Continuing its effort to become a serious alternative to Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org released an updated version of its open-source office suite this week. OpenOffice.org 2.01 comes two months after the formal release of version 2.0. The update mainly cleans up several glitches seen in the earlier release.
The free, downloadable suite includes standard office applications, such as a word processor, a database, a spreadsheet, and a presentation manager, all of which are available in versions of the suite that can run on Windows, Linux, and Solaris operating systems.
The updated version now includes support for several new languages, such as Hungarian, Turkish, Russian, Macedonian, Estonian, and Bulgarian.
More significant changes in this update reflect user feedback for a selection of features necessary in business environments. For example, administrators now have the ability to disable and hide certain settings, thereby limiting the functionality of applications to specific users. Admins also can construct special installation sets of OpenOffice.org to suit different user groups.
The developers working on the project also increased the suite's compatibility with Microsoft Office, adding support for the bullets and numbering features found in programs such as Microsoft Word.
This means that when an Office document is converted into OpenDocument Format (ODF) -- the native file format of OpenOffice -- users will not lose their bullets or numbered items. Instead, the items will be converted with the same images as in the original document.
Other enhancements include a mail-merge function and a keyboard shortcut with which users can save the position of their cursors. OpenOffice.org's Writer, in its default setting, will save the last cursor position when a document is closed. When users reopen the file, authors will find the cursor at the last position it was in before the document was closed.
"The changes are based on the primary objective of the OpenOffice team to provide a low-cost alternative to Microsoft Office," said Kyle McNabb, a Forrester Research analyst. "It is a credible alternative now to Microsoft Office. The incremental support they added has made it a credible alternative for some businesses."
The changes in OpenOffice.org 2.01 are all well and good, said McNabb, but the update is missing the flair of new features.
In a Forrester Research report that examined the previous version of OpenOffice.org and Sun Microsystem's StarOffice 8, McNabb found that the open-source suite "mimics" Microsoft Office in many ways. McNabb also found that while it does offer "new, interesting file format and macro-conversion capabilities," the "lack of innovation and no real improvement over" Microsoft Office leave OpenOffice.org 2.0 as "little more than a cheap Office imitation and a step back for information workers."
OpenOffice.org is using what Microsoft Office does as the primary set of requirements instead of looking at the broader needs of the market, McNabb said. "It is an imitation at this point, and it will have a limited appeal in the market."
However, McNabb believes the missing innovation will not necessarily hurt OpenOffice.org because there are always companies looking for a less expensive alternative to Microsoft Office. But, said McNabb, it does put a constraint on the market appeal of the open-source suite.