OpenOffice.org 2.3 Impresses
OpenOffice.org 2.3 Impresses
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The release of OpenOffice.org 2.3 brings several significant improvements to the open-source office productivity suite, including easier upgrade paths for existing Microsoft Office users, improved measures to prevent security breaches, and an array of snazzy new features introduced in the suites word processing, spreadsheet, presentation and database applications.
Meanwhile, all-around improvements to the suites presentation application, Impress, continue to give users some of the bells and whistles coveted in PowerPoint, such as the ability to now integrate sound across an entire presentation.
General improvements made to the spreadsheet application, Calc, and word processing application, Writer, make the case for OpenOffice 2.3 as a potentially easier and definitely cheaper upgrade path for existing Microsoft Office users, who may be considering a transition to Microsoft Office 2007.
Though file conversion fidelity continues to improve with each subsequent release of OpenOffice, file fidelity issues still surfaced in my tests, such as page-break issues discovered when trying to convert a Word-formatted document in Writer. That said, there doesnt seem to be a perfect solution to solving file conversion fidelity issues, so in the interim, realistic IT managers need to sidestep the problem by standardizing on a single office suite option, thereby minimizing the hassle of importing and exporting back and forth, and allowing these niggling formatting issues to creep into files.
Improvements to the suites Extension Manager are also bright spots in this release, such as the ability for an extension to integrate options pages in the options dialog. Users then can use OpenOffices Extension Manager feature to add and remove extensions, and link to a Web page of all the extensions currently available.
OpenOffice.org 2.3s most persuasive set of features, however, continues to be that it is an entirely free product and supports seven platforms: Windows, Linux x86 and PowerPC, Solaris x86 and SPARC, Mac OS X and FreeBSD. OpenOffices low-cost office productivity cousin, StarOffice 8, in contrast, costs between $35 and $100 and supports only Windows, Linux x86, and Solaris x86 and SPARC.
The suite can be downloaded for free at www.openoffice.org, and users can purchase additional phone and e-mail support through the use of StarOffice 8.
From its very first release, OpenOffice.org has taken on Microsoft Office as its biggest rival, and this version is no different. However, with the beta version of IBM Lotus Symphony kicking around, there could be another major contender for OpenOffice to consider. IBM Lotus Symphony is also a free office productivity suite, bereft of proprietary file formats, software licensing agreements and upgrades.
Click here to read more about how Microsoft is making Office 2007 more secure.
IT managers looking for alternatives to Microsoft Office, particularly those unwilling to make the leap to Office 2007 or those with heterogeneous environments will find OpenOffice 2.3 a suitable alternative.
Impressed by Impress
In general, Impress makes it easy, even for novice designers, to create sophisticated presentations, especially with features such as move-along-curve animation.
From the tasks pane located on the right-hand side of the screen, I chose the Custom Animation option. From there, I was able to select the tab titled Motion Paths, which gave me an ample number of choices as to what type of path I wished to have my object move along.
The first time around, I chose a Freeform Line, which, as the name suggests, allowed me to drag a grayed-out line to any point on the page. Id suggest reserving this option for the skilled presentation designer, as it takes a user with a significant level of artistic expertise to create something logical or aesthetically pleasing.
For us design mortals, a wide selection of other Motion Path options allow for customization, but with the benefit of a pre-designed path. For instance, the second path I tested was a Curved Path. This path is shaped like a wide, crescent moon, but has editing points distributed along the entire path. If I wanted to customize the paths curve, I simply clicked on one of the editing points and dragged it where I wished, changing the design, yet keeping it within the bounds of its original shape. This is great for a company that would like to see a particular department, or more of its employees, more adept at graphic design or presentations without having to undergo rigorous training.
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The other big news in Impress is the ability to integrate sound throughout the slideshow. I imported an MP3 file by selecting "modify transition" in the applications Effect task pane. I was then able to either choose a sound file from the Impress sound library or import a music file by choosing "other sound" from a drop-down menu accessible in this pane. This allowed me to browse my system for files. The sound files supported include .aiff, .au, .avi, .gsm, .midi, .mp2, .mp3, .qt, .rmf, and .wav files.
Users now have a couple of choices for enhancing 3-D views of charts created in the office suite. I tested the improved features of OpenOffices Charts tool and found that ease of use once again rules the day. In the Chart Type window I was able to choose Pie and then view the exploded pie chart in a preview pane. An exploded pie chart is a standard pie chart with the pieces of the pie broken out. Same goes for the exploded donut chart, another new 3-D view offering, which breaks out the rings that comprise this particular type of chart. From here, I was able to customize the charts legends, fonts, positions, and so on, by right-clicking on the legend. I tweaked other parts of the chart by right-clicking on the image.
Next I tested the most significant addition to OpenOffices Writer application, the ability to export newly created files to the MediaWiki format, a feature-rich collaborative editing software that runs Wikipedia.
I first loaded the file up with a bunch of character formatting, such as italicized, bolded and underlined chunks of text. I also included a hyperlink. From the file dialog, I chose Export and selected MediaWiki.txt from the File Format drop-down menu. I then cut and pasted the entire document into a blank Wiki page and discovered that the italicized text made it through the conversion, as did the hyperlink. The underlined text and bold text, however, did not pass the test. Apostrophes also fared poorly, not maintaining their "smart quotes" status.
Still, introducing this format as an option to users is recognizing the growing importance and undeniable usability of the Web-based collaborative workspace that the smart and savvy should be incorporating into their software ASAP (or be left in the dust).
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