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First Look: OpenOffice.org 3.0

Sun Microsystems this week announced the release of the latest version of its open source office suite, OpenOffice.org 3.0 (OO3). At first glance, the suite seems like a more polished OpenOffice.org 2.0. Many of the shortcomings present in older versions of OpenOffice.org have been fixed to some extent. For this review, I tested OO3 in a virtualized Windows XP environment.

Writer, OO3's word processor module, has been significantly improved, with several new features added in response to users. One notable feature is multiple page view. The number of pages displayed as well as the page zoom can be controlled via the view-mode toggle and slider in the lower right corner of the status bar. This useful feature could be improved, since, at small sizes, the text is very difficult to read. Some sort of an automatic magnification tool to quickly zoom in on a particular page would be helpful.

The comment feature in Writer has also been improved. Commenting is now much more elegantly done, with comment balloons placed in the right margin of a document -- much like Microsoft Word. Writer differentiates between users via colors. However, comment changes still can't be tracked.

These improvements make Writer a significantly better product, but I still sorely miss the document splitter feature in Word that allows a user to work on two portions of a document simultaneously.

Calc, OO3's spreadsheet module, has also been improved in a functional sense. Calc now has a built-in solver designed to optimize linear functions in line with user-defined constraints. The aesthetics have also changed. The cell selection rectangle is now translucent, which is more attractive compared with the old way of inverting colors to signify a selection. Spreadsheet size has greatly increased from 256 x 256 to 1024 x 1024 cells. Charting accuracy has improved with the introduction of error bars designed to show discrepancy in a more scientific way.

Impress has also improved -- although to a lesser extent than Writer and Calc -- by the introduction of native tables for slide shows, along with predefined color themes.

The global changes affecting the whole suite are considerable. For the first time, there's a native OS X version with full Aqua support, so the old and clunky X11-based OS X version is completely obsolete. Derivative projects like NeoOffice have new features that are ahead of the curve, so users can still find use for them.

Also, users can now import Office 2007 files into OO3, although OO3 is not yet able to save in Office 2007's Office Open XML format. Instead, users can resave the files as OpenDocument or old-style Office files. I would have liked to have tested the Office 2007 import feature to see how faithful the conversion process is, but I had no Office 2007 files to work with, nor a copy of Office 2007 to compare the results.

OO3 is a great office suite that builds on the success of its predecessor while adding new functionality to deliver a superior product. I'm planning to upgrade all of my copies of OO2 to OO3 as soon as I can.

The free OO3 suite can be downloaded here.

About the Author

Will Kraft is a Web designer, technical consultant and freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected]illkraftblog.com. Also, check out his blog at http://www.willkraftblog.com.

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