October 1, 2003 11:22 AM PDT

OpenOffice update finalized

The group behind OpenOffice released on Wednesday the first major update to the open-source challenger to Microsoft's Office.

OpenOffice.org announced that the final release of version 1.1 of the software is available for free download--with versions for the Windows, Linux and Solaris operating systems.


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OpenOffice is a collection of applications, such as a word processor and a spreadsheet program, based on Sun Microsystems' StarOffice. The software has been downloaded more than 20 million times since it was released early last year and has become a common companion to the open-source Linux operating system in packaged software and pre-installed on budget PCs.

The 1.1 update includes a number of improvements to address some of the most common complaints from early adopters, said Sam Hiser, co-leader of the marketing project for OpenOffice.org. Structural changes mean that documents load significantly faster than in the original version, and tweaks to the user interface make it easier to find the right tools.

The new version also includes built-in support for translating documents into Adobe Systems' PDF (Portable Document Format), which can be read by any PC equipped with Adobe's free, widespread Reader software. OpenOffice can already handle the vast majority of document formats, including those generated by Microsoft applications, but PDF export will add an extra level of interchange, Hiser said.

"If you really want to make sure everyone you're collaborating with can read something, PDF is really useful, and it's a very efficient and secure format," he said.

Microsoft is set to release the next version of Office--Office 2003--in a few weeks. The software emphasizes new features that are based on XML (Extensible Markup Language) that help tie applications into back-end computing systems.

Hiser said OpenOffice stacks up well in that regard. "We're several years ahead on XML. It's a native, default file format for us...and the open-source side is very competitive on integration," he said.

But Michael Gartenberg, an analyst for Jupiter Research, said the wealth of ready-made integration and add-on tools that will surround Office 2003 will help make it a compelling upgrade for businesses. OpenOffice won't pose a significant threat to Microsoft, he said--at least not until it can guarantee 100 percent compatibility with existing document formats.

"Whatever business interest there is (in OpenOffice) is mostly as a negotiating tool, when they're talking with Microsoft about licensing terms," Gartenberg said. "The question is: Will any of them actually go this route? Can they make it work?"

Hiser said it's likely that there will be one or two smaller revisions of OpenOffice over the next year, as the development team finalizes specifications for version 2.0, which will introduce a new architecture. "I think 2.0 is really when we start to become a household word," he said.

 

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