For our retirement, we intend to purchase an inexpensive laptop computer. Can you recommend freeware or other inexpensive software alternatives to Microsoft's Office suite?
Angus and Jill MacKillop, Causeway Bay
DQ: Microsoft certainly has an enormous share of the world's office productivity software market, but that does not mean you are limited to using its product. There are a number of options you can choose from. Assuming you get a machine that runs either an AMD or Intel processor, it will probably have a version of Windows installed. In that case, your options will include an office suite you need to install and run, just as you would Microsoft Office, or an internet-based system that will be accessed only when you are online.
In the last category, there is StarOffice (www.sun. com/software/star/staroffice), OpenOffice (www.open office.org) and Corel WordPerfect (www.corel.com). StarOffice is Sun's proprietary office software. It is the basis of the free and open-source office product called OpenOffice. Both have been around for a while and are gaining in features and ability. If what you are looking for is intended to be a serious replacement for Microsoft's Office, either one of these would be worth looking at. Corel has been promoting WordPerfect Office X3, which is available in various editions, including standard, professional and home.
For online office suites, you may want to look at Google Docs (docs.google.com), a free, Web-based word processor, spreadsheet and presentation application. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real time with other users. You will need to sign up if you have not done so already. There is also the still experimental word-processor application Buzzword (www.virtub. com), which looks like a lot of fun.
In a recent column, you suggested project planning tools for a Mac user but didn't mention OmniPlan (www.omnigroup.com/applications/omniplan). I've been using this for several months and it meets all my needs as an information technology project manager for a large Hong Kong bank. You also provided a link to MS Project, but there's no Mac version, so unless you're running Parallels or Boot Camp you can't use it. MS Project is tremendously bloated and full of stuff you're never going to use.
I also heartily recommend other Omni products, particularly OmniGraffle.
Nigel Beatty, Kennedy Town
DQ: We are always happy to hear about products readers find useful. (And we are happy to hear about products readers think are utter rubbish as well - we do not discriminate against badly written code here.) One must always be aware, of course, that all of these views are personal: one person's terrific application is someone else's nightmare.
I have looked at the Omni Group link and found the company is about to release a Leopard-compatible product. That is certainly good news for those who have made the switch and shows the company develops its products quickly. As our correspondent writes, there are quite a few products worth a look at the Omni website.