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Issue #62: September 28, 2008

Q: The icon “Get Open Office” recently appeared on my desktop.  I have win XP that came in a Gateway hardware box but my version has the Works Spreadsheet and Word Processor.  I do not have excel.  A friend sent me an excel attachment.  A window appeared saying that I could not open this attachment without downloading Open Office, that, among other goodies seems to parallel several microsoft “programs”.

Similarly, when I get a powerpoint attachment a window tells me that I do not have a program associated with it.  I have Microsoft Office Powerpoint Viewer 2003.

I peeked at the Open Office “package” but did not download it.  It offers a number of  programs that seem to replicate microsoft stuff and all of it is free for the downloading.

I don’t know how this icon appeared on my desktop and am reluctant to download this “bonanza” as I am concerned that it will “mess” with the windows stuff.  I know just enough about the mysteries of software to be dangerous and tend to tread lightly in unfamiliar territory.  Your thoughts and advice please.

– Edgar H.
Niceville, FL

A: Wow, Edgar!  I don’t usually publish such lengthy letters, but you asked some really  good questions that I think will be of use to many people.  First off, I can tell you exactly how that icon got on your desktop – you inadvertently asked for it.  At some point in the recent past, your computer popped up a little balloon in the System Tray that said “A Java Update is available”.  You correctly responded by allowing the update to install, thereby keeping your machine updated with the latest version.  However, as the install wizard was running, it was presenting you with the typical series of dialogs that you usually see when installing new software.  You probably hit “Next” repeatedly without reading these dialogs – a very bad habit which I see all the time, and am occasionally guilty of myself.  One of the dialogs that you clicked through had a checkbox on it that said “ Installer”.  By default, this box was checked, so when the Java update installed, it brought along this little gift for you.

So that’s how you got it, but how to get rid of it?  Just deleting the shortcut from the desktop does not remove the software.  Fortunately, Sun Microsystems (the company who writes Java) installed it in such a way that it has its own uninstaller.  You can simply click Start->Settings->Control Panel, then double-click the Add/Remove Programs control panel icon.  Select “OpenOffice Installer” from the list, and click the Remove button.

However, before you do that, take some time to consider what you’re being offered.  You said you peeked at OpenOffice, and even described it as a “bonanza”.  I can assure you that OpenOffice is exactly what it appears to be – an open-source software package that provides almost all the functionality of Microsoft Office.  It can even open and save files created by Microsoft Office applications.  Although it may take a little practice to become fully productive with OpenOffice, I don’t believe it will “mess” with any of your Windows stuff, and the price is sure right.

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