I love it when I get a pleasant surprise for the weekend. Now, all things being relative (and keep in mind that I’m a bona fide geek), this is quite a wonderful one for me: I’ve just downloaded and installed a version of the free Open Source office suite OpenOffice.org 2.0 beta for OS X, a version I didn’t even know existed. (Windows/Linux users can skip ahead a few paragraphs.) It’s not easy to find from any official site that I’ve tripped across, but you can find it here:
The current offering is Milestone 130, which is (according to the OpenOffice.org 2.0 RoadMap) after Beta 2 and before Release Candidate 1. It’s almost a month old, and it needs Apple’s X11 (which is an add-on to Jaguar, but standard in Tiger), but heck, that’s better than nothing. In fact, in the few hours I’ve been using it, I haven’t tripped across any unexpected crashes or glitches, and the whole experience has actually been quite smooth.
Obviously, there are a few bugs and oddities to be found, not least of which is the whole font thing, where one has to manually install fonts before they appear in OOo. A tip: if you haven’t done this sort of thing before (I only know this from using Linux), go to File -> Wizards -> Install fonts from the web... and you can install a bunch of nice typefaces, although the Microsoft ones probably won’t show up. Then, to get the rest of your system’s fonts, call up X11 and in the xterm, type:
cd /Applications/OpenOffice.org\ 2.0.app/
sudo ./spadmin &
After you enter your password, an administration program will pop up (give it a few seconds) and let you add fonts by selecting font directories and then those fonts which you want to install. Not exactly user-friendly, but hopefully this will be rectified by the time of the final release.
The first thing I called up was my D*I*Y Planner Widget Kit. Whew… it works perfectly, and I can now breathe a sigh of relief that I’ve chosen OOo to produce it. (I wasn’t sure what wrenches OOo2 might throw into the cogs.) All told, the whole experience with OOo2 is far slicker and more responsive than OOo1–especially when compared to NeoOffice/J– and there are plenty of handy layout aids, floating/docked toolbars, and drawing tools. While I did find the tools in OOo1 to be fairly clunky, designing forms with the WK seems to be much easier and more intuitive. While it won’t be completely replacing Adobe Illustrator for me any time soon, I can see where I’ll have the opportunity to use this a lot more in my day-to-day work.
As for the other programs in the suite –the word processor, the spreadsheet, the presentation program, the XML forms editor, the database and the HTML editor– I can’t say that I’ve looked at these in any detail yet. I’ve always been fond of the word processor, which actually encourages structure-based writing (unlike, say, Word), and the spreadsheet has always done exactly what I’ve expected it to do. The presentation creator, Impress, has a lot more PowerPoint-style features, has good Flash output, and also blends in the powerful tools from Draw. The HTML editor is as capable as any other non-professional WYSIWYG program (don’t expect Dreamweaver or GoLive), and while the database and XML tools seem quite impressive on first glance, I’ll have to spend more time with them before I can come up with a valid opinion. The native PDF export of the whole suite does seem to be noticably improved, now including hyperlinks and better compression, although it was certainly no slouch to begin with.
Windows and Linux users can take advantage of the more recent OOo2 Release Candidate, or can grab StarOffice 8, the commercial offering from Sun that’s built atop OOo2, but with added goodies like more fonts, a clip art gallery, plenty of templates, a better dictionary/thesaurus, and so forth. (Psst! If you sign up for an account on the Sun website and select your area as “Education/Training”, you can download the full unlimited StarOffice 8 suite free of charge, saving yourself $70. Don’t lie, now. And you didn’t hear this from me.) Those interested in this product can also find a decent (albeit Linux-centred) review of SO8 at NewsForge.