Sun, Oct

OpenOffice 2.0 and Mac OsX

Sun, Oct 23, 2005

Open Office

If you are struggling with your copy of Microsoft Office, or are blanching at the prospect of paying an arm and a leg for an update, or if you are using Linux and want a good office suite, what are you doing still struggling and worrying? OpenOffice 2.0 is for you.

Go now to and download yourself a free copy of the recently released version 2.0. Don’t wait to read any more of this post, just do it. I’ve watched this program develop through over 50 different Betas until the community was confident enough to issue a release candidate. I’ve seen an already feature-rich suite grow richer and dramatically more stable. There are few things that Microsoft Office can do that OpenOffice can’t do, and the interface is intuitive enough that you get over whatever differences there are between OO and MS very quickly.

Go! Go now! It’s free and it’s wonderful, perfect for Windows and Linux users! What are you doing staring at me! Go! Download this program and thumb your nose at Bill Gates!

By now some of you might have remembered that I own a Mac. And while OpenOffice advertises itself as free, open-source, multilingual and multi-platform, and while all of this is technically true, OpenOffice’s relationship with the MacIntosh operating system is… complicated.

For some reason, Windows/Linux programs don’t port immediately over to Mac OsX, despite the fact that OsX is built on top of UNIX. As a result, Mac users have two choices: either get techy and download OpenOffice 2.0 for the Mac and run it on top of X11 — an optional component of OsX that has to be installed specially and is surprisingly hard to find — or go with NeoOffice, which is a Mac-specific program built from the OpenOffice code, but which is a few steps behind (the current version is built from the code of OpenOffice 1.1.4).

NeoOffice is a fine office suite in its own right which does most of the things that OpenOffice 2.0 does, is stable, and renders MS Office documents exceptionally well. But it could be months before NeoOffice adopts the OpenOffice 2.0 code. This means it can’t open documents in the new Open Document format, an open source file format for word documents and spreadsheets that’s backed by those who don’t want to be beholden to proprietary MS Office formats, and the state of Massachusetts, which is interested in same. NeoOffice also doesn’t have the feature enhancements that make OpenOffice 2.0 such an easy switch from Microsoft Office. It’s almost there, but OpenOffice 2.0 is there there.

On the other hand, making OpenOffice 2.0 work on a Mac is a mildly complicated process which can be frightening for somebody doing it for the first time. You have to install the X11 component from your OsX Tiger disc, which is a windowing system that allows you to run UNIX programs on the MacIntosh. Then you download the MacIntosh version of OpenOffice, which is essentially a Linux/Unix version of the program that calls for X11 to open when it’s opened. So, OpenOffice on MacIntosh really runs two programs at once, and can be a drain on the memory. The interface it presents is exactly the same as to what you’ll see if you’re using the Windows or Linux versions, but its in a window, separate from all of the MacIntosh menu selections. If you’re used to using MacIntosh menus, this can be a frustrating adjustment. The MacIntosh scroll technique doesn’t work in OpenOffice, and that’s another frustrating readjustment.

Downloading dictionaries was terrible (I use the English Canada version which, sadly, is not installed by default on OpenOffice). The Macro that did it for my Windows’ versions didn’t work, and OpenOffice won’t let MacIntosh look into its innards, which is where all of the components are stored. I eventually had to manually copy the English Canada dictionaries from the innards of NeoOffice (which OpenOffice could look into). It worked, and it only took me a couple of minutes, but that was only because I knew what I was doing.

Despite all this, once OpenOffice 2.0 was working on my MacIntosh, it worked well, offering the same rich features as its Windows and Linux cousins, with no discernable drawbacks. The program was stable, fast and easy to use.

But it is unfortunate that no native OsX version of OpenOffice 2.0 has been built. The suite’s development community seems wholly focused on Windows and Linux, and is content to let NeoOffice play catch-up. The lack of a coherent OsX strategy also leaves users wondering what’s in store. Should they wait for NeoOffice to catch up? Or should they download 2.0 and go through the task of installing X11 to make it work?

Now that OpenOffice 2.0 has spent a summer building itself into an MS Office killer, and now that the official release is out, I hope the next few weeks and months are spent crafting a plan for how to handle the MacIntosh platform. One of the development leaders has talked about building a native version, and I wholeheartedly support that proposal. You have a large community of users interested in sticking it to Bill Gates, and OpenOffice 2.0 is yet another program that will stick it to him good. It would seem a natural alliance.

(Update): In the end, I decided to stick with NeoOffice. The kicker was the fact that OpenOffice 2.0 could not use MacIntosh’s native fonts and so imported its own. So, I’ve just got to learn to be patient, as the NeoOffice community takes its time to adapt the 2.0 code to its system. I don’t mind too much; it’s already an excellent office suite already.

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