Hans D. Baumeister

Hans D. Baumeister

Experiences with OpenOffice 3 (Mac)

I'd like to quickly pass on some of the experiences I've made using OpenOffice 3.01 on the Mac. Having used an iMac for over two years, I kept up-to-date on NeoOffice, loading updates as they came along. While not entirely happy with the way the GUI is structured on NeoOffice - it goes its own way in choice of icons and menu structure, it was quite ok from a technical standpoint in having to work with Microsoft Office (.doc) files, at least those produced by Office 2003.

I had chosen to use NeoOffice over OpenOffice 2.0 because, quite frankly, OO 2.0 was a fiasco in usability and stability - I dumped it just days after installation. Then came OO 3.0, and with it a very likable interface feeling (if you're used to MS Office 2003). When I got my MacBook two weeks ago, I decided to install OO 3.0 on it rather than NeoOffice.

Unfortunately, I have to admit that I am disappointed. I can accept that the import of MS Office 2007 files (i.e. .docx) doesn't work properly. I'm sure MS works very hard in making the format difficult to work with when using software that is not from MS. However, not only are there serious issues in using Office 2003 files, such as included images disappearing, bullets changing from a round (yep: "bullet") graphic to - of all things - a directors clapboard (where the hell did that come from?), fonts changing even though equivalents are available (i.e. Arial to Helvetica). But actually working with even native files is - at times - quite frustrating.

For example, I had cut-pasted a text fragment from Firefox into a document. The font changed in size and color, even from what the browser displayed - quite outlandishly, really. No problem, I thought. In MS Office, you select the malignant text and do a single click on the format selection (i.e. "Standard") to change it back to how this format is defined. In OO? Nothing happens. I opened the formats dialog box and started wildly selecting different formats, from Headings to Footer. Nothing. Only when I selected Format-->Standard format (Cmd-M) did the text change. What a pain.

OO, like MS Office, has automatic capitalization, for example at the beginning of a sentence (in case you forget to hit Shift). I'm not a fan of this option, but I hadn't bothered to turn it off. I was generating the contents of a table, and every time I hit tab to get to a new column (not yet in table format), OO would capitalize the first word typed. I suppose you could argue for hours wether this is right or not. In MS Office, this isn't an issue. You hit Control-Z and Word undoes the automatic capitalization. Somewhat annoying, because you have to remember to hit Control-Z before typing the next word, but one gets used to it. In OO? Not so. Hitting Cmd-Z does undo the capitalization but then OO puts the cursor at the beginning of the word! Who the hell came up with that stupid idea?

Another thing I've come across is that OO doesn't render the text - especially in tables - correctly when scrolling up or down a page. I.e. you're scrolling down, looking for a passage of text and a table comes up from below. Quite frequently, the contents of that table will be incompletely rendered or distorted. Very strange, I've never seen this with any other app on the Mac, so I'm presuming its an OO problem and not a Cocoa problem.

All in all, I will likely load up NeoOffice on my MacBook at my next connection to broadband. While I still prefer the UI of OO to NeoOffice, these issues indicate to me that OO 3.0 isn't really ready for the mainstream yet. Maybe I'll wait for 3.1 or 3.2 before trying again.
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