Sun Microsystems has released the first beta for 3 for Windows and Mac. The new version of OpenOffice, which is a popular open-source competitor to Microsoft Office, looks to offer users improvements on every component from interface to features to behavior. 3 Start Center (Credit: CNET Networks)

OpenOffice now natively supports OS X, so Mac users won't have to install the X11 module before running the suite. Full Vista support is also included in the beta, and didn't cause any problems during light testing. Notably, OpenOffice 3 includes filters for the new Microsoft Office document formats such as DOCX and XLSX as well as continuing support for standard Microsoft formats. Support for Microsoft Office 2007 for Windows and Office 2008 for Mac has been lacking until now.

The user interface doesn't look to have undergone many changes, besides getting a slightly snazzier gradated background and slightly larger icons. However, the new features more than make up for this. Enhancements include support for OpenDocument Format 1.2, a Solver feature, spreadsheet sharing to facilitate collaboration, improved PDF creation and importation, and improvements to the Notes feature in Writer.

The new Start Center should appeal to users who like having a landing page or only want to have one link on their desktop. It opens up a window that highlights all of the OpenOffice tools with big icons. Another of the more exciting OpenOffice extensions also being released is a Wiki Publisher tool that should make uploading wiki information from the program to a MediaWiki server a snap.

In-depth details of the changes planned for OpenOffice 3 can be found at the feature list and release notes.