OpenOffice.org 3.2: 10 Years in the Making
If you look back on the history of OpenOffice.org, it makes the 3.2 release that came out on Thursday the 11th even more impressive. Nearly 10 years in the making, OpenOffice.org has evolved from a clunky proprietary offering that struggled to import Microsoft Office documents to a productivity powerhouse that is faster, supports a fully open document format (ODF) and handles most proprietary formats with grace.
Originally StarOffice, Sun purchased StarDivision in 1999 and released the first code for OpenOffice.org in July of 2000. The open source office suite has improved by leaps and bounds since its inception and is now good enough to satisfy millions of users around the world who prefer a free (in all senses of the word) office suite to paying hundreds of dollars for a proprietary suite.
The main feature of the new release is better performance. The release notes promise that the "cold start" time of Calc (spreadsheet) and Writer (word processor) have improved by 46% since the 3.0 release.
File format support gets a boost in 3.2, including better compliance with the Open Document Format (ODF). One of the sad facts about ODF support, at least at the moment, is that multiple suites support ODF but do it differently — thus making the interoperable format rather less than interoperable. OpenOffice.org supports a "superset" of ODF 1.2, and the latest release will now warn users if they are using Extended features that may not be supported by other suites. 3.2 improves support for proprietary formats like password-protected MS Office XML files and adds support for OLE objects, pivot tables, and form controls in Excel 2007 documents. Note that OpenOffice.org does not write to MS Office XML files, but does import them.
One of the pain points of previous OpenOffice.org releases has been solved in 3.2. Though Writer has long supported comments to allow users to collaborate on documents, Impress users had to make do with blind edits. Though Impress still lacks change tracking, users can now share comments on presentations that are being developed jointly.
Overall there are no Earth-shattering improvements in 3.2, but quite a few minor updates and improvements that make the 3.2 release worth the upgrade from 3.x. Users who are still working with the OpenOffice.org 2.x series are advised to upgrade to 3.2, as OpenOffice.org 2.x reached the end of its support life in December of last year. In addition to other improvements, 3.2 includes a handful of security updates that fix potential vulnerabilities.
Downloads are available for Linux, Windows, Mac OS X, and Solaris on the download page. Users who prefer the Go-OO branch of OpenOffice.org can find 3.2 builds for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows with a number of features not available in standard OpenOffice.org. This includes support for writing DOCX, an improved Data Pilot feature for Calc, better VBA macro support, and improvements to font rendering on Linux.
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier has written for Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many other publications.