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OpenOffice 3.0 - the only option for masochistic Linux users

And linear optimizing Mactards

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Shinyness aside, OpenOffice 3 does have at least one useful new feature: The Solver. The Solver is a new tool for Calc that helps you solve linear programming problems. Excel has had this for years, so it's nice to see the open source world throw their nuts out on the table. Mac users should feel especially gifted: Not only do they now have a version of OpenOffice that can run without X11, but they finally have a spreadsheet that can do linear optimization. Microsoft Office 2008 doesn't provide this for Mac users.

Linear programming is a way to optimize an equation given a bunch of constraints. You have limited capital resources and want to maximize your profit - that sort of thing. Previously, Linux users have been using the GNU Linear Programming Kit (GLPK) to solve these problems. GLPK works well, but it's a command line interface and you need to learn a special programming language to use it.

Doing optimization in a spreadsheet is much easier on the sanity than doing it in a special programming language. In ten minutes, I set up and solved a basic linear programming problem:

My woodcarving company can make toy soldiers and toy trains. Each has an associated materials cost and labor cost. Each takes a certain amount of time in both finishing and carpentry. How many soldiers and trains do I make so that I earn the most profit?

Put the variables into Calc and write the constraints into the Solver:

OpenOffice Solver

OpenOffice Solver

It will figure out how many of each to make, and fill in the spreadsheet:

OpenOffice Spreadsheet

OpenOffice spreadsheet via Solver

With so many “financial engineers” entering the job market now, it's likely that many of them will find work in operations research. Perhaps OpenOffice's Solver will get more intense use than what a Reg reporter who took that class in college can do.

We're Still Waiting For Google Docs To Find Market Share

OpenOffice 3.0 has some good new functionality, but it hasn't changed substantially from version 2. And it's not worth the effort to manually upgrade on Linux: Wait until it hits your distribution's auto-update.

In any case, it's easy to download now. The open source echo chamber has moved on to other things. ®

Ted Dziuba is a co-founder at Milo.com You can read his regular Reg column, Fail and You, every other Monday.

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