Updated: October 20, 2008
The latest version of OpenOffice is out. And it's nice. This is a small, pleasant review of the latest version of the most popular free, open-source office suite, going by the name of OpenOffice 3.
I have been using OpenOffice extensively for at least the last 3 years and seen many versions come out. In daily routine, people usually pay little attention to what new features their software updates bring, but when you look back and bunch years of continuous progress into a single, coherent thought, you get an impression.
OpenOffice has been getting better and better. Similarly, version 3 is no revolution. Most changes are subtle, small, gentle refinements of already good, robust and proven tools. Personally, I find this to be the right way of bringing change. It is all too easy to launch a brand new version that has nothing in common with its predecessors.
Take MS Office 2007, for example. It's a radical (visual) change from the previous versions. Most people were (and quite some probably still are) frustrated by the radical redesign. Because most people do many things from memory, remembering the layout and order of things (like menus and functions). Take this away, and they begin from scratch.
OpenOffice 3 blessedly avoids being a revolution that will force you onto a sharp learning curve. It is the same package we know and love. And then, you have the small touches that make it all worth. I am definitely not going to go through everything, but here's a sampling of good things.
On Windows, users will be pleased to learn that the OpenOffice now offers to remove all and any previous version as an option during the installation. There's no need to ask yourselves difficult questions any more, whether you should simply install over or manually remove older builds.
I tested OpenOffice on Ubuntu. My Hardy Heron did not yet have the package in its repository, so I manually downloaded the Debian (.deb) package and installed. The installation was fuss-free.
One of the immediately noticeable changes in the Start Center. OpenOffice now starts into a generic menu, which allows you to access the different applications of the suite. You can still launch individual applications, just like before, tough.
You can also use the Start Center to download extensions for OpenOffice. This is a subject we'll talk about in a separate article, so stay tuned.
It's the same old goodie, except now, you can work on more than a single page at once. In the right bottom corner, you will notice a zoom slider, which allows you to see - and edit - multiple pages at once.
The Writer also allows you to track changes and annotation made to documents by adding colorful notes to the text, using different colors for different notes. This new style improves accessibility - but it also quite nice.
This application has many changes, including cosmetics. For example, you can now create error bars from cell ranges or add equations to regression lines. Additional chart types are also available. There are now 1024 columns available (instead of 256).
Visually speaking, new colors and gradients are used, making selection of cell ranges both more distinguishable, as well as more pleasing to look at.
The presentation-maker has also been beefed up nicely. The Tasks menu is better looking and now also includes template Table Designs.
If you're into macros, then you will love the fact that partial VBA support has been introduced. This means you will be able to more easily, more quickly migrate to OpenOffice, without fuddling with Java.
Additionally, the stability of the Macro functionality has significantly improved. In older versions, trying to run macros without the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) installed would sometimes cause OpenOffice to crash. Today,it merely warns you that you require JRE.
Native looks on MAC
MAC uses will probably be most pleased to hear that OpenOffice 3 no longer requires X11 to run. It uses the native looks, making it much more aesthetically pleasing.
Thanks to me brother for providing the MAC imagery.
Small downsides ...
So far, there's only partial support for Office 2007 .docx format. You can read them, but you can't as yet create documents in this format. It is no biggie, but if and when people start using this format (hopefully not), this may cause problems to some OpenOffice users.
This is not something new, but the problem remains. The interface is too rich. OpenOffice displays far more useful stuff to the user compared to MS Office programs. This might be overwhelming, especially for new users. It's nothing major, just food for thought.
Otherwise, things look good. Very good, indeed.
Get OpenOffice 3
Surely, after such tremendous advertisement on my behalf, how can you not be tempted to download and install OpenOffice? It's there, waiting for you. Depending on the Operating System and the package type (with or without JRE), the download is approx. 120-140MB.
Therefore, some links:
If you want to read more about other the new features in OpenOffice 3, as well as learn many more details about things already presented here, you may like to visit marketing: OpenOffice 3 Beta Features.
OpenOffice is yet another small, significant step forward for this great, handy suite. The visual impression is excellent. Most people will take days, if not weeks to learn the new functions and get most out of the program, but everyone will immediately notice the graphical changes. The choice of soft blue colors is soothing and beckoning.
Speaking of new functions, they're there. You have greater control of your documents, whether it's a spreadsheet, a letter or a presentation. VBA is a nice touch. Additional mathematical and statistical functionality makes for better data analysis.
I have not managed to get OpenOffice to crash, stall or sputter. It's solid as a rock. The feeling is that it also runs faster. It may be the new, streamlined interface, but the professional tranquility that OpenOffice 3 oozes really makes you want to use it.
It's getting better and better. Considering it's free and will happily do almost everything Microsoft Office can, you'll be hard-pressed to skip this one.
Download it, try it, you won't be disappointed.