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OpenOffice.org 3.0: The Big Yawn

October 10, 2008
By

So there’s another version of OpenOffice out, and it’s even the 3.0 release! Wow! Cool stuff eh? Well, not really. You see there was a time when I would have been thrilled to get a new release of OpenOffice, but I just can’t find the old excitement with this release.

OpenOffice 3.0 is a yawn…

What’s in OpenOffice 3.0?

Before I get too far into this column, let’s take a look at the new features in OpenOffice 3.0. Here’s a partial list of new features from the OpenOffice.org site:

* 1 New Core Features
* 1.1 Mac OS X Support
* 1.2 ODF 1.2 support
* 1.3 Microsoft Office 2007 Import Filters
* 1.4 Solver
* 1.5 Chart Enhancements
* 1.6 Improved Crop Feature in Draw and Impress
* 1.7 Spreadsheet Collaboration Through Workbook Sharing
* 1.8 1024 Columns Per Calc Sheet (Instead of 256)
* 1.9 Display of Multiple Writer Pages While Editing
* 1.10 Improved Notes Feature in Writer
* 1.11 New, Fresh-Looking Icons
* 1.12 Start Center
* 1.13 Native Tables in Impress
* 1.14 Enhanced XML support and updated XSLT based filters

Clearly there’s some good stuff in this release, particularly the release of a Mac version of OpenOffice.org. Mac users have had to get along with NeoOffice or run OpenOffice.org via X11, but those days are finally over. Since I use Macs quite a bit, I’m very happy about this since it provides Apple (and Microsoft) with some real competition in the office suite arena.

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For some reason I’ve just never been able to warm up to Apple’s iWork suite. It’s very slick, but it seems a bit excessive for basic word processing. The pricing is better than Microsoft’s Office bloatware, but OpenOffice.org provides a very valuable alternative to both of the premium office suites on the Mac.

The rest of the stuff is welcome but not particularly earth shattering either.

Why I’m Not Excited: Cloud Versus Local?
Now before anybody jumps down my throat, I really do appreciate the work done by the developers and I really do support the concept of OpenOffice. It has helped make proprietary office suites like Microsoft Office mostly obsolete. And I’m grateful for that on a number of levels. I’m also very pleased that there is a Mac OS X version of OpenOffice available.

However, the days of being excited about a new office suite that runs locally on my hard disk are pretty much over as I pointed out in an earlier column. I’ve become addicted to Google Docs and the cloud has now become my word processor of choice. I can’t help it, I really can’t.

It’s just so damned convenient having all of my documents (including this column) stored on Google’s servers. It doesn’t matter what computer I use to access them; they’re all there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. I guess I’ve been seduced by the cloud convenience, so to speak.

Before I started using Google Docs, my documents were scattered all over the place. I kid you not, some of them were on my desktop, some in folders elsewhere, and I could never keep track of which documents were in which folders on which computer!

I know, I know…it’s my own fault! I’m a document pack rat that can never delete anything and yet can never properly organize my files. Spotlight on my Macs certainly has helped but it’s still annoying having my documents all over the place like that.

So when Google Docs launched, I tried it and I’ve been writing my columns and other articles on it ever since. Whenever I need to refer back to a previous document I know it’s all stored safely in Google Docs and I can find it in seconds from any computer or device that can load Google Docs in a browser.

Having all your documents online in one place might not seem like such a big deal but as time goes by and you accumulate more and more documents, it can be overwhelming trying to remember what’s what and where you put it if it’s stored locally. When you combine that with some of Google’s other services, it becomes a tough combination to beat.

Google might be evil sometimes but Google Docs sure is damned convenient.

OpenOffice.org in the Cloud?
One thing that I would not mind seeing is an online version of OpenOffice.org. If Google can have an online word processor then why can’t we also have a version of OpenOffice.org that runs in a browser window?

It would not necessarily need all the bells and whistles that the offline version of OpenOffice.org has, but if it had just enough core functionality as Google’s apps, then it could be a huge success. I have mixed feelings about Google sometimes so having an OpenOffice.org online alternative might be a good idea.

Note that I tried the Ulteo online desktop verson of OpenOffice.org, but I found it to be cumbersome and clunky compared to Google Docs. While Ulteo might be fine for other people’s needs, I don’t see it as the online version of OpenOffice.org that I had in mind. I guess my reference really is Google Docs, something which is light-weight and fast. Ulteo’s product is a bit overkill for everyday word processing.

By the way there are a bunch of online word processors that are available as alternatives to Google Docs but I’ve been too complacent and lazy to really consider them for myself. But here they are anyway in case you are in the market for an online word processor:

* Adobe Buzzword
* ajaxWrite
* ThinkFree
* Zoho Writer
* iNetWord Editor
* Peepel
* Solodox

So even if you don’t want to use Google’s office apps you still have a lot of alternatives to using a word processor running locally on your computer. I suggest shopping around a bit to see which ones might fit your needs best.

So Should You Try OpenOffice 3.0?
Absolutely.

Just because I’ve moved to the cloud doesn’t mean that others won’t find an immense amount of value in OpenOffice 3.0. It’s worth downloading and it’s worth using as your daily word processor if you don’t have my hang ups.

But it’s just not something that I’ll be using very much. I’ll still be keeping it on my computers…hey, why not right? It’s free so it’s just a download and quick install so I might as well have it on each machine just in case I decide I want to have the option of using it.

OpenOffice 3.0 is a real achievement, congrats to the developers who worked on it. It’s a job well done. But I’ll still be doing most of my writing via Google Docs.

What’s your take on OpenOffice 3.0? Tell me in the comments.


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