Open Source

10 cool upcoming features in OpenOffice

The latest release of OpenOffice is right around the corner, and it promises to close the gap on a lot of features found in rival apps. Here's what you have to look forward to.

Since birth, OpenOffice has tried to pull users away from Microsoft Office. Unfortunately, features have been missing. But starting with the 3.3 release -- which is slated for the third quarter of this year -- many of those features will start to trickle in. Here are a few things that are coming down the pipe for the open source office suite alternative.

Note: This article is also available as a PDF download.

1: Rennaisance: Ribbon-style interface (3.3)

When the Microsoft Office suite moved to the "Ribbon interface," most people had a lot of difficulty getting used to it. But as usual, everyone did get used to it. Now a lot of end users prefer the Ribbon interface to the standard interface. This has caused OpenOffice to seem outdated -- even the latest release. This will change as the new Renaissance Interface arrives in the upcoming releases.

2: Thesaurus in right-click context menu (3.3)

If you are a writer like me, you need your writers' tools and you need fast access to them. Having a context menu that contains those tools is a real boon because it cuts down on the time you spend dragging your cursor around the desktop.

3: FindBar: A new search-specific tool bar (3.3)

Searching, especially in larger documents, is a key function of the OpenOffice tools. With the next release, OpenOffice will gain a search-specific toolbar for Writer that will greatly enhance the power of searching in documents.

4: 3D slideshow transitions for Impress (3.3)

Let's face it: The transitions in Impress are lagging behind. With the release of 3.3, users will get to enjoy new three-dimensional transitions that will really add punch to their presentations.

5: Custom colors to sheet tabs in Calc (3.3)

This may seem trivial to many users, but to spreadsheet power users, being able to edit the color of your sheet tabs can make navigating around those books much faster.

6: XHTML Import filter (3.x)

Most people will think the ability to import XHTML into OpenOffice makes little sense. However, OpenOffice does include an HTML editor. But without the ability to work with XHTML, the OpenOffice HTML editor is fairly outdated. This will bring OpenOffice HTML editor up to snuff.

7: Distributed SCM (3.3)

This will mostly help the developers and those testing nightly builds. The migration from the current CVS code repository will do wonders to clean up the code used in the repositories, which will have numerous long-term advantages/effects.

8: SVG Importer (3.3)

SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) is one of the most requested features for OpenOffice. Yes, OpenOffice does have an external implementation of this feature, but the dependencies are enough to send average users running to their safe place. Once OpenOffice has the internal implementation working in 3.3, SVG graphics editing will be smooth sailing.

9: Animations in SWF export (3.4)

Presentations can be saved as Flash animations, but no animations can be added to the Flash exports. As of 3.4, five common animations (belonging to the entry, emphasis, and exit groups and a set of slide transitions) will be built in. This will give Web-based presentations much more "flash" (pardon the pun).

10: More, more, more (3.x)

More fonts, more templates, more clipart, more file filters. Within the 3.x updates, you will start seeing a plethora of additions, which will mean more of everything. Although many may consider this "bloat," some would say it's necessary to keep up with the competition. And if this more isn't enough for you, you can always search for additions on the OpenOffice.org site. Some of these additions will be in the form of extensions, which (with the upcoming releases) will allow OpenOffice to reach beyond that of the typical office suite.

Still missing?

OpenOffice continues to march on in an attempt to sway users from the competition. When 3.3 is released, features will be added to OpenOffice that will make it on par with the competition. But does OpenOffice have all of the features you need? What would YOU add to it to make it work for you and/or your company?

