OpenOffice 3.2 - now with less Microsoft envy
It's 2010. And 2007 is finally here
Review OpenOffice 3.2 - now now available  for Windows, Mac and Linux - boasts faster start-up times than before. But the really big news is that now - finally - this open-source suite offers full compatibility with files created using Microsoft's Office 2007.
If you've ever tried opening or converting .docx and other Microsoft Office 2007 file formats outside of Office 2007 itself, you've likely pounded your head against more than a few walls - downloading plug-ins or struggling with online conversion services.
That should be a thing of the past with OpenOffice 3.2, which supports all the Office 2007 formats out of the box. That said, the conversion process still isn't completely perfect, especially if you're trying for pixel-perfect document formatting or, in my testing, spreadsheets with complicated equation cells.
Of course, it's hard to be too excited about the new conversion tools given that they arrive three years after Office 2007 hit the shelves. If your business had a mission-critical need to work with Microsoft's formats let's hope you weren't holding your breath for OpenOffice to come through for you.
Is it fair to give an open-source project a hard time for taking three years to reverse engineer a document format more or less invented to make OpenOffice's life more complicated?
Well, no, but in the real world Microsoft Office is - for better or worse - the moving target OpenOffice.org must aim for - and, in this case, taking quite a while to hit.
Also on the document support front, OpenOffice 3.2 boasts improved compliance with Open Document Format (ODF) 1.2 standards as well as the ability to open password-protected Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files.
Given that Microsoft's preview release of Office 2010 offers support for ODF files there's some small chance that OpenOffice might actually have an easier time integrating with Microsoft's Office in the future.
The latest version of OpenOffice isn't all about format wars, though, and version 3.2 makes a worthwhile update for the considerable speed boost - especially in start up times.
It's so fast, I no longer had time to grab a fresh cup of coffee while the suite came to life. No, I double clicked the icon and - just like - that OpenOffice was ready to go. Also, I found most of the applications were somewhat snappier in general usage. The one exception seemed to be the database application, which felt sluggish in comparison - particularly with large database files.
After the speed and file format improvements, the OpenOffice release notes get very technical, very quickly. The gory details can be found on the OpenOffice site, but suffice to say that the Calc tool spreadsheet application has received quite a few improvements - such as improved copy-and-paste features - while the rest of the applications also see minor updates and bug fixes.
Time for a fluffing
However, what's perhaps most significant about this release may have nothing to do with the improved applications at all. Rather, it's the fact this will be last release before OpenOffice moves to its new owner Oracle, which finally closed its purchase of Sun Microsystems last month.
Oracle has pledged to continue OpenOffice and plans to keep the entire Sun team on hand, running OpenOffice as an independent business unit. Of course, Oracle clearly sees the online office suite as the future and plans to launch Oracle Cloud Office at some point. Whether that means OpenOffice will suffer neglect remains to be seen.
It would be nice to see Oracle do for OpenOffice what Microsoft is trying to do for its Office - integrate an online component - but do it without creating a massive vendor lock-in scheme.
Some might argue the future of office suites is all online with things like Google Docs or Zoho one day becoming the norm, but while document storage in the cloud is all well and good, editing documents in a browser is still nowhere near as pleasant or powerful as with dedicated software.
If Oracle can provide a first-rate connect-anywhere, edit-anywhere online office suite, it might have finally found something that can break Microsoft's stronghold on business productivity tools.
That's what I'd be looking for in follow on versions to OpenOffice 3.2. ®