have to do without, though. There are plenty of free resources available that let you use OpenOffice without sacrificing functionality.
Find free fonts
If you stick with such tried-and-true fonts as Times New Roman, Arial, Garamond, Courier New, and Calibri, you probably won't need to add any types to Writer's roster. People who rely on a wider range of typefaces may find their favorites missing, however. To supplement the fonts built into OpenOffice, visit 1001 Free Fonts, HighFonts.com, or Mike's Sketchpad. Place the new fonts in the C:Windows\Fonts folder to make them accessible in OpenOffice applications.
Convert your templates
To import Office templates to OpenOffice's Writer, Calc, and Impress programs, open one of the programs, and click File > Wizards > Document Converter. Select Microsoft Office, choose all three Office applications, and click Next.
Browse to the folder holding your Office templates in the "Import from" text box, choose a destination folder for the templates (you can also import your Office files), and click Next again. Do the same for Excel and PowerPoint on the next two screens, review the files that will be converted on the following screen, and click Convert.
When the conversion completes, you'll see the files that were converted. Click Close to return to the OpenOffice program.
Now choose Tools > Options, click Paths in the left pane under OpenOffice, select Templates in the right window, click Edit > Add, navigate to the folder you placed the templates in, and click OK three times.
The templates will now be available when you click File > New > Templates and Documents, and select the appropriate application. Note that the templates may not look and act exactly as they did in Office, and PowerPoint templates will likely have to be renamed because the conversion changes all their file names to "PowerPoint Presentation."
Add productivity-enhancing extensions
You'll find dozens of useful add-ons for OpenOffice applications on Sun Microsystems' Extensions page (the link leads to the most popular extensions).
One of my favorites is Andre Schanbel's Template Changer, which adds an "Assign new" option to the File > Templates menu. This lets you assign a template to the currently open file. Also, Sun offers the Professional Template Pack that includes cover pages, presentation backgrounds, certificates, business letter templates, and personal-finance templates.
For more on making the switch to OpenOffice, see Solveig Haugland's great article, which includes links to OpenOffice training sites and other resources (scroll a little past the middle of this long page to find them).
Tomorrow: Perform any operation on your PC without using your mouse.