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First Look: OpenOffice.org 3.0 Public Beta

A new beta version of OpenOffice.org was released last month. I've used the OpenOffice.org productivity suite almost exclusively over the past few years for producing documents, and it has always done what I've needed it to. I've seen it grow from its version 1.x days to become a serious competitor to Microsoft Office, and the new OpenOffice.org 3.0 beta (OO3) continues that trend.

I tested the Windows beta, since that is the version that people are most likely to use. During the duration of the test, OO3 was very stable and fully functional. I did not experience any crashes or other problems. It's a beta, though, and OpenOffice.org's backer, Sun Microsystems, encourages general use of the current stable version (2.4) for production work.

The most significant new feature in OO3 is a native Mac OS X version with full Aqua integration, which eliminates the prior dependence on X11 and the primary need for OpenOffice.org derivatives like NeoOffice. NeoOffice has traditionally stayed ahead of the feature curve, so it will be interesting to see what the future holds for it.

Another notable feature is the inclusion of converters meant to handle the document formats used with Office 2007 applications. The controversial OOXML ISO standard, approved in April, is based on the XML document formats used in Office 2007. Unfortunately, the OO3's converters were not able to handle the sample OOXML files that I found online, but displayed only blank documents on conversion. Hopefully, this issue will be addressed before the next OpenOffice.org final release to ensure wide compatibility.

OO3's support for traditional Microsoft Office document formats was as good as ever, I found. This beta supports the new OpenDocument Format 1.2 specification.

The OO3 beta includes application improvements. Writer (the word processing module) has upgraded editing features, allowing the user to track changes on several pages of a document at once. In addition, a more powerful and intuitive note system (with colors varying by user/editor) has replaced the cumbersome yellow note boxes in previous versions.

Calc (the spreadsheet module) has a new solver feature, which is meant to aid in optimization calculations while taking constraints from other cells into consideration. Also, OO3 supports much larger spreadsheets. For instance, column support has been increased to 1,024 from the prior limit of 256 columns. Charting has been upgraded to allow error bars and regression equations. A complete list of new features can be found here.

From a usability interface standpoint, OO3 resembles version 2.x, except that the splash screen has been changed and the icons are different from those of 2.x. This beta contains a few interface glitches. The loading bar on the title screen is placed incorrectly. The dialog box that confirms the choice to save in Microsoft Office formats has some awkward wording. However, those faults are forgivable in a beta.

About the Author

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

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