October 21, 2005

OpenOffice.org 2.0 released

Author: Stephen Feller

The OpenOffice.org (OOo) Project released the long-awaited OOo 2.0 suite yesterday, completing a testing process that lasted more than a year.

Planned improvements for OOo version 2.0 were laid out for developers in mid-2003, including a new interface, the new database module, enhanced PDF support, and other "small things" to put the office suite on par with similar software, said Louis Suárez-Potts, the OOo community manager.

In order to get the suite available and functional in 36 languages now, the community tested and re-tested the software to get it right, and the project expects to provide the suite in an additional 20 languages in the next month or two -- and possibly more than 100 languages within a year.

"Never before has an open source project, as far as I know, gone to such lengths to make sure that a program is actually functional for as many people as possible," Suárez-Potts said. "This culmination took a lot of work from a lot of people."

As for those companies and individuals that don't immediately jump to version 2.0, while Suárez-Potts said the project's emphasis would be on the new release, they will continue to maintain 1.x, which also corresponds to StarOffice 7, Sun's proprietary version of the suite.

User support for 1.x is still available at all times as it always was: wherever you can find it. The OOo project does not offer support itself, but a multitude of user groups and companies offering professional support is available for baffled users of the software.

Helping companies to offer support is part of the reason the project goes through so many builds, Suárez-Potts said. One beta version released early this summer resulted in between 650 and 1000 bug reports. As bugs were discovered and fixed, OOo prepared the various guides and documentation to make sure the software is actually usable.

"A thing we don't talk about enough is that when we release a milestone build such as this, it's supported," Suárez-Potts said. "It's supported by private industry. It's supported also by Sun Microsystems, and by small companies."

Version 2.0 includes several new features, most notable is the new database module, which can create cross-platform database applications by using the Java-supported HSQLDB database engine. Suárez-Potts said the module is designed to be unlimited in choices for users as to what, how, and where things work in the databases they design.

Additionally, "the small things" that people look for when putting together various office documents, such as word count functions and macros, have been made easier to find and use, which Suárez-Potts said were among many of the most common user requests.

The Calc spreadsheet application can now support more than 65,000 rows of data, putting it on par with other spreadsheet software like Microsoft Excel. While OOo has long been capable of saving in most file formats, support to save as PDF files has been further improved, and presentations can now also be saved in Macromedia's Flash format.

Suárez-Potts noted the importance of saving users time, and preventing frustration, when switching to new software, and said that making migration from other office suites as easy as possible was a high priority for the project during development of OOo 2.0.

In it's hard not to notice a slight resemblance to certain other office software in OOo 2.0, making the suite look more familiar for users who are migrating. The OOo 2.0 interface also offers myriad options for customization.

"It was important to make the environment kind of friendly so that people have the ability to modify as they wish," Suárez-Potts said.

Part of moving to OOo is spreading the use of the OpenDocument format, which Suárez-Potts pegs as vital to the protection and survival of computer documents of all sorts.

Suárez-Potts said that entities and companies are looking to make the switch to formats other than Microsoft Office or Corel WordPerfect Office formats because an open format guarantees that in the future the format a file is saved as will still be usable. He said it is even more important for government documents to be stored in an open format.

As the format spreads to government entities and large companies, most notably the recent decision by the Massachusetts state government to begin using it, the OOo project is pointing out the advantages of OpenDocument.

"Certainly, the open document is the most compelling argument for OpenOffice.org and the open standard," Suárez-Potts said. "And it is that which is making a lot of governments, both in the United States and the rest of the world, consider it."

With governments moving to deploy OOo, and an OpenDocument movement gaining steam outside the open source community, the OpenOffice.org project is continuing to move forward, though they have no immediate plans for the next version of the office suite.

Suárez-Potts said "it's still a little bit early" for there to be much to say about the eventual OOo 3.0, other than that it is still "under discussion." A time line will likely be coordinated in the near future though, he said.

"We wanted to start to accelerate our release cycle," Suárez-Potts said. "Every open source project says it means it, and we always wait and see what happens, but I think it can be accelerated [at OpenOffice]."

He added, however, that everything that did not fit into 2.0 "can be thought of as grounds for 3.0, and there's a fair amount of that."

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