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

117 comments
reigna
reigna

Ohhhh, I'm thrilled even if I was too late to read this. I would love to explore these apps one by one. Thank you very much.. popular play toys for kids

Aaron Kocourek
Aaron Kocourek

Anyone have an idea on when the next OpenOffice update is coming? The current version is really buggy. Definitely not an OpenOffice fan but I am hoping it improves cause my company requires I use it. Montecristo Cigar

radams36
radams36

Jack, Jack, Jack - PLEASE bring some objectivity to the table. "When 3.3 is released, features will be added to OpenOffice that will make it on par with the competition." So, they're adding an Outlook replacement? They aren't? Then it is not and will never be, for the majority of corporate users, "on par with the competition". Whether you like Outlook or not, it is a KEY component of an Office installation in most corporations. If you're a home user and you like OpenOffice, I say Great. I mean, I love OpenOffice and the fact that it's free. I install it on most of my machines. But it will NEVER gain significant traction in the majority of corporate environments, and will therefore always be a second-place product at best, until the OpenOffice or LibreOffice Powers That Be recognize this and start a project to add an Outlook replacement. And all you Thunderbird fanboys can stop before you start, it's a non-starter for an Outlook replacement. It's a much closer alternative to Outlook Express. Evolution is pretty nice if you're on Linux, but it needs to be ported to Windows and I haven't seen any movement on that in a while. So Flame ON, all you OpenOffice fans. I like OO, but I think it could be SO much better. But the bottom line is, declaring it on a par with MS Office is just unrealistic.

aspardeshi123
aspardeshi123

bug easy to clear, but not cleared. multi column copy paste is a big problem. fix it ya !

zclayton2
zclayton2

Say it ain't so! Or at least let me turn it off easily and permanently.

ron.carlton
ron.carlton

What a completely ridiculous idea to move to the ribbon. I fight with that damn thing every day.

alzie
alzie

Well as an engineer, i just want one little one - Engineering notation in Calc. (Scientific notation that jumps by threes) M$ Office and Gnumeric have had this for a long time. I would like to have this, but doubt it.

shido641
shido641

Ok so I've always experienced the problem of viewing a document in MS office when edited in Open Office. The problem is that when viewed in MS, the layout seems to have moved a little, this is a problem when printing or sending the document to a person with MS. They will obviously see that the alignment is a bit off, this makes you look unprofessional as it seems that you cannot even align your documents properly; but in actual fact it's because of the switch from open office to viewing in MS. The printing problem is only a problem when printing using MS office and not bothering looking at the layout, such is the case in Internet Cafe's etc. Did anyone else experience this problem in the passed releases of open office? Is this issue dealt with in this new release? Please note i am not talking about the document conversion or saving of the document in word format. I am merely talking about the alignment difference

Retired_USAF
Retired_USAF

I hate the ribbon interface (I have O2007 pro); but I was testing out OO the other day. A LARGE spreadsheet I can open on O2007 that takes about 45 seconds, won't open in 15 minutes in OO (I aborted the open).

hariks0
hariks0

Let us have both the Ribbon and the Menus. This is the case of MS Office 2007 and 2010. The Ubit addon does the magic. An similar OOo extension is a must so that we all can the best of both worlds.

johhamp
johhamp

What about adding a program to replace MS Vizio?

jon4t2
jon4t2

I'd like to see them make RTF work. OOo's RTF import/export capabilities are horrible. Basic formatting is lost on export. Fix it, kill it, or push it off into an extension. It's been a known problem for 3.x for some time. And yes, RTF is relevant, if not cutting edge, as a useful document exchange format. (How many old formats does OOo handle?) Had to install AbiWord to get proper functionality.

thill1946
thill1946

I haven't found a good replacement for MS Outlook, that comes with my version of Outlook. Wolud be great if Openoffice had one.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

I don't know anyone that likes it, I don't even know anyone who knows anyone who likes it! Is the entire industry made up of sheep? Just because M$ says we should do it their way, does that mean we no longer have a choice? I certainly hope this 'Renaissance' is an option that can be disabled.

rolltop
rolltop

My word processing and spreadsheet needs are fairly simple. However, I have several applications developed in Access with lots of forms and event triggered code. Give me a straight-forward way to convert those to Base and I'll move, until then I have to stick to MS Office.

