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OpenOffice 3 Is Here. Can You Tell? 3 did not have the most auspicious arrival yesterday. This update to the free, open-source, Microsoft-compatible productivity suite drew enough traffic to overwhelm its Web site. Even the next morning, would-be OpenOffice adopters who went there looking for information about the new version could see only a brief list of links to mirror sites offering copies of the download.

Like that botched launch, OpenOffice 3 represents a missed opportunity. This combination of word processing, spreadsheet and presentation tools brings two needed improvements but leaves many other issues untouched; an occasional user might have trouble telling this release from its predecessor.


One of these upgrades arguably should have arrived a year ago--the ability to open files created with Microsoft's Office 2007. And even now, this feature is only half-done: OpenOffice 3 can read, but not write, these ".docx," ".xlsx" and ".pptx" files. In some cases, this program had trouble even reading these files; for example, a press release's embedded graphics disappeared.

The other noteworthy improvement in OpenOffice 3 is its new Mac version. Unlike an older attempt at a Mac port, this one installs and runs like a normal OS X application, even if many details of its interface still look out of place. And unlike the Mac-only offshoot NeoOffice, this release has been developed alongside OpenOffice's Windows and Linux versions, not after their shipment.

OpenOffice 3 also feels a little faster than earlier editions, especially in terms of its startup time.

Otherwise, however, OpenOffice 3 might as well be OpenOffice 2.5. Nearly all of the things I liked and disliked in that release live on in this edition.

In particular, OpenOffice 3 repeats almost all of the interface failings of its ancestors (not to mention old Microsoft Office versions). You still must scan lengthy rows of toolbar buttons and click up and down long menu listings to find the command you're looking for. If you want to change a setting, you're dumped into a sprawling, poorly organized Options dialog crammed with preferences only a programmer would care to adjust.

OpenOffice 3 continues to beat the price of any Microsoft Office edition--it's free for both personal and business use--and provide excellent compatibility with pre-2007 Microsoft Office files. It's an obvious upgrade from OpenOffice 2 on account of its Office 2007 support alone.

But when users can turn to simpler, Web-based Microsoft alternatives such as Google Docs and Zoho Office that also provide far better file-sharing and collaboration options, OpenOffice's developers at Sun Microsystems and elsewhere need to do more than match what Microsoft delivered five years ago.

Have you tried OpenOffice 3 yet? What hidden (or perhaps not-so-hidden) new features did I miss? Educate me in the comments....

By Rob Pegoraro  |  October 14, 2008; 11:12 AM ET
Categories:  Productivity  
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The charts and graphs in spreadsheets have been improved following many requests on the bug tracking site from college students doing their physics homework (including myself). (Warning: High math content!) Previously, regression equations were not able to be displayed on graphs with regression lines. Also of importance (for statistical purposes) were the R and R^2 values for regression lines, which are now also able to be displayed on the chart. Many users also asked for the ability to display custom error bars for each data point on their graph. Support for that has been added. The equation editor has been fixed up also, though I haven't tried it yet. I remember fighting with it a lot in the 2.x days.

Posted by: mwn3d | October 14, 2008 11:46 AM | Report abuse

I'm just going to say it. Nobody should be saving files in the most recent version format unless they are required to. If you can save it in an older version do so. It just makes it that much harder to communicate with others when you use the newest format.

Posted by: Nate | October 14, 2008 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Is there better support or a better interface for saving graphics in a database field? I've read a detailed how-to article online about this and still haven't figured it out.

Posted by: I'm Spiderman | October 14, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

The program is FREE propeller head. It has 10 times more features that the average Joe will ever use. It's FREE. Who the hell would WANT to save a file in MSO 2007 format? It's not supposed to become MSO 2007. It's supposed to replace it for those of us with brains enough to know it's FREE!

Posted by: John | October 14, 2008 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Not changing the interface is an advantage, unless you're a fan of hide-and-seek for your day-to-day features.

Save As Microsoft format limitations are not attributed to Open Office, it's attributed to Microsoft.

Do a little research the next time.

Posted by: Neal | October 14, 2008 12:39 PM | Report abuse

For my needs as a graduate student in physics it is far better than Microsoft's offerings, and the price can't be beat. Interoperability with the Microsoft formats is Microsoft's fault, not Sun's. Creating papers and reports is far easier and looks better in OpenOffice. Crunching numbers in spreadsheets is much more productive in OpenOffice. My databases are easier to create and share in OpenOffice. I would recommend OpenOffice to anyone and everyone.

Posted by: jon | October 14, 2008 12:53 PM | Report abuse

I'm sorry, but I can't think of any nasty names to call you for daring to disagree with my point of view. (Then again, I'm over eight years old.)

