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How 'Suite' They Are: OpenOffice.org and Its Multiple Offshoots

With a major update of its own slated in another couple of months, the cross-platform OpenOffice.org office suite has also spurred a spate of intriguing offshoots, ranging from a thumbnail USB edition to the Go-oo variant and beyond.

The big daddy of all the open source suites, OpenOffice.org was originally built from StarOffice, a suite first created by StarDivision and then acquired by Sun Microsystems way back in 1999.

Other open source offshoots arising since OpenOffice's initial release in the year 2000 include NeoOffice, an office suite for Mac OS X only; RedOffice, a suite localized to Chinese characters; Jamba OpenOffice, a Swahili version; EuroOffice, a European multilingual suite; and MagyarOffice, a Hungarian edition.

Like other open source office suites, OpenOffice and its various variants offer two big advantages over proprietary suites such as Microsoft Office. For one thing, the open source suites--which typicially include a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation package, at a minimum--are available free of charge.

Secondly, the software is built on open source software code, making its components amenable to reusability, customizability, and community bug fixing.

The open source edition of OpenOffice.org also serves as the basis for several software suites with commercial leanings, including OpenOffice.org, Novell Edition and IBM Lotus Symphony.

Meanwhile, however, OpenOffice.org is not exactly identical to any of the other open source suites it has inspired.

In this first part of a new series on crossplatform office suites for Linux and other OS, we'll compare the pros and cons of OpenOffice.org and three of its main variants: OpenOffice.org Portable, Go-oo, and OxygenOffice Professional.

OpenOffice.org

Available for Linux, Windows, Mac OS X (Intel only), Solaris, BSD Unix, OpenVMS, OS/2, and IRIX.

Two of the criteria setting open source suites apart from each other are software applications and crossplatform support. On both of these counts, OpenOffice.org is a winner, by and large.

Office-oriented applications in OpenOffice.org encompass the Writer word processor, Calc spreadsheet, Impress presentation package, and Base database management program, along with the Draw graphics editor/drawing tool and Math, a tool for creating and editing formulas.

Also included in the suite are a macro recorder, for recording your actions and then replaying them to automate tasks, and QuickStarter, a tiny program for Linux and Windows which runs at start-up to speed the time it takes to open the applications.

What if you only want to use some of the applications in OpenOffice--such as Calc and Math, or Impress and Draw--instead of all of them? Many Linux distributions divide the components in OpenOffice.org into individual packages, for separate download installation. The components can't be downloaded separately on Windows, but they can be installed separately.

OpenOffice.org is now in version 3.1, and its current development programs are Linux, Windows, and Solaris. Support for Macintosh exists, but it's limited. In 2.x, installation of the X Windows system was required for Mac operability. 3.x adds support for Max OS X's Aqua interface, but it only runs on Intel-based Macs, although some unofficial builds for the PowerPC platform have been created.

NeoOffice--an Aqua-enabled fork from Planamesa Software now in version 3--gives official support to both Intel--and PowerPC-based Macs. However, the addition of Aqua support in OpenOffice 3.0 makes NeoOffice no longer such a necessity to the legions of Intel Mac users.

On the down side, despite the advent of the QuickStarter tool some years ago, OpenOffice.org continues to get criticized for slow performance.

But improvements planned for version 3.2, an update expected in November of this year, include performance boosts for both startup and load/save, in addition to new search and replace capabilities in Base's SQL-Editor; a bubble chart implementation for Calc's charting module, and myriad other tweaks.

OpenOffice.org Portable

Available for Windows and (under WINE only) Linux and Unix

OpenOffice.org Portable is an edition of OpenOffice specifically designed to be compact enough to run on a USB thumb drive.

Weighing in at 87 MB as a download and 231 MB installed, OpenOffice.org Portable includes Writer, Calc, Impress, Base and Draw.

Published by John T. Haller in conjunction with OpenOffice,org developers, OpenOffice.org Portable is part of the Portable Apps.com Suite, a larger suite which adds a backup utility and portable editions of Mozilla Firefox, Thunderbird and Sunbird; the Pidgin instant mesagging program; ClamWin antivirus software; Sumatra PDF reader; CoolPlayer audio player; and Soduku and Mines-Perfect games.

The standard edition of Portable Apps.com consumes 355 MB installed. A light edition taking up only 150 MB is also available, but it uses the AbiWord word processor in place of the much more multifaceted OpenOffice suite.

The Portable edition of OpenOffice.org uses the Galaxy icon set by default, although Tango, Classic, Crystal, and High-Contrast icon sets can be added by installing a separate image pack.

For Linux users, the big disadvantage is that OpenOffice.org Portable runs on Linux only under WINE.

Go-oo

Available for Linux, Windows, and (quite recently) Mac OS X

Not to be confused with the open source suite named OpenGoo, Go-oo is both a set of patches for OpenOffice.org and a full-scale OpenOffice.org variant built from those patches.

Once known as Ooo-build, Go-oo contains enhancements which--for whatever reasons--haven't yet appeared in OpenOffice.org releases.

These include better support for Office Open XML file formats, faster performance for some operations, and--on Linux--use of 3-D transition effects for presentations and the GStreamer multimedia framework for multimedia content.

On the other hand, the function of adding and editing words in the spell check dictionary is broken in the current edition of Go-oo. Also, Go-oo localization to other languages is only available in language packs to the English edition.

In another point of distinction, Go-oo uses the Tango icon style for toolbars and menus by default, whereas OpenOffice uses Classic or Galaxy by default.

Stable builds of Go-oo have been available for Windows since April 30, 2008 and for Linux since June 26, 2008. Macintosh support became available on May 28 of this year, but so far, only in an unstable build.

Editions of OpenOffice.org that are included with Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, Debian, and Novell's OpenSuSE use some of the Go-oo patches.

OxygenOffice Professional

Available for Linux, Windows, Solaris, and (with X Windows) Mac OS X

Along slightly similar lines, OxygenOffice Professional is also aimed at making OpenOffice.org better in certain ways. In the case of OxygenOffice Professional, enhancements include security fixes, faster performance, and improvements to Calc's HTML export and Base's Microsoft Access support, for instance.

Aside from all of that, OxygenOffice offers free “extras” that include over 90 additional fonts, more than 3,200 pieces of clip art and photos, and the OooWikipedia search tool.

As an added benefit, the extras are optional. So you can decide which extras to include in your own installation, and which to leave out.

However, to run OxygenOffice on Mac OS X, you still need to install X Windows.

What's Next?

Later on in this series, we'll drill down into some open source software suites which were NOT inspired by OpenOffice.org (not directly, at least). These will include OpenGoo, KOffice, GNOME Office, Siag Office, and AUIS, for example.

 

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