Dr.C
Dr.C

The ability to open MS Publisher and MS Works files. At present OOo does 'not quite' everything. Not quite good enough. Better rendering consistency with MS Office - at present it gets most of it right most of the time. Again, not quite good enough. More consistency between the different components (Writer, Calc, Draw etc.) so that features available in one are available in the same way in all. (eg, sorting tables in writer or impress, page numbering in draw, headers and footers consistently presented in all apps etc. etc.) I would rather OOo were better than the competition than that it mimicked it. Yes - there is an inconsistency here, but it resolves itself if by clear and theoretically sound design OOo can offer full MS compatibility as a subset of its capabilities. Oh - and it would be really great if OOo could get the metrics of Arial and Comic Sans fonts correct. Don't get me wrong - OOo is a great product and has earned its palce in my school if not in the hearts and minds of many die-hards. But you did ask...

sullivanjc
sullivanjc

I could really care less about most of what you mentioned. I would probably never need to use Microsoft Office again if the database application in Open Office would let you work with multiple databases and query with tables from both.

garylavery
garylavery

Just thoroughly document (WITH examples) the existing VB and then enhance THAT! Make it as powerful as VBA and nobody will have to worry - OO will get REAL popular.

joel
joel

Instead of bloat, Open Office should concentrate on making the fundamental processes that 99% of users need 99% of the time easier. Examples: Drawing, Table of Contents, Page layout including page numbers. I could name a thousand. I would love for Open Office to supplant more of MSOffice's share so that I could more freely collaborate with people -- and run a Linux OS. However, the suite is not yet there. I say spend the energy on these less than sexy but critical tasks.

RAStauch1
RAStauch1

My only experience with OO on Linux (admittedly, nearly a decade ago) reduced my vocabulary to, "Huh?" I mean, I couldn't even get an application to update, let alone figure out where Linux was putting my stuff! That's not good when I'm a Senior Systems Engineer for the last two decades, and a computer hobbyist since 1971. Now, some of you may be anti-MS, but I think I understand why their install base is so much greater than anything else out there (hint: they didn't have to twist my arm). Which is also how I understand why OO is only getting around to this stuff now! Their junk don't work.

Ron K.
Ron K.

I'll keep that along with my v2.3 and v3.2. Why not?

Compuhorsy
Compuhorsy

I cannot justify using our limited resources to pay for MS Office licensing when OpenOffice does 98% of what our average user needs to do. But there are a few things that are missing or don't always work as they should. Impress needs to play better with MS PPT files. I catch a lot of heat about Impress being slow, clunky, and not always good about importing and playing presentations saved as ppt files. Transitions don't always work. Graphics and text often change position on the slide. Many times the program just quits and kicks users out, losing their unsaved changes in the process. OO needs a find/replace special characters and a change case to sentence case in all modules. Finally, there needs to be an easier way to package the installer to include extensions, preferences, and registration so it can be pushed out from the network and the endusers never get popups about registering or agreements to use a template package. I have followed multiple step-by-step procedures and have yet to be totally successful.

.Martin.
.Martin.

but only when they work ;)

HajoScheepmaker
HajoScheepmaker

I hesitate to mention this, because some people may dislike Visual Basic and it's office-version VBA. But I find it a very (VERY) easy language to get almost ANYTHING done within the office domain. OpenOffice's alternative is in my eyes a horible, endless codelines requiering alternative that is near impossible to read/write. Yeah, it is sort of Java-like I think (not sure if that is a plus) and it is very (overly) Object Oriented, but it is not a handy tool. I would LOVE it if they created something more user-friendly and practical for this. It would also enable people to fashion it much more to their needs. I am not a big MS fan, but on this part I think they have created something almost impossible to beat. Hope to be proved wrong soon!

