Last week I finished the switch from Microsoft Office to Open Office on both of my computers.
I had several reasons, the first of which was practical. I just replaced my desktop computer after the last one bluescreened its way to its final meltdown. The new machine is a refurbished model from Red Rabbitt, which included a free trial of Microsoft Office. This means that every time I opened Word I got an annoying pop-up message telling me how many more times I could use it without paying. When I clicked “OK”, it would urge me on to the Microsoft page to spend an ungodly amount of cash on a software program no person should spend money on if it's not included with the new computer they buy (and unless you're buying a Mac or know where to find a computer preloaded with Linux, you get Microsoft Office).
And why didn't I shell out $150 for a program I use every day? Because there's a better one available at only the cost of a five minute download.
Open Office includes a full suite of programs comparable to Microsoft Office, but because it's open source, you can use and share it freely without the risk of criminal charges. Since I really only use a Word Processing program, OO Writer serves essentially all my needs. It has the added bonus of converting and opening Word documents, and the ability to save Open Office text files in Word (an ability that my last machine, running Microsoft Works, lacked. What a pain.).
I recently bought a Netbook that included the Microsoft 7 “Starter” pack. The only word processing capacity on it was Notepad, which I have never liked. Initially I tried installing Ubuntu on the Netbook, which includes Open Office, but the installation failed (still working on that). In the meantime, I transferred Open Office from my desktop to my Netbook on a USB stick. No piracy violations, no licensing key to enter, just a quick painless download. Plus, now that I'm using the same software on both my machines, I don't have to worry about converting files.
In addition to practicality, I'm a big supporter of the Open Source movement. When you license proprietary software, you're bogged down with restrictions: you can't transfer the program to another machine without violating copyright, and you don't have access to the source code. That means that, if you're a programmer type, you don't have the ability to alter the way your program works. (I'm not, but it's an important point for programmers.)
Open Source programs, on the other hand, can be downloaded freely, used by anyone, and altered by anyone. That means if you want to change the way the program works and share that change with others, you're free to do so.
Open Source (related to the free software movement) also builds community. The programs are free, but you're encouraged to contribute to their creation, distribution, and promotion. When I installed Open Office, I was thanked for using the software, and asked to help. Since I'm not a programmer, I chose to help by spreading the word about Open Source software. So, here I am spreading it, and happily so.