Review: OpenOffice.org Beta Fails the Office 2007 Test

OpenOffice.org 3.0 promises plenty of improvements, but could still use some work

I'm not embarrassed to admit it: I'm a big fan of Office 2007. I think Microsoft got a lot right with its latest release, starting with the ribbon interface and including any number of tweaks and improvements that make my day easier. I can't say I'm thrilled about the price of the suite, however; nor the countless SKUs to choose from. Plus, I'm also a big Linux fan. That's why I always try to keep my eye on the current state of OpenOffice.org, the open source office suite founded by Sun Microsystems.

, and it promises plenty of improvements from the previous version. Mac users, in particular, will be pleased with the new native Aqua UI. Unfortunately, however, the one feature that I was really looking forward to on the Windows side -- compatibility with the Office 2007 XML file formats -- could still clearly use a lot of work.

As an experiment, I saved a simple Word 2003 document in Word 2007 format. Office 2007 opened it just fine, but OpenOffice.org Writer only got as far as the first two lines of the text; instead of skipping the next line, the rest was truncated. An Excel 2007 template fared no better. OpenOffice.org Calc preserved labels, numbers, and formulae; macros, embedded graphics, and page layout options disappeared. A plain .xlsx file created with the same template yielded identical results.

I'm very disappointed to have to say it, but OpenOffice.org's support for the Office 2007 file formats simply isn't ready for prime time. I haven't had time yet to do a full review of the suite, but the tests I tried were extremely basic import/export operations on documents that were not in the least bit complex. Unfortunately, the beta OpenOffice.org struck out.

It's strange, if you think about it. Wasn't the whole point of XML file formats for Office to make the documents more compatible with other software? Isn't XML a self-describing, human-readable file format that should make reverse-engineering a breeze (compared to the old, binary Office formats, at least)? And isn't OOXML, the Office 2007 file format, a public ISO standard?

But then, if you've been following the news, you know that there's more going on with OOXML than meets the eye. Not to mention the fact that Office 2007 itself reportedly doesn't conform to the published standards.

The final release of OpenOffice.org 3.0 is still a few months away (and, to be fair, the developers do not recommend the current beta release for production use). There may still be time to get involved and help iron out the bugs with Office 2007 support -- but I doubt it. For now, my recommendation remains the same: If you're an Office 2007 user, like me, you'll probably want to keep saving your documents in Office 2003 format -- at least until OpenDocument becomes more mainstream.

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Neil McAllister

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