OpenOffice Sports All-Around Improvements

Review: Version 2.2 is worth evaluating as an alternative to Microsoft Office.

Going head to head with Microsoft 2007, the latest version of the free-for-all touts across-the-board improvements in the softwares word processing, spreadsheet, database and presentation applications.

However, the brightest aspects of 2.2, which began shipping at the end of March, are its price tag—free—and its impressively broad platform support. runs on: Windows, Linux x86 and PowerPC, Solaris x86 and SPARC, Mac OS X and FreeBSD.

Version 2.2 of the projects namesake suite 2.2 has not undergone the same sort of radical user interface overhaul that Microsoft Office 2007 recently underwent, which is both a bad and a good thing. On the bright side, long-time Office users will find this latest revision more familiar than Office 2007, but could stand to benefit from a dose of the "discoverability" enhancement that marks Microsofts new-look release.

During eWEEK Labs tests, we noted the improvements in OpenOffice.orgs popular PDF export function, as well as the progress the suites Calc spreadsheet application has undergone toward better matching the functionality of Microsoft Excels prized pivot table feature.

IT managers looking for alternatives to Microsoft Office—particularly those unwilling to make the leap to Office 2007—will find 2.2 well worth evaluating because, as the suite offers a good solution for cutting software costs while expanding platform options and minimizing compatibility issues.

With that said, our tests of 2.2 and of previous releases have shown that its not realistic to expect 100 percent compatibility when shuttling complex documents back and forth between and Microsoft Office.

We hope to see this situation improve once Office 2007s default XML-based file formats become more broadly adopted. However, considering the large number of Office 97-2003 installations out in the wild, compatibility issues with Microsofts undocumented binary office formats will be with us for some time to come.

We tested 2.2, which is available for free download from, on Windows XP, Mac OS X Tiger 10.4.3, and Debian GNU/Linux 4.0, and the suite performed similarly on all three systems.

The stable Macintosh version of still requires the aid of Apples optional X11 UNIX-based windowing system. Installing the X11 add-on for Mac OS X isnt too difficult, and there are detailed instructions, with pictures, for doing so on the Web site. Mac OS X users may also turn to the 2.1-based NeoOffice.

The project has released an alpha version of the suite, which eWEEK Labs recently took for a spin.

We also tested the suite on a Windows Vista system, in order to check out what the team is touting as Vista-friendly improvements to the products file dialogs, among other look-and-feel elements. Compared to version 2.1,, the 2.2 version of the suite does indeed sport a more Vista-like file dialog, but the new dialog lacks Vista niceties such as support for tagging and integrated search. Writer

When 2.2 users fire up the suites word processing application, Writer, theyll notice, as we did, improvements in the overall appearance of fonts, due to the applications enabled-by-default kerning support.

Also of note is Writers bolstered support for saving documents in PDF format. We were able to include bookmarks in our PDF exports, although it took us a bit of searching around to get the bookmark exports working. Thats because, rather than export the bookmarks wed set in our document, exports headings as bookmarks.

With no mention of this caveat about this in OpenOffice.orgs Help tool, it took a few tries and some guessing to execute this option successfully.

We could also now embed form fields in our PDFs and specify the compression and resolution levels of our PDFs. Whats more, Writer has also added support for setting initial view options, such as zoom level and whether your PDF viewers sidebar will appear when you first open an exported document. Calc

Those who are accustomed to using Microsofts Excel spreadsheet as an analysis tool will welcome OpenOffice.orgs improved support for building pivot tables and correctly importing Microsoft Excel files that contain pivot tables.

In previous versions of, spreadsheets created with Excel that contained pivot tables populated with data from an external source would simply not appear when opened in Calc. Starting with version 2.2, Calc handles these sorts of spreadsheets properly.

We used the DataPilot feature of Calc, OpenOffice.orgs spreadsheet application, Calc, to create a few pivot tables of our own, and we found the tool rather accessible and easy to use. We also opened a few Excel documents containing pivot tables and found no discernable differences in Calcs handling of them.