First look at latest OpenOffice merits a second
Time spent with the fourth and final release candidate of OpenOffice.org for Windows 3.0.0 may finally lead stubborn Microsoft Office users over the great productivity-suite divide.
This reviewer speaks as a user in limbo, fed up with spendy versions of Office (and, on the Mac, with all Microsoft software), but harboring bad memories of early versions of the StarOffice productivity suite based on the OpenOffice open-source project -- in short, the user you or a friend might also be.
The 3.0.0 RC 4 version -- available also in Linux, Mac OS X and FreeBSD flavors -- weighs in as a 128 MB download, a possible barrier to convincing new users that this really is a tidier, less system-crushing suite than its major competitors. But installation itself was perfectly smooth. And something subtle and wonderful happened during the process: The install didn't repeatedly demand proofs that the user wasn't some stinking software pirate. Respect? What a concept.
- OOo 3.0's Writer word processor -- for many users the most commonly accessed module of any suite -- feels a great deal like certain older versions of Word. And some of us appreciate that in a word processor; familiar layouts have their charm. Writer continues to lack Word's robust outlining functionality (perhaps the most requested addition over the years, but one that developers have repeatedly said would require serious kludges), and the PDF import functionality didn't deliver for us, but the export-to-PDF option worked fast, flawlessly and free.
Other import functions behaved well, in particular the processing for Word 2007's persnickety .docx documents. All import filters for Office 2007 files worked in our testing; on the Mac side, we understand that Office 2008 formats are supported too.
- Impress, the presentation-graphics module, impresses -- though this comes from a reviewer who's felt for some time that PowerPoint was an implement of torture. We noticed an import glitch with a specific .ppt file on our system, but other files imported properly. And the export-to-Flash (.swf) functionality is just wonderful; two clicks turned our slideshow into a Flash presentation, with formatting translated extremely well. The program has new native support for tables, rather than requiring that tables be embedded Calc objects.
- Calc, the spreadsheet program, continues not to be a substitute for a full-fledged database. (That's fine; it's a spreadsheet. Database tools are part of OOo but geared mainly toward export to other systems.) Still, it's easy to use and provides all the features that most ordinary users want, and OOo 3.0 kicks up the limit on columns from 256 to 1024. But the feature we most hoped to test, multi-user collaboration, will have to wait until more friends and co-workers download and install version 3.
- Draw is at long last capable of cropping images in the way that more or less every other drawing package does, quirky technique not being much of a selling point.
Although builds for all operating systems are available now from FileForum, the final version of OpenOffice.org 3.0 is expected to be formally launched next Monday, with appropriate fanfare and a party. If all that hoopla encourages more fence-sitters such as this reviewer to hop over to greener, freer pastures, and encourages the tens of thousands of OOo developers to keep up the good work, it'll be worth the hubbub.