September 6, 2006

NeoOffice: OpenOffice.org native for Mac OS X

Author: Nathan Willis

The NeoOffice project has released the first free public beta of its upcoming 2.0 software. NeoOffice is a port of the OpenOffice.org codebase to native Mac OS X APIs and toolkits. The result is an office suite that is integrated with OS X core functionality.

You can download NeoOffice Aqua 2.0 Beta 3 at the NeoOffice Web site. Prior beta releases were made available to paying members of an "early access" program several weeks ago -- a fund-raising mechanism used to support development of NeoOffice, which is a separate and distinct effort from the largely Sun-underwritten OpenOffice.org project.

Although OpenOffice.org 2.0 is available for OS X, it is an X11 binary. NeoOffice uses a fully native Aqua interface, is integrated with OS X system services such as clipboard, drag-and-drop, and Spotlight, and uses OS X's font, printing, and internationalization subsystems.

Despite recurring rumor, NeoOffice is not a Java port of OpenOffice.org. The application does make use of Java to interface with Apple's system libraries, but the application itself is the same C/C++ codebase as vanilla OpenOffice.org.

The NeoOffice installer is prepackaged as a .DMG disk image; release notes indicate that OS X version 10.3 or higher is required, and 400MB of disk space will be used. Like OpenOffice.org, the NeoOffice suite is a single, monolithic application encompassing word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, vector drawing, database, and mathematical formula writing components.

Feature-wise, NeoOffice Aqua 2.0 Beta 3 is identical to the OpenOffice.org 2.0.3 code on which it is based. I subjected NeoOffice to a variety of tests, including real-world documents and artificial stress-tests. Although the spreadsheet component Calc does not implement all of the functions tested by the Gnumeric regression testing files I gave it, it performs admirably and does not crash.

NeoOffice Writer. Click to enlarge

Writer opened every Word document that I threw at it, even performing well on extremely large documents. It opened the nearly 700-page Gutenberg Project e-text of Don Quixote in less than seven seconds on a 1.5GHz PowerPC, and performed a search-and-replace (on the string "Quixote") through the entire document in less than three.

Lacking an equivalent source for plus-sized PowerPoint presentations, I did not attempt to break Impress, but settled for testing it on everyday presentations. What many would call the second-tier applications -- Draw, Base, and Math -- appear equally reliable. Users who require an in-depth analysis may wish to seek out reviews of OpenOffice.org itself, since the underlying code is the same.

The native Aqua interface of NeoOffice does indeed integrate the application well with the rest of OS X. NeoOffice will auto-launch to open files of the appropriate types, the menus are in the correct places. Clipboard and drag-and-drop operations work just as they do on any other OS X program.

The only feature that stands out as foreign is the widget set used for internal icons -- tools and notifications, for example. Though perfectly self-explanatory and usable, they are clearly not designed for OS X. The color palette is different, the perspective of objects is different, and the different look is noticeable. A minor quibble, to be sure, noteworthy only because of how well everything else is integrated.

NeoOffice consumes a lot of RAM, and if you are primarily interested in word processing, Abiword for OS X is both smaller and conspicuously faster. But NeoOffice is head and shoulders above the existing X11 port of OpenOffice.org on OS X, so for a full-featured office suite, it looks like a clear winner.

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