I recently installed OpenOffice.org 2.0 (or OOo as people call it in the forums) and after using it for a little while I can say this: your average user would probably never notice the difference between OpenOffice 2.0 and MS Office. The interface is neat and tidy, the keyboard shortcuts are consistent with user expectations. The only obvious omission is revision tools, for that very small proportion of people who actually use revision tools. Be honest, most people use the B and I buttons, the font face dropdown and the font-size dropdown... and not much else.
can it PDF?
A big benefit for OOo is its ability to export PDFs, despite being a free product. With the hefty price tag of MS Office or Adobe Acrobat, this should be a big consideration both for the OOo developers and prospective users.
Unfortunately this is yet another application which has PDF tagging disabled by default - score yet another one for Dumb Defaults I Have Seen. As a quick test I enabled tagging and exported a PDF with the default job options (a couple of headings, paragraphs and an image with alternative text inserted). The only accessibility warning in Acrobat was the lack of a document language. Tags and alternative text were all ok.
The language failure is really annoying since - at this stage - OOo doesn't let you set a document language (correct me if I'm wrong!). Initially I thought I just couldn't find the option; but the response from the OOo user forums was that, no, you can't set document language in OOo yet. Which is very weird since the OASIS ODF format includes a Language setting, I would have thought supporting the format would include basics like letting the user specify what they're sticking into these documents.
I managed to add a Language value to the the same document created in MS Word. This meant that an all-default export had that slight edge over OOo PDF. Mind you, OpenOffice's image handling is far better than Word - I found it much easier to add alternative text in OOo.
A lot of people have reported very slow start up times for OOo, particularly the previous version. On my beefy new WinXP work machine it flies. I can't see any speed difference between OOo and MS Office; which is interesting when you consider that OOo can't build anything into the operating system ;) My home machine is Win2k and doesn't really provide a good testbed, since it has some issues. Feel free to comment with your own experiences with OOo 2.0.
OOo has been able to open nearly everything I've thrown at it, the only exception was a macro-laden spreadsheet that only just works in Excel (my timesheet, what joy). Word documents, average spreadsheets, Powerpoint slideshows; they all open with no trouble.
The only real hassles start when you start collaborating closely with users that don't have OOo. Round trips via MS Word don't work very well at all; and I've had a lot of trouble with bullet lists losing their bullets when exported to MS Word. I have no doubt this is why Microsoft is resisting adding ODF support. If you could round trip the documents, I wouldn't have needed to install MS Office on my work machine.
For a stand-alone home user, no worries. On those rare occasions you have to give one of your files to someone else; spit out a Word doc, PDF or even HTML. In fact, in an office environment you'd still be ok if you don't have to do lots of back-and-forth editing with someone else.
Still some work to be done before it can take over the corporate workplace, but for a home user... save your money, give the finger to Microsoft and use Open Office!