There are two points I'd like to make. One, about Open Source software; the other, about using OpenOffice.org instead of or alongside Microsoft Office.
Here's the definition of Open Source, for those who'd like to read it for themselves: http://tiny.cc/r2RkB In a nutshell, products made available under the Open Source concept are developed by a community of interested and talented parties. The programming code (the "source") is made available to the general public in hopes someone can improve it. Free, in this case, doesn't necessarily mean "no money", but free, as in open and available without license.
I've been installing and using OpenOffice.org (OO) either alone or with Microsoft Office for about five years. OpenOffice.org (strange name, but they want to include the .org in the name of the product) includes a word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation application and math functions. Hmmm. Sounds like Microsoft Office. The difference? MS Office Professional 2007 sells for $499.
OO will open, edit and save documents in Microsoft Word or Excel format. It's just that simple! When you start a new document, OO will default to it's native format, but if you want it in Word so your not-as-savvy friends can open it, use the Save As feature to save it as a Word document or any of about two dozen other formats.
People ask me frequently how something that's free can be as useful as something that costs $500. The answer is always that it's Open Source, or "free" in several meanings of the word. There's no fancy packaging or marketing campaign. If you want it, you have to know about it and how to get it. There are manuals that can be downloaded to help get you started or find answers to your questions. There are active forums where you can ask a question and get an answer - free. No $49 Tech Support fee to find out how to line up your columns.
I've been a Microsoft and Bill Gates fan for a long time. You are welcome to your own opinion and experience. To the haters I say, come up with something better or stop complaining.
However, even I, math-stupid as I can be, can subtract $499 from $499 and come up with Zero.
Get OpenOffice.org here: http://www.openoffice.org/