OpenOffice 3: Faster, uninspired interface | The Download Blog - CNET Download.com

OpenOffice 3: Faster, uninspired interface

OpenOffice.org 3 introduces a few new features, improved document format support, and a faster response time. Too bad it looks five years old.

Demand for OpenOffice.org 3 has been so high on its first day of out of beta that the official Web site crashed.

In the meantime, users can also download it for Windows and Mac from Download.com, and there are a couple of torrents being shared as well on the usual big-name trackers.

OpenOffice's redesigned landing page.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

After using OpenOffice's MS Word analog, Writer, all day, I can confirm that this update is worth it for the improvement in response and load times, if nothing else. The installation is still enormous, with an installer about 130MB for Windows users and 160MB for Mac, but the installation process is smoother. From start to finish, it clocked in at around 5 minutes, significantly faster than installing OpenOffice 2. People who use OpenOffice as their primary productivity suite should take advantage of the OpenOffice Quickstarter, which noticeably accelerates program launch times and has been made even faster in version 3.

Mac users will also be pleased to see that they no longer need to grab a separate installation of X11--the new installer will run natively on OS X, and Windows Vista users should encounter fewer problems than before.

Many of the new features are only noticeable depending on how much of the OpenOffice suite you use. If you're a rebel and you use it in your work environment when everybody else is still on Microsoft Office, the compatibility with Office 2007/2008 file formats is hard to ignore. Finally getting native support for DOCX and XLSX, for example, is long overdue. If my tests jumping back and forth between XLSX and XLS files were any indication, though, the formats are now seamlessly integrated. However, OpenOffice can not yet save files in the new MS Office format.

Upgrades to OpenDocument Format 1.2 were glitch-free.

Other improvements to the two most-used programs in OpenOffice include multiple page viewing, improved notes and commenting, and improved PDF creation and importation in Writer, and a Solver feature and spreadsheet sharing in Calc. As you can tell, though, most of these changes bring OpenOffice up to the new standard of MS Office. Besides the OpenDocument Format support, there's little here that you can't get in Office. Of course, the benefit of OpenOffice being freeware can't be understated.

The new Start Center should appeal only to users who like having a landing page or only want to have one link on their desktop. It opens up a slightly redesigned window that highlights all of the OpenOffice tools with big icons. I find the Quickstarter to be a more effective and less intrusive way to do the same thing. Unfortunately, the interface within each program in the suite has gone largely unchanged. It looks fine when compared with MS Office 2003, but not so much when up against the Office 2007/2008.

One useful change involving the landing page is that it now shows up whenever you close a document but don't exit the program. This streamlines the work flow when jumping between applications, as well as giving you something to look at besides a big gray expanse of nothingness.

Overall, though, the interface isn't detrimental to using OpenOffice--it's just not a selling point. If it's the features that you use the suite for, then there's no reason not to upgrade.

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