As the OpenOffice.org development team closes in on the 2.0 release, we
thought we'd take a look at the suite and see how the 2.0 version is
shaping up. Since OpenOffice.org 2.0 is still in development, it's to be
expected that some features do not work or work poorly, and that its stability isn't
at a level appropriate for a finished application. The 1.9.65 build of
OpenOffice.org certainly lives up to that expectation, and should only be
deployed for testing purposes.
We installed OpenOffice.org 1.9.65 from the snapshot builds page
on a SUSE 9.2 system. Unlike previous versions of OpenOffice.org,
version 1.9.x is being distributed in "native" installer format for
various systems. The Linux build is available as an RPM rather than the old
OpenOffice.org setup application.
One of the goals for the 2.0 release of OpenOffice.org is for the
application to start faster than previous releases. At this point in
development, the startup for OpenOffice 1.9.65 is not noticeably faster
than 1.1.3, however.
Let's start with the word-processing application, Writer. The sad fact is
that OpenOffice.org could be the best word processor ever invented -- but
if it fails to import Microsoft Word documents well, it will have a tough
time in the general market. This is also true of other OpenOffice.org
applications, so we spent a good deal of time testing Office compatibility.
To test out the Word and other Microsoft document import features, this
reporter searched for Microsoft Office documents on Google using the
"filetype" search feature. Writer is still better at importing Microsoft
Word documents than AbiWord, and 1.9.65 does a slightly better job of
importing Microsoft Office files than 1.1.3. There still seem to be a few
glitches. One Word document, for example, looked almost perfect, with the
exception of a bulleted list presented outside the page borders.
The interface for Writer has changed very little, so users who are familiar
with Writer already will be able to jump right in to the next
version. There are a number of noteworthy new features in Writer aside from
its Microsoft Word compatibility. This version of Writer allows an author
to count words in a selection, in addition to counting words in the entire
document. Nested table support has also improved in this version, which
will also help with importing complex Microsoft Word documents.
The Impress interface has changed quite a bit, with floating toolbars for
formatting and a tabbed interface to switch between views of the
document. This reporter likes the new interface a little more, but the
transitions between views are a bit jarring. The "slide sorter" view is
particularly nice if one needs to re-arrange a presentation quickly.
Calc looks and feels the same as its predecessor. It has undergone a few
improvements under the hood, however. In particular, Calc's limitation of
32,000 rows has been removed. Calc can now handle sheets with up to 65,536
rows, which is the same as Microsoft Excel. We tested this by importing a
CSV document with 59,621 rows. Calc had no problem importing this document
or saving it as a native OpenOffice.org file.
Calc is a bit better at importing Excel files with odd text formatting than
Gnumeric, but Gnumeric does still seem to have the edge
in supported functions. Calc fails several tests in Gnumeric's
testing files which test for Excel compatibility.
One of the big additions to OpenOffice.org 2.0 is a database application
like Microsoft Access. The OO.org Base application is, or should be, a nice
addition to the OpenOffice.org suite when it's complete. Unfortunately,
Base isn't very stable at the moment, and testing usually resulted in a
complete crash in a short time. The Table Wizard is very user-friendly, but
each time this reporter tried to create a database using the Wizard,
OpenOffice.org would crash at the final step.
Unfortunately, the entire suite is only as stable as its least-stable
component. When Base crashed, it brought down the entire suite in one fell
swoop. This is a bit of a design flaw, as a user with Writer, Calc and Base
open will have all applications crash simultaneously. This did give us a
chance to work with the document recovery wizard. At startup,
OpenOffice.org would try to recover all documents open at the time of the
crash. OpenOffice.org's recovery feature was fairly dependable, but this
reporter is looking forward to using it a little less often.
There are also a number of features that can be found throughout the
OpenOffice.org suite rather than any specific application. The native file
formats have changed to the OASIS Open
Document Format for Office Applications. OpenOffice.org applications
still support the older format, but new files are saved in the new format
by default unless the user changes default file format preferences. Users
have a great deal of flexibility in this area, including the ability to
save in Microsoft Office formats if they prefer.
OpenOffice.org 2.0 also has a document conversion wizard that allows the
user to convert older OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office documents into
the new OpenOffice.org document formats. Rather than forcing the user to
convert documents one at a time, the wizard allows a user to convert all
documents in a directory at once. This feature isn't quite error-free just
We were also interested in OpenOffice.org 2.0's digital signatures
feature. Apparently, OpenOffice.org will allow the user to sign or verify
macros and documents in the new format. Unfortunately, this feature didn't
seem to be working in the 1.9.65 build.
From a test of the 1.9.65 build, it's pretty clear that the
OpenOffice.org project has a way to go before it's finished. However, this
does provide a pretty good overview of what to expect, and it does look
like 2.0 will be a formidable suite when finished.
For LWN readers who wish to participate in testing, or just see what else
is on the way, a feature
guide to 2.0 is available. According to the roadmap,
the OpenOffice.org project should be releasing a 2.0 beta some time this
month, with a final release tentatively planned for March of this year.
to post comments)