As well as core feature compatibility, OpenOffice.org is also able to read Microsoft Office files up to and including Office XP. The very latest version of Office, 2003, has an optional new XML file format that Microsoft has patented, so it's unlikely that OpenOffice.org will ever support it. On the other hand, the vast majority of people using Office have yet to upgrade to the very latest version, and those who have still use the older Office XP, 2000, and 97 file formats (these remain the default options for saving files within the suite).
For full file compatibility, you can always suggest to your colleagues that they, too, make the switch to OpenOffice.org. They don't need to be running SUSE Linux to do so. There are versions available that run on all Windows platforms, as well as on the Apple Macintosh. As with the SUSE Linux version, they're entirely free of charge. Indeed, for many people who are running versions of Office they've installed from "borrowed" CDs, OpenOffice.org offers a way to come clean and avoid pirating software.
Once your colleagues have made the switch, you can exchange files using OpenOffice.org's native format, or opt to save files in the Office file format. Figure 22-1 shows the file type options available in OpenOffice.org's word processor component's Save As dialog box.
Figure 22-1. All the OpenOffice.org components are fully compatible with Microsoft Office file formats.
OpenOffice.org also supports Rich Text Format (RTF) text documents and comma-separated value (CSV) data files, which are supported by practically every office suite program ever made.
When it comes to sharing files, there's another option: save your files in a non-Office format such as PDF or HTML. OpenOffice.org is able to export documents in both formats, and most modern PCs equipped with Adobe Acrobat or a simple web browser will be able to read them. However, while OpenOffice.org can open and edit HTML files, it can only export documents as PDF files, so this format is best reserved for files not intended for further editing.
There are some limitations that occasionally crop up when opening Microsoft Office files in OpenOffice.org. The first is that OpenOffice.org isn't compatible with Microsoft Office Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). It uses a similar but incompatible internal programming language. This means that Microsoft macros within a document probably won't work when the file is imported to OpenOffice.org. Such macros are typically used in Excel spreadsheets designed to calculate timesheets, for example. In general, however, only high-end users use VBA.
The second issue involves document protection. OpenOffice.org is unable to open any Office files that have a password, either to protect the document from changes or to protect it from being viewed. Theoretically, it would be easy for OpenOffice.org's programmers to include such functionality, but the laws of many countries make creating such a program feature illegal (it would be seen as a device to overcome copy protection). The easiest solution is to ask whoever sent you the file to remove the password protection. For what it's worth, Office passwords are a fairly weak form of security compared to many other professional-level password solutions. In fact, OpenOffice.org's own form of password protection is a lot stronger. And that's another reason why you might suggest that your colleagues make the move to OpenOffice.org and abandon Microsoft Office.