OpenOffice 3.0 beta
A great office suite that costs nothing
OpenOffice 3.0 shows that you don't have to pay a bundle for a great office suite — in fact, you don't even have to pay a penny (this review is based on the beta version of the suite). OpenOffice 3.0 is a free, open-source software suite that provides most of what anyone could want in an office suite. OpenOffice 3.0 includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation program, database, drawing tools, and maths equation editor.
Who should use OpenOffice? Anyone who needs an office suite but doesn't require the more sophisticated features of Microsoft Office. It's ideally suited for home users, students, and small businesses who don't want to pay the hefty fee for Microsoft Office. If you plan on purchasing an ultra low-cost portable such as the Asus Eee PC, the suite is ideal - it's free, doesn't require an excess amount of RAM, runs on a variety of operating systems (including Windows, Mac OS, and Linux), and won't take all of your precious hard disk space. Even on a normal PC, it's a great alternative to Microsoft Office. Enterprises, though, may have already standardised on Office. And even if they haven't, there simply aren't the support tools and support ecosystem for OpenOffice as there is for Microsoft Office. All in all, OpenOffice 3.0 shows that you don't have to pay a bundle for a great office suite - in fact, you don't even have to pay a penny.
Although it doesn't include all of the high-end features and the slick user interface of Microsoft Office 2007 (for the PC) and Microsoft Office 2008 (for the Mac), it will handle just about any job you need done.
If you're not working in an enterprise that has standardised on Microsoft Office, you should think twice before paying full freight for Office, and give serious consideration to OpenOffice 3.0 - at least when the final version is released.
Keep in mind that OpenOffice 3.0 is in beta and should be used for evaluation purposes only. We tested the Windows version on a 1.83GHz Core Duo PC with 1GB of memory, and found it to be somewhat buggy. For example, we were unable to create a document and save it without crashing — we had to first create a document in another program, and then open it in OpenOffice; at that point it worked fine. These types of problems should come as no surprise; the final version of OpenOffice 3.0 isn't due until September, and this is a very early beta.
OpenOffice 3.0 beta comes with six applications: the Writer word processor, Calc spreadsheet, Impress presentations program, Base database program, Maths equation editor, and Draw graphics program. Even as a 147.9MB download, though, it's still svelte compared to Microsoft Office.
If you've already used OpenOffice 2.0, the beta of version 3 will be very recognisable. Little in the overall interface or each individual application has changed. If you're not familiar with OpenOffice, you'll consider the interface either functional and straightforward or old-fashioned and stodgy, depending on your aesthetic inclinations. Toolbar icons, for example, are cartoonish-looking, and you won't find the equivalent of Microsoft Office 2007's Ribbon.
A nice addition is the Start Centre, which lets you easily create a new document or open an existing one — just click on the proper icon. The Start Centre appears only if you don't currently have an OpenOffice application opened. Once you've opened an application, you can create or open a document by right-clicking the OpenOffice icon in the system tray and making the appropriate choice.
Particularly important are changes to support for file formats. OpenOffice 3.0 supports the upcoming OpenDocument Format (ODF) 1.2 standard, and will also be able to open documents created in Microsoft Office 2007 and Office 2008 for the Mac, which means that it's about as universally useful as an Office suite can be. It can also export files to PDF format. Mac users will be pleased to know that it can now run natively on Mac OS X without having to use X11.
There's also a new zoom control on the status bar, much like the one in Microsoft Office 2007. And there are minor tweaks to each of the separate applications. For example, both Draw and Impress have improved on their cropping features, and Writer can now display multiple pages.
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