I had the same problem with OpenOffice that you did: the overwhelming menu options. Like Microsoft, the OpenOffice folks seem to equate more features with a better product, rather than streamlining it or moving to a plug-in model (where users can choose the features they need).

At least with MS Office it was simple and easy to clean up the menus... until the nightmare that is Office 2007 came along.

So I'm with ya, Rob. It's a great program for people who don't want to buy or steal Microsoft Office 2003 (or [shiver] 2007). But it's still an also-ran.

Posted by: Andrew | October 14, 2008 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Why you chuckle-heads (sorry, I must be

Yes, Open Office has some issues, but it is FREE as was mentioned above. I couldn't care less about how 3 was unveiled. This isn't the Oscars, ffs.

Posted by: Ben | October 14, 2008 1:10 PM | Report abuse

less than 8) ^

Posted by: Anonymous | October 14, 2008 1:10 PM | Report abuse

Gee guys, I didn't say "Doody Head"

Posted by: John | October 14, 2008 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I have liked Openoffice since it changed from Staroffice and removed that nasty workspace it used to use. From a security admin's stand-point, the web-based offerings are NOT an option. Web-based programs come with the vulnerabilities inherent in the internet, which was not designed to be secure. Nothing that can be thought of as sensitive should be made, stored, or edited with these programs. Of course, I'm just a paranoid network/security admin.

Posted by: Karl | October 14, 2008 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Since its not in the bible, i dont believe in software... Or computers for that matter.

Posted by: Tony | October 14, 2008 1:27 PM | Report abuse

I managed to pull it down from a mirror site. Works great. Free. Does *EVERYTHING* that I need. While admittedly I don't need a whole bunch (some papers, letters, spreadsheets to track miscellaneous items, and occasional presentations) it still is quite complete. Sure, if there's a feature that you absolutely need that's only in MSOffice, then buy MSOffice. Me? I'd rather keep the $450 and use OpenOffice.

Posted by: Kwan | October 14, 2008 1:55 PM | Report abuse

OK, OO tries to be a real replacement for MSO, so it's fair to compare the former feature-for-feature to the latter. And the cluttered interface in OO is a travesty. In a weak defense of that, let me note that feeping creaturism is so common a practice in the software industry - for Windows anyway - that it can properly be called a defacto standard.

But speaking of standards, slamming OO for its OOXML support is pretty hard to take. The fact that Microsoft has leveraged its file formats for years in order to achieve and maintain customer lock in is bad enough. But to criticize the office suite that first implemented the real open standards document formats, ODF, which Microsoft itself now concedes have won the day against the slapped together patchwork of OOXML, is a 180 degree opposite misread. Office 2007 is the one that gets interoperability wrong, not Open Office.

See for the concession on ODF vs OOXML by Microsoft.

Posted by: HBO | October 14, 2008 2:12 PM | Report abuse

We use open office almost exclusively in our home and business. We run a kitchen for a private club, and an online store, and OO lets us work with whatever format is used by whichever vendor. We do have MSOffice on our machines, but don't run it very often. As for the new office formats - to be honest, we're not seeing them often enough to worry about it. Besides, I can always 'Save As' into the format I'd prefer to edit with anyway.

And the online options still have a long way to go before we consider them viable alternatives.

Considering the cost savings, critics of OO might look like they are searching for reasons to complain. . .

Posted by: Mack | October 14, 2008 2:29 PM | Report abuse

You do understand that nobody wants to use the online `better' products because of bandwidth and compatibility issues? Apparently not.

Nobody wants new formats. The older ones work great, especially with 25 years of legacy data--oops, forgot you weren't born until 1987--either that or you need a new picture. Google and Microsoft will be the ones to be forced to maintain backwards compatibility and odf realities.

Posted by: Mike | October 14, 2008 2:33 PM | Report abuse

I use MS Office on a Mac at work and OO on my PC and Linux laptops at home. It may not be fair to compare across platforms, but OO seems both faster and more stable than MS, with fewer errors and crashes. I have no comment on Google Docs, as I have never understood the purpose of it.

Posted by: Sam in New York | October 14, 2008 2:55 PM | Report abuse

I do not understand this confusion of Google Documents with OpenOffice... OpenOffice is installed on your computer. The sorely lacking OOXML format that Microshaft rammed up the ISO's arse is Microslack fault ALONE. ODF is already a WORKING format. Office 2007 is only using the .docx over the .doc just to spite the open source and non microsoft hedgemony. Even Dollar Dollar Bill's software will NEVER be 100% OOXML compliant.

