File Under: Software & Tools

First Look: OpenOffice 3.0 Is a Free Replacement for MS Office on Mac

OpenOffice 3.0OpenOffice 3.0 is hot off the presses and now, for the first time, includes a native Mac OS X version of the popular, free, open source alternative to Microsoft Office. The new release also has the ability to open documents saved in Microsoft’s new office standard format, OOXML.

With enough people clamoring for OpenOffice 3.0 that the site’s server temporarily melted down, you’d expect the new release would have some impressive improvements over its predecessor. The stability and performance tweaks are there, especially in the Windows and Linux versions, but most of them aren’t the flashy sort of features that convince people to upgrade.

Rather, it’s the improvements like support for OOXML documents and the native Mac code that no doubt are causing the rush to upgrade. Previous versions of OpenOffice had trouble with Microsoft’s new .docx files, and even older versions of Microsoft Office can’t open the new document files without a special add-on converter that the user needs to download. The popular online word processor Google Docs can’t open them, either.

Although OOXML support is baked in, OpenOffice 3.0 continues to default to saving files in the Open Document Format (which has proved so popular with users that even Microsoft has grudgingly agreed to include support for it in upcoming releases of MS Office). Still, if you need to work with .docx or the other new default formats in MS Office 2007, OpenOffice 3.0 is the way to go.

This is also an important release for Mac users. Not only does OpenOffice now run on OS X without the need for the X11 environment, OpenOffice 3.0 contains a very useful feature Microsoft left out of its most recent Mac Office suite VBA scripting.

While OpenOffice doesn’t support everything VBA scripts can do in MS Office for Windows, for Mac users feeling stranded by the loss of VBA support in MS Office, OpenOffice makes a very capable replacement.

That said, OpenOffice’s native Mac version leaves much to be desired. While it does indeed run natively, it doesn’t leverage many built-in OS X tools, like the system-wide dictionary and thesaurus.

The Mac version also crashed three times in my brief testing. The Windows version suffered no such mishaps when working with the same files, so it would appear that the Mac version is not quite up to quality control standards of other versions.

Open Office Fail

While OpenOffice will no doubt satisfy many Mac users, we’re holding out for the 3.0 upgrade from NeoOffice, which builds on OpenOffice’s foundation, but takes advantage of many system-wide tools and uses native windows palettes and other user interface niceties. NeoOffice 3.0 is expected to arrive in January 2009.

Other noticeable changes in the new version of OpenOffice include some minor, but welcome, user interface enhancements, such as a much cleaner icon set, better zoom tools and a new start-up launcher that offers quick access to templates and previously opened documents. The Windows version even offers a shortcut icon which will take you directly to the launcher screen.

Office suite upgrades may not be sexiest of software releases, but for those of you who rely on them to get things done, OpenOffice 3.0 delivers the goods and makes a worthwhile upgrade. OpenOffice 3.0 works on almost every OS; you can grab a copy from the downloads page.

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