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Review: OpenOffice.org 2.0 Office Suite For Windows

With a new UI and improved Office compatibility, the pioneering productivity suite proves that "free" doesn't mean "limited."
The developers at OpenOffice.org have achieved a remarkable feat with OpenOffice.org 2.0. They have developed an office suite that in many aspects battles Microsoft Office 2003 bell for bell and whistle for whistle, yet they are offering OpenOffice.org 2.0 for free.

"Free" doesn't mean "limited," though. The suite comes with Base (a database program new in this version), Calc (spreadsheet), Draw (drawing), Impress (presentations), Math (calculations) and Writer (word processor). OpenOffice.org 2.0 adheres to the OASIS Open Document Standard, an XML standard for office suites, which should help ensure document compatibility with other office suites (that also adopt the standard) and any future versions of OpenOffice or other Open Document-compatible suite.

A Whole New Interface

The 75MB download from www.openoffice.org takes about 5 minutes on a broadband connection. The install has a new, more intuitive interface that makes it simple to choose the elements you want and install the suite. With 1.1.5, you downloaded a zip file and had to find your way to the setup file, a method that could have intimidated less technical users. Version 2.0 changes that.



The new integration menu lets you start any document type from any of the programs in the suite.
Click to Enlarge

Another change: when you've completed the install and access the program from the Start menu, you will see program names, rather than the tasks (like ‘Text Document’) that 1.1.5 used to identify its components -- although the new version continues the task metaphor when you select a new document type from any program.

The suite sports a whole new look and feel. Gone is the toolbar running along the left side of the page along with the Styles box that appeared by default in 1.1.5. Instead, you see a two-row toolbar running across the top of the page, a more familiar look for Office users (but of course, you are free to move a toolbar any place you want).

In addition, you can now choose any document type from the New menu in any of the suite programs, which gives the entire suite a more integrated feel. This integration falls short, however, in one place. When you save or open a file and you want to select a particular file type (e.g., Microsoft Excel documents), you have to scroll through an incredibly long list of supported file formats for each document type to find the one you want. But other than this minor flaw, the integration is a big step forward.

Each program in the suite has a high level of sophistication, with manyof the same features found in its far more expensive Microsoft counterpart. For instance, in Writer you will find the ability to track changes, add comments and compare documents, plus there is a built-in PDF writer, a feature you won’t find in Microsoft Office. Impress allows you to build the same type of presentations with same features you are used to finding in Microsoft PowerPoint, such as pre-built animations and the ability to add sound or movies. Calc includes pivot table support and imports pivot table data from Microsoft Excel.

Importing and Exporting

Although it would be nice to judge OpenOffice.org 2.0 strictly on its own merit, in the real world most of us have legacy documents in some version of Office, or at least must exchange documents with Office users. Therefore it’s imperative that OpenOffice have decent import and export filters. I did a couple of simple tests to find out. The results were mixed.

My tests were far from comprehensive, but I had good results with Writer and Calc: Writer imported a Microsoft Word document with complex formatting cleanly. Its PDF writer worked flawlessly. I had no problem importing simple Excel documents into Calc. But in my tests Impress failed to import simple animations and sound included in a PowerPoint file. And when I created a similar file in Impress and saved it in Microsoft PowerPoint format, the animation and sound did not work in the file when opened in PowerPoint.

When all is said and done, this is a great package with an impressive array of programs and features. The filters are improved, although they still appear to need some work in some instances, but if you are looking for an office suite alternative, feature for feature, OpenOffice.org gives Microsoft Office 2003 a run for its money, and for the price, you can’t beat it.


FileMaker Pro 8.0
OpenOffice.org 2.0
www.openoffice.org
Price: Free
Summary: OpenOffice.org 2.0 and has taken the office suite to a new level of sophistication and quality. Compatibility with Microsoft Office is good (though some import and export filters still need work), and at it's price point (free) it offers a big cost advantage over Microsoft Office.
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