Posted by: Picaro4ever | October 14, 2008 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Downloaded and installed OO 3 for my Mac yesterday. It's certainly Good Enough for anything that requires MS Office compatibility. And the price is unbeatable.

Posted by: wiredog | October 14, 2008 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Considering that any alternative which actually brings some sort of competition into this market is a good thing, I think the OO staff should be commended for their accomplishments. Let' see . . . an unadvertised, unmarketed, and supposed inferior product had such a demand that the servers were unable to keep up with the demand. Sounds like the only mistake the developers made to me was probably using an IIS server to host the downloads.

Posted by: 25 year vet | October 14, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

I haven't downloaded the new version yet, but have been using older versions of OpenOffice for several years. First and foremost, remember that this is free while comparable MS products are several hundred dollars. Second, it does everything that the vast majority of users will ever need or want to do. Only rarely do I encounter formatting quirks when converting a document from MSWord to OpenOffice or vice versa. I have recommended it to many friends who needed or wanted MS Office but hesitated at the high price; for most of them, OpenOffice has met all of their needs.

Posted by: Jerry | October 14, 2008 4:27 PM | Report abuse

My understanding is that OpenOffice doesn't include any MS Outlook replacement.

In addition, it sounds like the development of Thunderbird is stuck in neutral.

Posted by: Tom! | October 14, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

This article's initial negative tone misses the point. Crashing the servers really means success in that demand to get away from the MSFT monopoly is high and that this OO software is good enough to have generated this great demand.


Posted by: Chaka | October 14, 2008 4:49 PM | Report abuse

As for tool bars, you can remove a tick mark to make any button invisible (as if you had removed it from the bar).

You can make entire new tool bars and put the things you want on it if you want to go "lean and mean"

Please, if anyone sends you a Microsoft format document, ask them to send it to you in an older, reliable format. Please don't perpetuate their ooxml fiasco. that game should be over.

Rob, I'm not sure if having few changes to what you liked and didn't like is good or bad. I do think that OpenOffice has to fend off a lot of proposals sent in the guise of passionate users that seem more like from MS minions. I'm waiting for "Bob" and for "Clippy" to show up any year now.

Posted by: Bh | October 14, 2008 5:04 PM | Report abuse

So I'm clear on the logic expressed in some of the posts above: Complaining about a program that costs nothing to use is bad, but complaining about a blog post that costs nothing to read is good? Have I got that right?

I'm just sayin'...

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | October 14, 2008 5:55 PM | Report abuse

Repeat after me:

"This is Free Software, free as in it didn't cost me anything and free as in freedom. It does not owe me anything".

Now, enjoy your Free Software.

Posted by: Eruaran | October 14, 2008 7:21 PM | Report abuse

And as to an equivalent to OUTLOOK, you suggest what ??? Outlook ???

Posted by: brucerealtor | October 15, 2008 4:13 AM | Report abuse

This is a pretty negative review for a free product that will onyl improve and already does lots of exciting thing. What a party-pooper.

Posted by: Negative review | October 15, 2008 4:58 AM | Report abuse

no more options atall..if to use professionally..plz do use MS Office...
otherwise go for Open Office..wat u say huh..8)

Posted by: blzzrd | October 15, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I've been using Open Office for quite some time now. And, over the years the versions only seem to improving. Now, I don't think we can say the same thing about MS Office can we?
Besides the number of new & *useful* features far outweighs the small annoyances, which in any case can be eliminated if you shift your thinking to more "Open Plains".

Posted by: 51LV3R 5URF3R | October 15, 2008 2:11 PM | Report abuse

Hey, open source fans -- don't forget about KOffice:

I know it's not there yet, but the new version of Qt should spawn improvement. The word processor already has some nifty features.

Posted by: Linus | October 15, 2008 4:48 PM | Report abuse

wiredog said:

"It's certainly Good Enough for anything that requires MS Office compatibility. And the price is unbeatable."

I hear this sentiment a lot. In other words, "Openoffice is good enough for the little stuff I do."

Enough already. OpenOffice is a heavy that deserves better praise than "good enough". Whether it has quirks, bugs, and interface clunks, it is still powerful enough to produce indexed, captioned, cross-referenced technical books of many chapters. It's not just Good Enough; it's Way More than I can leverage.


Posted by: Tom Haws | October 15, 2008 6:12 PM | Report abuse

p.s. OO is also nice, friendly, and normal enough that I heard not a single complaint or even comment from my exacting wife when I converted all our home computers to it. I find things enough to carp and complain about, but bottom line is it works, just works, works fine, and works extremely well.

Posted by: Tom Haws | October 15, 2008 6:17 PM | Report abuse

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