Commentary 3.1: Looking Sharp 3.1 is now available, and one of the suite's most important changes involves big improvements to its handling of on-screen graphics. 3.1 is now available, and one of the suite's most important changes involves big improvements to its handling of on-screen graphics.The updated free office software suite includes more than 20 major changes to its five core applications. Perhaps the most striking new feature, however, is its use of anti-aliasing to render sharper charts, line art, and other graphical elements.

Some other notable changes to 3.1 include:

- Improved file locking. This is a huge bonus for companies where users routinely edit shared documents. Effective file-locking might sound like an obvious feature for a tool like, but keep in mind that the suite runs on multiple OSes, including Windows, Linux, and MacOS. That means OOo had to implement an internal file-locking scheme, rather than simply relying on the base operating system's file-locking support.

- Enhanced comments for collaborative editing. This involves two major changes: The ability to hold a running conversation by clicking "reply" on embedded comments; and support for searching the text of existing comments in a document.

- The ability to rename Calc (spreadsheet) documents by double-clicking the tab in an open sheet rather than dropping into a separate "rename" box.

- The zoom slider in the status bar now works with both Calc and Writer documents, making it easy to change the zoom level for an open document.

- A number of new sorting features and new or changed formulas in Calc. is also advertising some significant under-the-hood performance improvements. According to the project's developers, the processing time for two key Calc test-cases has dropped from 24 seconds to just over one second, and from one hour to 12 minutes, respectively.

There has been a lot of hand-wringing lately over what some people see as problems with the development process. A lot of the criticism involved concerns that Sun Microsystems, which oversees the project, was imposing too much bureaucracy to keep things moving ahead as quickly as they should be.

One new release, however, is worth a thousand online discussions. For an open-source project that now boasts over a half million lines of code, 3.1 delivers some significant, and very obvious, improvements to an already solid product.

What about the future of Bear in mind that Oracle would love nothing more than to keep hitting Microsoft where it hurts -- namely, by posing a mortal threat to its Office revenue stream.

At this point, is already an ideal substitute for the vast majority of Office users. All Oracle/Sun needs to do is combine the project's technical chops with some first-rate marketing to deliver one key message. Thanks to, most of the companies that spend hundreds of dollars for each copy of Microsoft Office could be using that money far more wisely.

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