October 12, 2006

OpenOffice.org (or OO.o)


As much as I would like to say that I've tested every nook and cranny of a software program before writing a review, I don't due to time constraints and lack of experience doing certain tasks affecting my perception of it's performance.

So with OpenOffice.org, I just installed the full version and continue to use it as if it was MS Office 2003. The goal was not to see what unique features were available or if it offered supposedly faster methods for doing stuff(read: retraining yourself for different procedures == lower adoption rates), but to see if I could perform my day to day tasks without any need to change my keystroke habit, spreadsheet formulas, or hunt for a particular function.

The Test
OpenOffice software installation

  • OpenOffice Calc(Spreadsheet)

  • OpenOffice Writer(Word Processor)

  • OpenOffice Base (Database)

  • OpenOffice Draw(Visio-esque+)

  • OpenOffice Impress(Presentation)

  • OpenOffice Math(proper Math calculation and presentation)

I'm normally a spreadsheet, word processing kind of guy. I don't keep enough data collected to create databases, but I do play around with the program from time to time. Here's a rundown of my impressions.

I was hard-pressed to find something that Calc wouldn't do in my normal day-to-day activities. It could open most *.xls files with no issue. I generally don't use VBA or any hardcore formulas that might reference multiple files, so the upper echelon of power user capability has yet to be explored. But for day-to-day usage on Excel spreadsheets, I was hard-pressed to notice much difference. That may or may not change with ODBC usage.

The only feature I had a time finding was how to track changes. A quick search in the help section and going to edit -> changes -> record fixed that. Most word processors have many features that I will never use, but the bibliography database certainly piqued my interest. My initial attempts with it were not as favorable as I would have liked, but if it's worth using, it's worth investing the time into learning how to use it.

The name may be a little deceiving, as I thought it might have been a photoshop clone. As a visio replacement, it lacks a lot of the more task-specific objects for projects such as room design, landscaping, etc. It ably handles most flow and tree diagrams, although the connector objects can be downright infuriating. Ironically, Draw had a problem re-drawing the screen at times, but was fixed with a quick minimize, restore. I'm going to look more into the program, because I feel there's some real potential if the right functionality is in place or is requested(Logical to Physical data modelling, for example).

Initial Impressions
For the casual word processing, spreadsheet user, OpenOffice is a model of what open source software is and can be. Stable, coherent, and very friendly to their commercial counterpart, OpenOffice shows that you don't have to (and shouldn't) shell out hundreds of dollars to get a polished, easy-to-use suite. Those who have used MSOffice will find themselves right at home with the majority of the functionality, although some of the moderate to advanced functions(like change tracking) will take a minimal search. My advice is don't be afraid to use the help section. Most of my problems were answered there and the solution didn't seem at all convulted.

The project itself seems to be charging ahead at full steam(with corporate backing like it has, that's no surprise). As of this writing, OO.o is up to version 2.0.4, and just yesterday introduced VBA support for Calc. Early open source projects targeted the highly technical with the time and patience to compile and install the programs themselves. People who would put up with the limitations or fragility the program or functionality possessed. In short, highly motivated people who would put a lot of effort into something that most of us would consider not worth the bother. Their efforts, either directly or indirectly, have now brought about a time where open source programs now has little initial effort, with big payoffs. So to all those out there who contribute their time or resources to projects such as OO.o, you have my sincere thanks.

Posted by Jeffrey at 7:26 AM | Comments (0)