Launches Update, Defines Version 2.0

The open source productivity suite received a face lift and performance tweaks. The group is refining the feature set due in the next major release. on Wednesday released the latest version of its open-source competitor to Microsoft Office as it heads toward a major architectural revamp by early 2005.

The 1.1, available now for Linux, Windows and Sun Solaris, offers a more modern look-and-feel, faster load times, native export to more file formats and improved compatibility with Microsoft Office file formats.

The latest update comes about a year and a half after the project put out its first release of the productivity suite, which includes such applications as a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation creator.

Microsoft itself is prepping its own Microsoft Office release, expected in late October.

With Version 1.1, has improved the user interface to better resemble the smooth textures and colors users are accustomed to in Windows and Mac applications, said Sam Hiser, marketing project lead.

"One of criticisms of 1.0 was that it was rough around the edges," Hiser said. "The window just looked like a Unix application, and Windows users are used to nice rounded edges. 1.1 now looks a lot more like a modern application, and it responds like a modern application."

Along with the user interface brush up, the release boosts load times. While there is no average load time improvement Hiser could point to, he said loads that took 20 second to 30 seconds commonly have been reduced to about 5 seconds.

The release also adds native support for exporting Adobe Acrobat and Macromedia Flash files. From any application in the suite, users can export their work directly into an Acrobat file. The same can be done for Flash but only from the drawings and presentations.

The latest features are part of OpenOffice.orgs evolution toward its next full release, Version 2.0, that is slated for the first quarter of 2005. Users can expect 2.0 to build greatly on the user interface improvements in 1.1 as the open-source project pushes to widen its base of users, Hiser said. has had 20 million downloads since its launch, but Hiser said recognition among less technical users remains low.

"After 2.0, were going to get on a new plateau of public awareness and Linux will too," he said.

One likely addition is a database application similar to Microsoft Access that provides a simple user interface for accessing and manipulating data, Hiser said.

The focus of the Version 2.0 release also will be on usability, such as on making style sheets and templates even easier to use; on pushing greater programmability so more add-on applications can be integrated with the suite; and greater interoperability with Microsoft Office.

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