NORMAN — You may recall last week’s column discussing the impending demise of Microsoft Windows XP and what that means to computer owners. Unfortunately, there is more to the story, including Microsoft also ending all “mainstream” support for its hugely-popular Office 2003 package of productivity programs.
Microsoft Office is a package of programs which, depending on your version, includes Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook, Publisher, Access, and other handy programs that people depend on every day.
Microsoft Office represents what is arguably the best software ever to come from Microsoft, but it has not been without its problems. Over the years, hundreds upon hundreds of critical bug fixes and security updates have been issued to keep Office afloat.
Most all computer programs have problems but, because of its popularity and exposure worldwide, Microsoft Office has been a favorite target of computer and Internet criminals for many years. If a criminal hacker can figure out how to write, for example, a dangerous Excel or PowerPoint file, and trick you into opening it, perhaps as an email attachment, he can gain control over your system and wreck your computing life. That is why security patches and updates are released, and why it is so important to install them.
However, if there are no patches or security updates to protect a program against the bad guys, then that program is no longer safe to use. Such will be the case next spring, on April 8, 2014, when Microsoft will end all support for, not only its Windows XP operating system, but also the 2003 PC version of Microsoft Office.
Users of Apple Mac computers should be aware that support ended for Office for Mac 2008 (and previous versions) earlier this year.
When support for these products ends, that means no more updates, no more patches, no more security fixes; you will be on your own. A criminal hacker’s field day will begin, as new security problems are found, but no more fixes will be possible. That means that millions of people around the world will need to find new software to do word processing, slide show presentations, spreadsheets, and so on.
Does that mean that suddenly, next spring, the programs that are part of Office 2003 will become crummy, unusable clunkers that will no longer work? No, what it means is that Microsoft is tired of supporting them, because Microsoft is in the business of making money, not the business of making sure people’s programs last forever.
Microsoft makes money by selling new stuff, not by supporting old stuff at no charge. They could keep supporting Office 2003 and making it safe for many years to come, if they wanted to; they just don’t want to.
Lest you think your only choice is to cough up more of your hard-earned bucks on new versions of Microsoft Office, behold, yet show I unto you a more excellent way: free office productivity software that is downloadable from the Internet and compatible with Microsoft Office file formats (.doc, .docx, .xlsx, etc.).
LibreOffice, found at www.libreoffice.org, is my favorite free set of productivity programs, and there are versions for Windows PCs, Apple Macs and Linux computers. Included are programs for word processing, spreadsheets, PowerPoint-style presentations and much more.
LibreOffice is compatible with all the Microsoft files you’ve been making and saving over the years and is easy to figure out and use. Download and install the main LibreOffice installer and help files and you should be good to go.
What LibreOffice lacks is a replacement for Microsoft Outlook. If you depend on Outlook for email, calendaring and contacts management, and no other program will do, then you still need Outlook.
Fortunately, a stand-alone version of Outlook can be purchased for less than the cost of the full Microsoft Office suite, leaving you free to use LibreOffice for everything else.
Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or at davemoorecomputers.
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