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10/20/2005
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Free OpenOffice.org 2.0 Suite Launches

The alternative to Microsoft Office got new legs recently as governments argue that documents should be based on open document formats.

An open-format group Thursday launched the final version of OpenOffice.org 2.0, a free application suite that's drawn attention from governments interested in breaking away from Microsoft's office application bundles.

OpenOffice.org 2.0, which has been in development for more than two years and recently delayed by some last-minute bugs, can now be downloaded from the Web in versions for Windows, Linux, and Solaris. A native Mac OS X edition is still being ported.

"OpenOffice.org is on a path toward being the most popular office suite the world has ever seen," claimed Jonathan Schwartz, the chief executive of Sun Microsystems, in a statement.

Sun and OpenOffice.org are linked by the code on which the suite is based. In 2000, Sun, which a year earlier had acquired a German company that developed StarOffice, released the code as the OpenOffice.org project. The two continue to share code, with Sun's StarOffice -- version 8 went final in late September -- sold commercially with bundled support.

Although Sun is the prime contributor to OpenOffice.org, others, including Novell, Red Hat, Debian, Propylon, and Intel, as well as a slew of independent programmers, pitched in to design, develop, test, and debug 2.0.

Recently, the suite has taken a more prominent place as some governments argue that documents must be based on open formats, not proprietary formats such as those used by Microsoft's Office, the bundle that has a near-monopoly on the office application market.

Massachusetts in particular has been a vigorous proponent of OpenOffice.org, and the OpenDocument format it subscribes to, and has rejected Microsoft's pitch of Office Open XML as a true open format.

OpenOffice.org also got a bit of a boost earlier this month when Sun and Google announced a long-range technology partnership. Although the pair have been short on specifics, speculation remains strong that StarOffice, or the open-format OpenOffice.org offshoot, might be the foundation for additional Google Web services in the future.

OpenOffice.org 2.0 isn't totally reliant on OpenDocument, or even a nebulous Google-Sun deal, to make news, however. This version of the suite features a new database component -- dubbed "OpenOffice.org Base" -- major improvements in compatibility with Microsoft Office document formats, and a redesigned user interface.

The suite's export-to-PDF feature has also been improved, said OpenOffice.org, to give users more control over the quality and size of the resulting PDF files.

That may be important if OpenOffice.org 2.0 actually contends with and competes against Microsoft Office. The next version of Redmond's suite, called Office 12 for now, will also offer PDF export, the company confirmed three weeks ago.

"OpenOffice 2.0 is a big deal…this isn't some new, untried technology," said Tim Bray, one of the creators of XML, and now an employee at Sun, in a statement. "You can get your desktop work done without having to pay onerous up-front licensing costs and without having your data locked up in somebody else's file format. Why would you work any other way?"

OpenOffice.org 2.0 can be downloaded free of charge from the OpenOffice.org Web site.

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