VMware was not the only pre-release surprise this past week as OpenOffice.org launched a beta of their new 3.0 office productivity suite complete with native OS X GUI support (no need to run X11 anymore!) along with a sizable list of other enhancements and bug fixes. TAB put the suite through a series of tests to help readers determine if this 168MB download is worthy of a spot in their Applications folders.
Welcome To Aqua
The first noticeable item is how quickly OpenOffice 3.0 beta loads, even when compared with Microsoft Office 2008. In less than five seconds you are at the welcome screen ready to create your next masterpiece. Where the X11 interface felt choppy and looked…like an X11 interface, OO 3.0 definitely looks and feels like a fully integrated Aqua application, with menus being very responsive and keyboard shortcuts working (mostly – hey, it’s beta) as expected. How does each behave in this newly integrated world? Let’s take a look.
Whether it be your latest manuscript, research paper or basic flyer Writer definitely has the tools you need to get the job done. Complex header/footer arrangements, full table of contents manipulation, floating frames and more make this a very sophisticated word & document processor.
I do a great deal of legal document markup and the new notes feature keeps OO 3.0 on track with Pages and Word:
I also especially liked the font preview option for the font menu:
The multi-page layout view mode makes it very easy to see if the visual flow of your document is to your liking:
And, it was refreshing to see a “preview” mode that wasn’t just a export-view to Preview.app:
However, this is also where my first beta bug reared its ugly head with a half-dup of the menubar:
Writer also has basic support for VBA macros, something which neither Pages nor Word 2008 can claim and a feature which came in extremely handy this past weekend for a document I absolutely needed to work with (I could have VMware’d or Boot Camp’d into XP, but OO 3.0 made it so I didn’t have to). That same document also had many form-fields which all worked flawlessly in Writer.
When saving my document, doing so in Microsoft Office compatibility mode produced documents that worked flawlessly on Word 2008 and Word 2003/2007 (on Windows). Importing Microsoft’s new XML-format documents also worked well, though mine aren’t complex by any stretch of the imagination.
Writer is a fine tool, but there are still multi-platform quirks, like the button rendering in some dialogs:
and a less-than Mac-like preferences system:
I’ll state up-front that I hate spreadsheets. I hate them mostly due to the fact that people use spreadsheet programs as page-layout tools rather then as number crunchers. Numbers understood this and makes no attempt to hide that it is first-and-foremost a way to make pretty, numerical pages. But, getting back to the topic at hand…
Calc is a clear mimic of Excel 2003 for Windows, complete with charting and “solving” capabilities (which the developers are quick to point out do not exist in Excel 2008). Not being a non-work spreadsheet geek (and, I can’t use work examples) I Googled for
filetype:xls and pulled a pseudo-random document to work with (the one pictured above). You can see what that Excel document looks like in Excel 2008 just for comparison:
The formatting is pretty much identical and, as a result, I decided to extend my test by checking out Calc’s new charting capabilities:
and then saving in compatibility mode and re-opening in Excel 2008:
I was truly impressed by just how well the two programs worked together, making me a bit more confident if I ever have to use OO 3.0 to edit/share docs with others. I did not have an opportunity to test the new collaboration (i.e. track/merge) feature.
Impress & Draw
With Keynote I have little need for alternate presentation software, but Impress worked as well as previous versions and I did create and preview a quick presentation with no issues:
Similarly, while I have no real need for Draw, it was trivial to create basic line-art documents with this tool:
While it may not have a catchy name like FileMaker (although one could argue that is equally as utilitarian a name) or Bento (I promised myself I would not take this review as an opportunity to trash Bento), OO 3.0′s “Database” application fills a void that exists in Microsoft Office on the Mac and that has been missing in general from the open source world.
The built-in field sets and templates in Database made it trivial to setup a quick recipe database with entry form. And, best of all, I just used the defaults. If I wanted to make it more attractive, I could have spent as much time as necessary crafting primary keys, adjusting field sizes, adding font labels and customizing each feature of the forms. It may be worth it just to keep OpenOffice.org 3.0 around just for the Database program.
The true power of Database comes with full integration into the OO 3.0 suite. I can use the recipe database (if I populate it) to have Writer make a nice recipe file (Database reports could do this as well). Database also allows for data export as well, so you are definitely not locked into the program.
Odds & Ends
Some features spread across the individual components and others were just noteworthy or interesting. For example, when comparing the PDF export feature in Calc, it wound up creating a smaller file than the OS X “print to PDF” option and created table of contents labels based on the spreadsheet tab names.
OO 3.0 also provides a decent number of templates to choose from when starting a new document, some of which aren’t obvious from the flashy “welcome” dialog or just casual interaction with the program (like the full XML document editor).
The help system is very robust and can assist you in pinpointing where to find the functionality you just know is there (like how to mimic Word’s “different first page” feature).
OO 3.0 provides no AppleScript dictionary, so scripters are once again relegated to GUI scripting and the UI – while integrated well with Aqua and with decent Universal Access support – is definitely showing its age. The beta outright crashed on me several times as well, but it confirmed the rock solid document recovery capabilities of the program.
I can say, honestly, that the final version of the software will take its rightful place in my Applications folder, if only to have the ability to deal with the occasional VBA-based document that comes my way and to make use of the Database program.
If you’ve tried OO 3.0 beta or are one of the developers for it, drop a note in the comments with your take on the software and any tips or advice on using the various components. Remember to submit bug reports if you do test the beta and find some quirks. You can also grab a slew of test cases which will cover more of the functionality than I have in this post.