lmckinney
lmckinney

I would suggest that Open Office needs an improved mail-merge function. We've been trying to move away from MS Office since Star Office 5.2; while Open Office 3 is miles better, it is still only about an 90% solution. No matter how improved Open Office gets, we still manage to find some essential function that it doesn't do, or doesn't do as well as MS Office. Our current essential function is mail-merge. The Open Office mail-merge function works well for its traditional role. However we use the MS mail-merge to create labels by bringing in part data from our ERP system. We haven't yet been able to make this work in Open Office, despite help from friendly people on the forums.

submerj
submerj

Make it easier to import mail from Outlook. Add the ability to open a .pst file or make it so a .pst file can be converted. I would like to move dozens of users to Open Office. Thunderbird is what holds us back. I can never guarantee that they will be able to access old email.

YetAnotherBob
YetAnotherBob

Dia is a flowcharting tool. check it out at http://live.gnome.org/Dia : It doesn't make sense for OOo to include every possible tool. Dia can make your diagrams and flow charts/org charts in a format that OOo can read.

hariks0
hariks0

I could not have agreed any more. If OOo has a counterpart for Outlook, the story would be really different. Why no such software in OOo?

radams36
radams36

Yeah, I actually have gotten used to the ribbon. I sat down and invested the time to learn it (and got my Office 2007 Master certification), and it's a lot like when I made the transition from Excel 4 to Excel 5 (I know, I'm dating myself....) It's a pain at first, but I actually do like it somewhat better. My biggest objection is the inability to customize it (and someone else in this forum said it was 'easy to customize' - I'm calling shenanigans on that one), but that's supposed to be one of the new features in Office 2010. I personally think OpenOffice would be well-served to keep the old style menus as an option for those who want to stick with that interface (which I would have if I could have). But I have to say that the ribbon actually is easier on a lot of things, AFTER you go through the pain of learning it.

AndiRat
AndiRat

Firstly, I agree, the Ribbon concept sucks, however, something that was *very* cool in IBM's custom OOo (Symphony) was a context-sensitive palette. Almost like a ribbon, but more of a toolbar. Whichever component or section you were were working on, would change the palette accordingly. Maybe you can do this in the vanilla OOo and I just haven't looked hard enough ;-)

bcclendinen
bcclendinen

I think this is the most important function. MS files correctly shone 98 to 99% of the time. I only use OOo for personal use but Calc still is not where I want it to be in creating Financial Models for work. It is about where Excel was in the mid to late 90?s. Granted 2007 was actually a down grade from 2003 with the exception of better Pivot tables and conditional formatting. Million rows was nice also but not really necessary. I think they need two paths. One for casual users what is required to become better than MS, secondly for specific categories of business users, what is required to be better than MS. If they concentrate on the first one, the second one will come a lot easier.

Retired_USAF
Retired_USAF

First, after some research, this particular feature was requested in 2002! They thought it might be in 2.x and they are in 3.x now! Don't think it will be there! However, try MySQL, I use it for my website, and it can access multiple databases; and it's free (http://www.mysql.com).

YetAnotherBob
YetAnotherBob

In OOo3.2, I can open several data bases and querry/edit. There is one problem, each is in a separate window. However, by switching between windows, I can look at each. Each can also go into a writer document (I believe, I don't need to do this.) Does this do what you want? Tabs would be nicer. Tabs in OOo for multiple documents/tasks would be nice.

Silverlokk
Silverlokk

I use OpenOffice.org almost exclusively so I don't know how it compares to MSO in regard to drawing, table of contents, page layout, etc. I do use OOo styles extensively, both for paragraphs and pages, and the latter is where I define page layouts. For that matter, OOo Writer has a default page layout that should satisfy most requirements.

aspir8or
aspir8or

If you are making judgements on a product that you haven't tried for a decade, you're a poor excuse for a systems engineer.

Damp47
Damp47

a relational database

Tea.Rollins
Tea.Rollins

Please move into the modern age. VB is a language perpetuated by secretaries and do-nothings. Java and C# are essentially the same language, so it's definitely a good thing. Erase tabs in vb and you lose all readability, and be my guest at defining lambda expressions and linq queries. The way you define certain concepts is indicative of your level of expertise (or lack thereof). I don't like open office, but I like VB even less. In my opinion vba(vbscript) should be replaced with something akin to powershell.

