Version 3.0 of OpenOffice.org does add significant new features, and since in these financially turbulent times it costs nothing to install, it could reduce bottom line expenditure significantly if deployed extensively. We experienced few problems with the suite that couldn't be circumvented with workarounds. We think system administrators should give it a close look, especially if they're rolling out thousands of minimally used copies of Microsoft Office with only features like basic formatting, spell checking, and word count really being needed.
Neat, clean interface; free.
Collaboration features limited; significant incompatibilities with Microsoft Office 2007 file formats.
Version 3.0 of OpenOffice.org's free office productivity suite was launched in mid-October and, while not a ground-breaking release, it builds on an already mature software package to provide even tougher competition for Microsoft's Office suite in the office productivity suite market.
OpenOffice 3.0 offers native Mac OS X support without users having to use the X11 Window System implementation for Mac systems, which means that it behaves like any other application running under Apple's Aqua GUI. There are also OpenOffice versions for Linux distributions and Solaris.
The six applications contained in OpenOffice are the Writer word processor, the Calc spreadsheet, the Impress presentation program, the Base database package, the Draw vector graphics application and the Math formulae editing tool.
As well as support for the newest version of the Open Document Format, 1.2, there is also some integration with Microsoft Office 2007 through new import filters.
Spreadsheet functionality has been improved with the ability to collaborate on spreadsheets through workbook sharing. Calc Users can now use 1,024 columns per sheet in the spreadsheet application, a big improvement over 256 in earlier versions. Enhanced XML support and updated XSLT-based filters have also been added.
We downloaded the 131MB OpenOffice.org executable and installed it on a variety of systems running Windows XP Professional and Vista Ultimate, giving a system disk footprint of 323MB.
Users migrating from Microsoft Office 2003 systems will be pleased that OpenOffice still keeps with the Office 2003 layout, rather than the updated Office 2007 interface.
The first screen users see is the Start Center, from which users can create or edit text files, presentations, databases, spreadsheets, drawings or mathematical formulae.
Enabling a spreadsheet document for collaboration involves a ticking a box on the tools options, and checking that the right name is down in the 'user data' fields in the 'Tools/Options' option.
It was easy to collaborate on the spreadsheet, providing that any remote network connections and network shares were enabled and active. However, not everything in the shared spreadsheets can be changed.
OpenOffice warns that changing attributes like fonts, colours and number formats won't be allowed, and collaborating users will not be able to edit charts or drawn objects that exist within the shared document.
However, the major problem was that, although we could write new data into a shared spreadsheet, the changes weren't reflected in users' spreadsheets who were sharing the document in real time. Only when any user reloaded or refreshed the document did the changes take effect.
We did find it easier to crop features in the Draw and Impress components of Draw and Impress, but other graphics packages, like CorelDraw for instance, have a much more natural way of cropping images and vector graphics.
The addition of new functionality to insert tables into presentations natively is a long overdue feature.
While compatibility with Office 2003 application formats is very good, OpenOffice.org 3.0's compatibility with Office 2007 Word, Excel and PowerPoint formats isn't fantastic, especially for complex documents.
Whether this is a major problem depends to what extent Office 2007 is used in your company and whether the extra features in Office 2007 are used fully.
We looked at PowerPoint presentations saved in Office 2007 format and opened with OpenOffice.org's Impress presentation application. Comparing Office 2007 PowerPoint presentations with the same file opened with Impress threw up a fair amount of problems with Impress' depiction of the PowerPoint file.
Exporting to Office 2003 format from Office 2007 and then opening the presentations with Impress cured these problems.
With Office 2007 Excel spreadsheets opened with OpenOffice.org's Calc application, we found fewer problems, maybe due to our use of less advanced features, but there were deviations which could still preclude firms deciding on a full migration from Microsoft Office 2007 to OpenOffice.org 3.0.
Two other welcome additions in OpenOffice.org 3.0 are the ability to view multiple pages side by side in the Writer application, and being able to add regression bars to graphs in Calc.