Can OpenOffice 3.0 finally replace MS Office?

Beta of the open source office suite brings a new Start Centre and some added features that provide a serious, free alternative to Microsoft Office

For example, Writer doesn't include Word's smart paste feature that lets you decide, when pasting text into a document, whether to use the text's original formatting or your document's formatting. And it doesn't include other features, such as Word's Quick Parts (formerly known as AutoText) that lets you create complex building blocks of text, formatting, and graphics that you easily organize and reuse. In addition, it doesn't come with nearly as many prebuilt templates as does Word.

Calc

Calc, like Writer, will handle over 90 per cent of what you use a spreadsheet for. In addition, one of Calc's new features is nice: the ability to collaborate with others via workbook sharing.

In my tests, Calc imported Excel spreadsheets without problems, and created them in Excel format as well. It saves files in an impressive array of formats, including ODF and OpenOffice formats, numerous Excel formats, HTML files, .csv files, dbase files, and others. Like Writer, it can also export files to PDF.

It includes all the spreadsheet functions you would expect, as well as charting features, although here again it falls short compared to Excel 2007. You won't find as many chart types and designs, and you can't customize charts to the same degree, either.

I found one problem: I was unable to edit charts created in Excel 2007; when I imported them into Calc, they turned into graphics.

Impress

This presentation program is particularly useful for those who don't create a lot of presentations, because by default it starts with a wizard-based interface. The wizard walks you through creating a basic presentation: choosing a template, background, transition effects, types of slides, and so on. Fill in the content, create new slides or delete existing ones, edit what you've got, and you're done. It's all exceedingly simple. If you don't like using wizards, you can simply turn it off.

Editing the presentation and individual slides is simple as well. A set of "tasks" appears on the right-hand side of the screen, including those for slide layouts, table design, and animation effects. Fill in the form for the task, and you're done.

As with other components of OpenOffice, Impress falls short when it comes to templates and backgrounds. You get very few of them, and the ones you get won't exactly impress your audience. So if you're someone who frequently creates presentations, and constantly needs new templates and backgrounds, you may be in trouble.

Other components

The remaining components of the suite include the Base database program, Math equation editor, and Draw graphics program. You won't mistake Draw for a fully featured photo editor or illustration tool, but that's not what it's been designed to do. It has a far richer set of tools than the Paint program that ships with Windows, so if Paint doesn't offer you what you want, and you don't want to spend the time or money learning a more complex program, you may want to give Draw a try.

Base has been designed for people who don't normally create databases, which means most of us. Like Impress, it starts out with a wizard interface, so you don't have to know much about databases, and you can still create one in a few minutes.

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld
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