Like a bolt from the blue, OpenOffice.org version 3 burst onto the scene today. You can grab it now from OpenOffice.org. The poor server is groaning under the strain – there’s obviously a lot of demand for free office apps – but with a bit of patience you should be able to download it OK:
I’ve taken it for a quick spin, and so far I like what I see. There are quite a few notable improvements over OpenOffice.org 2.x, including:
- Speed. The new version has a much quicker startup time than 2.x, with the welcome screen appearing around 4 seconds after launching (on my 1st gen Intel iMac). The UI feels a fair bit snappier, and document opening and saving seem a little faster.
- Support for the latest MS Office formats. OpenOffice.org 3 can read the controversial Office Open XML (.docx/.xlsx/.pptx) formats – although it can’t yet save files in these formats.
- Easier app launching. The new UI features a nice welcome screen (see below) that you can use to quickly launch Writer, Calc, Impress, Base, Draw, or Math.
- Better Vista compatibility. Always good if you happen to use Vista!
However, one of the most noticeable changes to the Mac version is – you guessed it – native Aqua support. Finally, OpenOffice.org looks and behaves like a Mac app! No more having to boot up X11 and put up with an interface only a mother could love. (NeoOffice helps to get round some of the UI problems, but it does lag behind the main OpenOffice.org release by a few months.)
Here’s how the welcome screen looks on startup:
Along with full Aqua support comes support for all those lovely Mac fonts:
However, some aspects of the UI are distinctly old-school Mac:
…and there’s more ugliness lurking in the corners:
New niceties in Writer include prettier, more flexible notes and multi-page viewing:
Its new zoom slider is also much nicer and smoother than the previous clunky approach (shame it’s not also in Calc):
Calc now supports up to 1,024 columns for hardcore spreadsheet nerds, and features a linear optimization solver for some serious mathematical modelling:
There are quite a few other new features, although most of them just bring the app up to par with the latest from Microsoft. (There’s a review from a Linux perspective over at Linux Format.) However the big improvements for me are the faster startup times and the native Mac Aqua interface. While the UI isn’t as slick as, say, Microsoft Office 2007/2008 or iWork ’08, it’s a damn sight nicer than OpenOffice.org version 2 on the Mac.
And I have to say, the writing could be on the wall for the likes of NeoOffice – although to be fair, NeoOffice includes quite a few Mac-only features that aren’t (yet) in OpenOffice.org.