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OpenOffice.org 3.0: The Best Value In Free Software Just Got Better

As of this week, OpenOffice.org 3.0 is officially available for download. That's especially good news for OS X users who want to join the party, but they aren't the only ones who will like what they find.
As of this week, OpenOffice.org 3.0 is officially available for download. That's especially good news for OS X users who want to join the party, but they aren't the only ones who will like what they find.The biggest change by far in OOo 3.0 is its long-awaited native Mac OS X support. Mac users running previous versions of the open-source productivity suite could either use a port created by the NeoOffice project or run it under X11. Now that OpenOffice.org can take full advantage of the Mac's native OS X graphics and performance capabilities, it is far more likely to appeal to mainstream Mac users -- many of whom are unhappy about the fact that Microsoft Office for the Mac no longer supports Visual Basic for Applications. (OpenOffice.org, 3.0, by comparison, already offers partial Mac VBA support and is likely to improve its Visual Basic capabilities over time.)

Windows and Linux OOo users will also get some important new features. It includes support for the latest version of the Open Document Format (currently moving through the ISO standards-approval process), and it includes an import filter for Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) document format, which is the default format in both Office 2007 and Office 2008 Mac. The OOo project has also beefed up its feature set, including new collaboration and annotation tools for its Calc (spreadsheet) and Writer software.

Needless to say, if you're not currently using OpenOffice.org but like the idea of never again paying a dime for your business productivity software (except for optional support and services), this is as good a time as any to check it out. Very few small-business users will find OOo lacking any significant features they use in Microsoft Office, and those who worry about maintaining full document compatibility with Office are also in for a very pleasant surprise.

(Besides submitting its OOXML format as an industry standard, Microsoft will support ODF in future versions of Office, making document-compatibility issues with OpenOffice.org even less relevant to small-business users comparing the two suites.)

There is a learning curve for anyone moving to OOo from Microsoft Office, but it is one that applies mostly to proficient Office 2007 users. If you're migrating from an older version of Office (with the older, traditional Office interface), you just might find that working with OpenOffice.org is less painful than switching to Office 2007.

Could things get any better for OpenOffice.org these days? Judging from the surge of downloads that crippled the project's Web site earlier this week, OOo is no longer the well-kept secret it was just a couple of years ago. And while some critics worry that Sun is taking an overly bureaucratic approach to managing the OpenOffice.org project (Sun also sells StarOffice, a commercial-software twin to OOo), this is an issue more of interest to developers than to users, at least for the time being.

You can download OpenOffice.org 3.0 here, or check out a summary of the suite's new and upgraded features here.