Free, alternative office suite OpenOffice.org's latest version 3.0 is now available for download by testers. OpenOffice.org 3.0 Release Candidate 1 offers several new features and improvements from its last major release, including better Mac support and collaboration capabilities. Let's take a look at the notable fso you can decide if it's worth taking another look at OpenOffice.org as an alternative to Microsoft Office.
The most immediately noticeable change is the splash screen called the Start Centre when you lauch OpenOffice.org. From the Start Centre, you select which portion of OpenOffice.org you want to use. The Start Centre is shown above in the opening screenshot.
Mac OS X users will be pleased with 3.0, because support for OS X is even more robust. OpenOffice.org 3.0 works right out of the box with minimal fuss. Another bonus for OS X users: features that were dropped from the Mac version of Microsoft Office such as the spreadsheet Solver and VBA support are included in the Mac version of OpenOffice.org.
OpenOffice.org already supports the upcoming OpenDocument Format 1.2, allowing you to save your documents in ODF for a bit of future proofing. OpenDocument Format is supported by organisations and governments in more than 60 countries.
For Microsoft Office files you currently have on hand, OpenOffice.org will import and read them, but it cannot save them back into Microsoft Office format if you make changes. Be forewarned that while the importer won't change the words or turn your English sonnet into a Japanese haiku, it is an imperfect beast and won't be gentle with your formatting options.
In the past, the crop and other drawing tools weren't very polished or intuitive to use. The tools have been revised and simple things like cropping a picture within a presentation slideshow or document has become much easier as the layout and functionality of the tools more closely mimics standard interfaces the user has already encountered.
Spreadsheet collaboration is now possible among multiple editors with the Workbook Sharing feature. The spreadsheet has also been expanded, users can now have up to 1024 columns of data compared to the 256 available to previous OpenOffice.org users.
In the same vein of collaboration, note taking on Writer documents is now much more usable. Different editors get different colours to help keep the note taking and editing process more streamlined. The author note location shifted from the document text itself to the margin, similar to Microsoft Word, greatly improving readability.
The improved chart engine is not exclusive to OpenOffice.org 3.0 RC1, it is new since the last major release of OpenOffice.org, which now renders charts more quickly and with greater options than before.
OpenOffice.org 3.0 offers enhanced support for PDF files, allowing you greater control over security, printing, and editing options. You can set passwords for opening and editing, restrict permissions on the file, select how the file can be printed and at what resolution, and control who can alter your documents.
Like other great open source projects such as Firefox, Open Office has support for extensions to allow you to tweak the software as you see fit. The Open Office Extension Repository is filled with everything from dictionaries to templates to file import wizards to code formatting tools.
Do you use OpenOffice.org in your day-to-day work? Are the new features in 3.0 RC1 enough to pique your interest? Grab the install files for your respective OS, below.