There's a new version of Linux's grandest office suite, but is it a major step forward or just another humdrum release with little to show? And most importantly, does it finally get the startup time down to an acceptable level? Read on for all the gory details...
Office suites lack glamour. They're perfunctory, practical and prosaic. They remind us of real work, mundane chores and things that need to be done. But that's also why they're essential and why OpenOffice.org is a vital part of the free software ecosystem, whether it innovates or not.
OOo 3.2 is a step in the right direction. Firstly, it's a lot faster. Version 3.2 of Writer launched more than 50% quicker than 3.1 in our tests, down to 3.4 seconds from around 7 with a fresh reboot. That alone makes a big difference, but the UI also seems to be more responsive. We used Writer exclusively over the last couple of weeks, and there's an almost imperceptible improvement in the on-screen typing latency, which can really help if you create a lot of words.
Massive speed improvements and a new slant on enterprise integration put OOo in a great position for the upcoming GUI overhaul of Project Renaissance.
The second big focus for this release is file formats. OOo claims improved compatibility with Microsoft Office 2007 formats and the new ODF 1.2 specification, but we tested Microsoft Office 2007 conversion with a variety of documents, and there was no obvious improvement over the already reasonable support in version 3.1. The big difference is that you can now load password-protected files as well as spreadsheets that include OLD objects, form controls and pivot tables, but .docx still doesn't appear as an export or save format, despite a vague reference to this addition in the new features list.
The Open Document Format fares much better, and .docx compatibility might become less of an issue if and when Microsoft finally integrates support into the next version of its office suite. The big improvements made to chase ODF 1.2 compatibility include the ability to add something called RDF metadata to your documents. This is a sober addition intended for serious projects and big sets of documentation.
Board the Enterprise
RDF is short for Resource Description Framework, and is a method of data interchange more commonly found on the web. What its inclusion means for your OOo documents is that you can now add descriptive information to your data, such as labels and categories, that make your documentation more portable and more interchangeable with any other RDF-compatible systems you may use. A good example is a document that deals with patient records for a doctor's surgery, where RDF is used to insert elements from XML data containing the results of a physical examination. It's a complicated concept to grasp, but it has the potential to pull OOo into more governmental and enterprise-based roles, which can only be a good thing.
Rounding up the remainder of the new features is easy, because there are hardly any to speak of. The thesaurus in Writer has apparently become smarter, now using stemming and morphology techniques to suggest better words, but we couldn't detect any difference in results from the British dictionary. Calc can now generate Bubble Charts, where X, Y and bubble area are mapped to three values, and the SQL editor in Base can now perform search and replace tricks. There's also support for PostScript-based OpenType fonts. And that's about it. These are small additions, and overall this is a modest update, but we're still overjoyed at the speed issues finally being addressed.
Our verdict: Still the best, most comprehensive office suite available on Linux. 8/10
Features at a glance
MS compatibility OOo works extremely well with .docx files output from Microsoft’s Office 2007 suite, and now support passwords.
Bubbles A new chart option in Calc enables you to make bubble graphs out of your tables of statistics.
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