OpenOffice 3 review

OpenOffice has been around now for an amazing twenty years, and version three has been in the making for three of them. It’s a collection of five core applications (six, if you count the Formula tool) and it’s available in Windows, Linux and now Mac OS X versions.

These applications are almost direct mirrors of those in Microsoft Office. Where Office has Word, OpenOffice has Writer and the counterpart to Microsoft’s Excel is Calc. The trouble is, however, that where once OpenOffice looked like a direct copy of Office, it has now been left far behind.

Writer, for instance, still looks like Word did about three versions ago. On the face of it, it does all the same things, offering customisable text styles, multi-column layouts, good graphics handling, auto text formatting and now the ability to open Office 2007 .DOCX files directly. Academic and technical authors will also be impressed by the fact that, like Word, it supports tables of contents, indices and cross-referencing.

But there are some obvious rough edges. Writer’s Styles and Formatting and Navigator panels are effective, but look crude. It does duplicate Word’s excellent Outlining mode up to a point with its nested headings, but the process is far less fluid. And Writer doesn’t even attempt to match Word’s range of document templates or its excellent clip-art collection.

It would also be unwise to rely to heavily on the .DOCX format compatibility. It might work well enough with straightforward documents, but it made a pig’s ear of a more elaborate Word 2007 newsletter layout we tried it on. On the other hand, Writer is quite good at handling revisions and author comments, and it now displays them as colour-coded notes in the margin.

Technically competent

Calc is the OpenOffice rival to Excel, and it’s a similar story here. In terms of raw functionality, it’s a real match for Excel, but without the polish, the content and the hand-holding for beginners. Like Excel, Calc can handle multiple worksheets, manage data in lists with super-efficient AutoFilters for sorting and filtering your data, and it can create many different types of charts.

Calc does everything you could ask of a spreadsheet on a technical front, and will open Excel 2007 files directly, though again you need to be careful with this: you may need to iron out some glitches with named cells and references plus other minor cell formatting and display issues.

It’s when you go to create a chart, though, that you come face to face with the gulf in visual presentation between OpenOffice 3 and Office 2007. It’s not just the interface but all the visuals you use in your documents. Calc’s charts are clear but basic, with graphics that aren’t even anti-aliased.

In this version, though, they do now include error bars, regression equations and correlation co-efficients. In this version the maximum number of columns in a worksheet has been increased from 256 to 1,024 and there’s a new Solver tool. There’s no doubting Calc’s technical depth and sophistication, but its visual presentation is primitive.

No looker

This lack of graphical finesse becomes most obvious when you use the Impress application to create a presentation. The standard installation includes just two templates, though many more are available for download. The point here is that while you can do pretty much everything in Impress that you can do in PowerPoint, you’re going to have to work harder at finding a smart visual style and sophisticated clip-art to carry it off.

Details

Software subcategory Office software

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? yes
Operating system Linux supported? yes
Operating system Mac OS X supported? yes

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