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by Ray Carlson

Q. I use Office 2003 and am worried about the problems that might occur after Microsoft stops security updates in early April. Are there reasons I should spend the money and purchase a newer version?

A. There is a lot of disagreement about how much additional risk Microsoft Office users will face after Microsoft discontinues security support. The more obvious problem with Office will be compatibility. Office 2003 users had trouble looking at files made with Office 2007, 2010 and 2013. Microsoft produced a compatibility pack that reduced but did not eliminate this problem. As newer Office versions and updates appear, this compatibility problem is expected to get worse.

An alternative might be to try a free office program like LibreOffice. This program was and continues to be developed by a volunteer group of software engineers and is recognized as a prime competitor for Office. LibreOffice includes most of the features included in the Microsoft Office programs, but it is better at reading and editing documents created by a variety of other office-type programs and is updated every six months. Their newest version, 4.2, does a particularly good job of reading documents created by Mac software, WordPerfect and all versions of Office. LibreOffice still has some problems with Power Point files, but this area is improving.

It will be a while before we see if lack of Microsoft support leads to security problems for Office 2003, but compatibility is a problem that is likely to get worse. If you want to try LibreOffice 4.2 as a substitute for or addition to Office 2003, it can be downloaded here. That site also offers more information about the six programs in this suite. Since it is free, discard the suite if you don't like it.

The task of deciding whether to upgrade, however, is much more complicated than can be discussed in a brief article. The Prescott Computer Society will devote two complete meetings on March 15th and 22nd to this topic.

Published: Courier 2/16/14 - Page 3C