ScarF
ScarF

OOo has VBA support since version 2 and it is improving with every version. Of course, OOo has to keep the pace with MS's changes in VBA and classes. More than this, for writing macros, OOo allows the users to use one of the following languages: Basic, Python, BeanShell scripting and JavaScript. It also comes with a Macro Recorder which generates macros in Basic. I would really recommend you to take a look at this superb feature that is OOo Macros. A final word: there is also the OxygenOffice Professional enhanced version which adds the ability - among others - to run VBA macros in Calc.

martin
martin

...yes, its a shame. There are one or two essentials present in ms office but lacking in openoffice. The thing that unfortunately makes openoffice writer unuseable for us is this; in mail merge you can't select which data you want to use, so if its from an excel sheet you can't select eg records 5 to 10, you have to merge the whole lot which for us is more than 500 and this is waste of time. Its completely daft - or have I missed something?

lodestone
lodestone

I believe submerj is asking OOO to open .pst files from old Outlook emails like MS Word can do. It is Word's engine, after all, does the composing in Outlook. I don't believe s/he said anything about wanting it to be an email client. Submerj mentioned Thunderbird for that. --Allen

garethpn
garethpn

You should be going to Mozilla for Thunderbird feature requests, it's nothing to do with Open Office.

groon
groon

Unless I missed a news release, Thunderbird is a product of the Mozilla team, whereas OpenOffice comes from the OpenOffice.org community with Sun's support. Thunderbird may represent a useful complement to OpenOffice, but it is not produced by the same team.

Retired_USAF
Retired_USAF

14MB+. Before anyone asks, auto computation was turned off. The point is, that with OO, it took 26+ times the amount of time, and it didn't even finish. **If I recall correctly**, it wasn't even 1/2 the way to opening it.

sullivanjc
sullivanjc

In Access, you can create a single query using tables from both databases which can be useful for transferring information or making comparisons. It can often be slow but it works

joel
joel

OO is just harder to use for new users. And some features take so long to figure out that it is not cost effective to figure out how to use the tool. I am sure that OO can do anything you need to. I wrote and published an ebook on OO and managed to get everything working, but it took way longer to figure out than if I had done it - or anyone had done it - in MSOffice.

YetAnotherBob
YetAnotherBob

I jumped into OOo3.2 after reading the request comment. checked the help file. I have some confusion. You have choices of Oracle, Access, MySQL, and some others. Which relational database do you want? SQL seems to be quite well covered. Are you seeking some other relational form? Please be specific.

HajoScheepmaker
HajoScheepmaker

If OpenOffice wants to get big, IT BETTER appeal to secreataries and the like, and not focus on obviously snooty programming guru's who have to get on their knees to stoop to the level of mere mortals like...for insance...myself. I started my remark with the knowledge that not everybody likes VB, for accepable reasons no doubt. I don't see why you have to turn your apperent supperiority into an insult. Especially since your insult has nothing to do with the subject, none what so ever. Oh sorry, I know what is sounding in your head now "can not compute", yeah, I'm sure you can't, it is human stuff ;-)

asitnik
asitnik

That is the main disadvantage of Thunderbird for me. We have only Exchange at work, NO - read that again ,no POP3 or IMAP so TB is not an option here.

Retired_USAF
Retired_USAF

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that OO is bad, I'm just talking about performance comparison. I recommend OO to people that want something like Office. Most of the people that has asked me about it are "John Q. Public", and smaller spreadsheets (for example), is all they use, and OO would met their needs.

Ron K.
Ron K.

No doubt more fun than a relational database. I want a chain gun. Make that two. One for the missus.

santeewelding
santeewelding

That it comes with a chain gun. I could use one of them. More fun than a relational database.