OpenOffice.org 3.0 Beta Ships
OpenOffice.org, the open source office suite originally derived from Sun's corresponding StarOffice product, is out with the first public beta of version 3.0. While the new features are not revolutionary, this is a solid release that's plenty good enough for many users to adapt as their primary office suite.
Mac OS X users get one of the biggest boosts in this version, as OpenOffice.org 3.0 is finally an Aqua application, rather than one that runs through an X11 server. While the NeoOffice project has made an Aqua fork of OO.o available for some time, having this feature as part of the core code means that Mac users won't lag behind in features. In my initial testing, OO.o 3.0 is also faster to launch than the recent NeoOffice version (though the difference is not dramatic).
Two other key improvements should help with adoption of this version: thorough open-source proponents will appreciate the support for ODF 1.2 as the native document format, while those with a more pragmatic approach will like that it can open up Microsoft Office 2007 documents. The Office 2007 compatibility isn't perfect (understandable, given the complexity of the documentation for that format), but it's definitely useable.
There are also functional improvements. For instance, the maximum size of spreadsheets has been increased, and there's a sharing feature to allow for spreadsheet collaboration. Writes can display multiple document pages while editing, which is good for large monitors. There are also minor enhancements to charting and drawing.
Though this is still marked as a beta release - and they're calling for help to bang on it - it seems pretty solid. In the first couple of hours of throwing documents at it and poking around I wasn't able to crash the software, which is a hopeful sign. I'd keep an older version around if you have room, just in case.
OpenOffice.org continues to occupy a comfortable middle ground in the office suite ecosystem. It's not as easy to get to or as simple to use as online alternatives like Zoho or Google documents. But on the other front, it lacks the complexity (and visual polish) of suites like Microsoft Office or iWork. For normal everyday usage, it should fill the needs of the majority of consumers, and many open source users.