Though far more capable than iWork '09, NeoOffice 3.0 lacks the flair of Apple's productivity suite. Its rich set of features make it an obvious choice for anyone who needs all the power of Microsoft Office, but with none of the cost.
Strong Microsoft Office compatibility; more mature than OpenOffice.org 3.0; free.
Awkward to use compared to commercial Mac OS productivity suites.
Although essentially a reworked version of Sun OpenOffice, NeoOffice has long been a more popular choice for Mac users looking for a powerful open-source productivity suite. The main reason was speed; until recently, OpenOffice relied on clunky Unix emulation for its Mac-compatible version, while NeoOffice was rewritten by third-party developers to make it Mac OS-native from day one.
With the release of OpenOffice.org 3.1, as Sun now calls it, the gap between the two suites has narrowed. OpenOffice is now Mac OS-native too, but the NeoOffice team still claims an advantage. Its code has been Mac OS-native from the get-go, while this is Sun's first foray with OpenOffice.org, despite the higher version number.
So, the claim is that NeoOffice's more mature code is likely to make it a much more stable application, but such claims are difficult to assess. In fact, in day to day use, NeoOffice still crashes with annoying regularity, but its document recovery procedure seems pretty bullet-proof.
Superficially, the two suites are very similar, but NeoOffice does claim a few unique features. Perhaps the most important is support for Mac OS Services, which means words can be looked up in Apple Dictionary from within a document, for example. NeoOffice windows also behave in a more Mac-like fashion, and any open palettes are hidden when the application is out of focus. OpenOffice.org 3.0 leaves such palettes in place, which can be distracting on a busy desktop.
Owners of older Macs will also be gratified with a PowerPC version of NeoOffice, since Sun dropped support for this older Mac processor with the launch of OpenOffice.org 3.0. NeoOffice does, however, lack OpenOffice.org's support for Universal Access, which means users who make use of the Mac's enhanced accessibility features, for example inverse screen colours, visual alerts, sticky keys, and so on, will have to stick with Sun.
As with OpenOffice.org, NeoOffice's open-source origins are somewhat betrayed by a general lack of overall polish and user-friendliness - two areas where most Mac applications excel. This is perhaps most evident with document formatting. Both Microsoft Office 2007 for Mac and Apple iWork '09 offer a wide range of extremely professional templates and slick built-in styles, but NeoOffice's offerings are rudimentary at best.
One upside, however, is that, while NeoOffice's cluttered user interface may be an affront to die-hard Mac fans used to more streamlined applications, it so closely resembles Microsoft Office that Windows users will get to grips with the suite in seconds, which is perhaps more than can be said for Apple iWork '09.
Cross-suite document compatibility is another of NeoOffice's strong points. It can't open iWork documents - but then nothing can other than iWork - but it can cope with Microsoft Office, Microsoft Works and even WordPerfect files. It can also be configured to save documents in Office file formats by default, including the new Office XML format, making for foolproof Mac/Windows compatibility.
Well, perhaps not completely fool-proof. Office document compatibility is good, but not perfect, although the only problems tend to be with document formatting, and then only occasionally.
Like any open-source application, the lack of technical support is an obvious disincentive for widespread adoption of NeoOffice within a business environment. There is a good user support forum, but this is no replacement for an expert at the other end of a telephone. These open-source shortcomings are mostly mitigated by NeoOffice's open-source price, though, and if nothing else the suite makes an ideal partner to Apple iWork '09 for anyone who needs capable Microsoft Office compatibility with a minimum outlay.