On October 20, 2005, after two years of development, OpenOffice.org 2.0 was officially released to the public, free of charge. This new release sports many improvements over its predecessor, version 1.1.5, and is immediately available in over 35 languages.
OpenOffice.org is a office productivity suite, much like Microsoft Office or Corel WordPerfect. However, unlike its commercial counterparts, OpenOffice.org is not the creation of a large corporation. Instead, it is a product created by the joint efforts of the open-source community, and is sponsored by big industry players like Sun Microsystems, Novell, Red Hat, Debian, and Intel.
The famous open-source office suite entails a very interesting history. The German company StarDivision, founded in the mid-1980's, began development on an office suite dubbed StarOffice. Unfortunately, the company and its products were largely unheard of during the 1980s and 1990s.
|OpenOffice.org 2.0 features a very clean, intuitive interface, which can be easily customized to fit anyone's needs. All OpenOffice.org 2.0 applications also have the ability to save (export) to a PDF document (which can be viewed with Adobe Acrobat Reader, or other PDF-compatible readers).|
In 1999, Sun Microsystems bought StarDivision, and acquired StarOffice along with it. Later the next year, StarOffice 5.2 was released.
That same year (2000), Sun Microsystems created the OpenOffice.org community, and entrusted it with the development of the new OpenOffice.org productivity office suite.
In 2003, OpenOffice.org version 1.0, which was based upon StarOffice 5.2, was released. Subsequent versions of StarOffice are now based upon OpenOffice.org but contain commercial extras and add-ons, and can be purchased for a modest fee.
All versions of OpenOffice.org have been released under the Lesser General Public License (LGPL), which gives everyone the right to use the software for both commercial and non-commercial use. In simple terms, it means the software can be used by anyone (businesses, governments, home users, etc) at no cost. The license also dictates that the software must stay free and available to the public.
Although many individuals around the globe donate time and effort to the project, Sun Microsystems continues to be the biggest contributor, donating large amounts of man-power and money. Novell is the second largest single contributor.
One great feature that OpenOffice.org continues to provide is good interoperability with Microsoft Office 97/2000/XP. OpenOffice.org can open and save/create Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. Version 2.0 also contains limited support for Corel WordPerfect documents, which makes sharing documents among other users much easier.
|New to the suite in version 2.0 is OpenOffice.org Base, a database application, which has a strong Microsoft Access design influence. Like Access, Base also supports queries, forms, reports and has various wizards for common tasks. By default, Base uses the HSQL engine for data storage, but also supports MySQL, PosgreSQL, Microsoft Access, and any database that can be accessed via ODBC or JDBC connections.|
New to the suite is OpenOffice.org Base, a database application, which has a strong Microsoft Access look and feel.
Base supports queries, forms, reports and virtually everything else Microsoft Access supports, and can open Microsoft Access files. By default, however, Base saves its data using the open-source HSQL engine.
OpenOffice.org 2.0 is also the first office productivity suite to support the new OASIS standard OpenDocument file format - a vendor-neutral, open standard created to end the dependence on proprietary software and closed standards. OpenDocument file formats are governed by OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), a non-profit international consortium that advocates, proposes and maintains various electronic e-business standards.
The OpenDocument format was created in response to a growing number of concerns regarding long-term availability and access to personal documents. As the OpenOffice.org site describes it, "users of office software have come to realize that their real investment lies not in the software itself, but in the documents they have created: their own intellectual property. The only way to guarantee access to this investment long term is for the data to be stored in a vendor-neutral, open-standard format."
This means that OpenDocument files are not directly tied to a single software suite, and can be natively opened and modified in various programs.
For example, OpenDocument files could be created in OpenOffice.org 2.0, and later opened and modified in KDE's KOffice 1.4 (which also fully supports OpenDocument) without any worries about compatibility.
Many companies are now promising their office software will soon support OpenDocument. Corel has also promised that subsequent versions of WordPerfect will also support OpenDocument - this means that files saved in the OpenDocument format will be available to you in the future, regardless of what Office software you're using at the time.
Unfortunately, Microsoft has declined to add OpenDocument support to Microsoft Office. Many have criticized Microsoft for this decision, and feel the company is trying to forcefully deter Microsoft Office users from considering other alternatives by forcing them into using patented Microsoft formats (vendor lock-in).
OpenOffice.org also runs on Windows, Linux, Solaris and OS-X (via X11). Documents created in OpenOffice.org can be opened in any OpenOffice.org installation, regardless of the operating system the installation is running on.
OpenOffice.org can be downloaded, free of charge from http://www.openoffice.org and is very easy to install. OpenOffice.org 2.0 for Windows is a mere 75 megabytes (MB) - small when compared to other office alternatives like Microsoft Office. The Linux version is slightly larger at 102 megabytes (MB).
In subsequent articles in this series, individual OpenOffice.org applications will be discussed.
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