First Look: OpenOffice 3.0, office suite

OpenOffice 3.0

If you need an office suite for the Mac, your choices used to be limited to Microsoft Office 2008 or Apple's iWork. Unfortunately, neither option offered a complete solution. Office 2008 can share the latest file formats with Office 2007 for Windows, but the Mac and Windows versions of Office neither look nor work exactly alike. If you're already familiar with Office 2007 on Windows, Office 2008 for the Mac will seem different enough to frustrate and confuse you. Apple's iWork is the only other office suite solution, but it lacks a Windows version. For a true cross-platform office suite, you can now rely on the open source OpenOffice 3.0.

This office suite offers true compatibility across multiple platforms, running on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X. In fact, version 3.0 is the first version that finally offers native support for Mac OS X (previous versions required X11 to run on the Mac).

More importantly, this suite also offers file compatibility with the latest Office 2007 file formats (such as .docx) along with the newest Open Document Format (ODF) file standards. In addition, you can directly export files to PDF format as well although it cannot read or write to the native file formats of iWork.

Where Office 2008 and iWork fall short is that both suites only offer a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation program (while Office 2008 also offers Entourage as an e-mail client and organizer). In contrast, this suite offers a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program, vector drawing program, and a relational database.

OpenOffice 3.0 offers five programs

Another major difference between this suite and Office 2008 or iWork is the way it handles multiple programs. With Office 2008 or iWork, you're essentially using three separate programs. For example, if you want to do word processing, you need to load Microsoft Word. If you want to do number-crunching in a spreadsheet, you need to load Microsoft Excel. Having to load and switch between separate programs is acceptable, but clumsy.

On the other hand with this suite, you only need to load a single program and then choose which function you need (word processing, spreadsheet, etc.) through the New command, under the File menu.

Every program feature is available at all times

If you're using the word processor, choose the New command and then choose whether you want to open a database or presentation. The suite opens a window that contains toolbar icons unique to that program (such as creating a spreadsheet). The menu bar always displays commands for the currently active window, so if you click on a word processing window, you'll see word processing commands and if you click on a spreadsheet window, you'll see spreadsheet commands.

OpenOffice 3.0 displays different features inside separate windows

Besides maintaining file format compatibility with Office 2007, this suite also provides something lacking in Office 2008 for the Mac -- Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) support. If you have any macros created in Excel, you'll find that many of them can run in this suite. Since Office 2008 for the Mac lacks such VBA support, this suite's spreadsheet is actually more compatible with Excel for Windows than Excel for the Mac.

Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of this suite is the lack of pre-designed templates. Where Office 2008 and iWork offer dozens of templates to help you create newsletters, brochures, invoices, and business presentations, this suite provides the ability to create and save templates, but just a few pre-designed templates for creating simple slideshow presentations. Another drawback is that Microsoft provides a huge library of clip art images for pasting into your documents. This suite provides none.

If you can live without templates or clip art and want a free, open source office suite that provides the same interface across multiple platforms, file format compatibility with Office 2007 and Open Document standards, and the most popular features found in Microsoft Office, you'll find OpenOffice 3.0 more than satisfactory. Chances are good that even if you have a rival office suite, you'll find something to like (such as a database or drawing feature) in OpenOffice 3.0.
  1. JackWebb 10/14, 12:32am

    Maybe someone can offer an opinion as if and how this is better than the free NeoOffice?

  1. Guest 10/14, 04:39am

    OpenOffice is also free just like neooffice
    OpenOffice isn't java based like neooffice.
    everything else should be same.
    neooffice has some mac specific features that openoffice doesn't have Media Browser support, Magnify and swipe trackpad gestures, Mac OS X Leopard grammar checking support etc. here is the complete list

  1. doctorwinters 10/14, 09:09am

    Yeah, I thought it was misleading to leave Neooffice out completely.

    "your choices used to be limited to Microsoft Office 2008 or Apple’s iWork. "

    Neooffice has worked well for me. I would like help deciding which to use.

  1. Mr. Strat 10/14, 10:27am

    Someone who's comfortable with Office 2007 on the PC will be confused with Office 2008 on the Mac?

    I'd say it more the other way around. Office 2007 is an ugly, convoluted clusterfuck.

  1. _Rick_V_ 10/14, 11:10am

    One big advantage over NeoOffice is that the Mac version now has development parity with the rest of the OOo project. That means we get feature and bug fix updates at the same time as everyone else.

    I think this is similar to the Camino-Firefox situation a number of years ago. Back then, the choice was Camino, Firefox wasn't quite there yet (and there were a few ugly Mac-only glitches in the FF version). Now, you hardly hear of Camino, and it certainly up to date with the latest Firefox. I think the same will be true with OpenOffice. In a few years, I imagine NeoOffice will sink into obscurity.

  1. JackWebb 10/14, 12:22pm

    Thanks. I just remembered that OO is Intel only. That's fine since most people I'm helping are on Intel now. I'm still mainly on the G5.

  1. akulavolk 10/14, 12:24pm

    "On the other hand with this suite, you only need to load a single program and then choose which function you need (word processing, spreadsheet, etc.)"

    Personally, I prefer to keep separate apps in my dock and just launch Keynote when I need to do a presentation, vs. launching a general purpose app, and then re-deciding what I want to do by choosing a sub-app from a gallery. Adobe's CS3 suite works more like iWork, so maybe that's just what I'm used to.

    To me, the important thing is interoperability between programs. How well do they play together? If I update a drawing in Pages or a chart in Numbers, does that placed file reflect in Keynote (as a placed Illustrator PDF would in InDesign)? think iWork has some room to grow here, unfortunately. Seems like Apple could now finally fix the whole inter-app linking workflow that's been attempted before (OLE, Cyberdoc, Publish/Subscribe, etc.), but never successfully.

  1. rubaiyat 10/15, 01:35pm

    …soon as I can pirate a copy.

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