If you’re like most IT folks, you’ve been using the main
Microsoft Office products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access) for as long as
you can remember. After all Microsoft Office has come pre-installed on new PCs
for years and many companies have standardized on it. Having been stuck in the
Microsoft Office world for so long, chances are that you haven’t had the need
or the interest in experimenting with another office suite, let alone an open
source office suite. However, now there’s really a good reason to express an
interest an open source office suite–OpenOffice.org 2.0.

OpenOffice.org 2.0, which was officially released to the
public in October 2005, is a full service office suite and includes a word
processor called Writer, a spreadsheet called Calc, a presentation creator
called Impress, and a database called Base. Each application in OpenOffice.org
2.0 rivals its Microsoft Office counterpart in every way making the entire
package a truly significant competitor. Raising the bar is the fact that OpenOffice.org
2.0 uses the standardized OpenDocument format, which is XML-based file format
designed to remove the barriers imposed on documents by proprietary,
vendor-specific, file formats. Oh, yea, and it’s free!

In this article, I’ll take a look at some of the compelling
new features in OpenOffice.org 2.0 as
well as provide a brief overview of each of the applications. In upcoming
articles on OpenOffice.org 2.0, I’ll focus in on each of the applications and
take a closer look at performing common tasks.

Where did OpenOffice.org 2.0 come from?

Let’s start with a history lesson. Even though you’ve been a
Microsoft Office user, chances are good that you’ve heard the name OpenOffice.org
before. However, you probably assumed that the office suite was primarily used
to promote the use of Linux as a viable desktop operating system worthy of
competing with Windows. To some extent that’s probably true.

While it would be much easier to simply call the product OpenOffice, that name is trademarked by
another company. As such, the official name of the product is OpenOffice.org, which naturally leads to
the unique abbreviation of OOo.

However, OpenOffice.org was actually born out of Sun
Microsystems’ 1999 acquisition of a German company called Star Division that had
created a notable office suite called StarOffice. Sun purchased StarOffice as a
means to compete with Microsoft for a share of the office suite market.

In 2000, Sun launched StarOffice into the open-source arena
as OpenOffice.org in order to increase its popularity and to promote innovative
design from the open source community. In addition to Sun programmers and a
cadre of open source developers, Red Hat, Novell, Intel, and a company called Propylon,
which focuses on automation solutions for legislative and regulatory documentation,
all work together on the creation of OpenOffice.org

While OpenOffice.org is free, Sun, which is the primary
sponsor of the project, still offers a commercial version of StarOffice that
gets its code-base from OpenOffice.org. From time to time, Sun takes the
OpenOffice.org code base, integrates proprietary features, and releases the combined
product as a new version of StarOffice. In fact, a month before OpenOffice.org
2.0 was released, Sun released StarOffice 8, which includes all of the new
features found in OpenOffice.org 2.0 as well as a host of additional features.

The OpenDocument factor

While there are a host of cool features in OpenOffice.org
2.0 that are designed to make the office suite as comprehensive as possible as
well as improve usability, the most intriguing enhancement has to be the support
for the OpenDocument file format. As I mentioned, OpenDocument is an XML file
format that can be used by any office application to create documents that are
free from being locked in to proprietary, vendor-specific, file formats, thus
allowing the creation of text, spreadsheet, chart, and graphical documents that
can be viewed, edited, and printed regardless of what office product is used to
create the document.

The reason for calling this the most intriguing enhancement
is that the OpenDocument format was approved as an OASIS (Organization for the
Advancement of Structured Information Standards) standard. OASIS is a nonprofit international consortium that
drives the development and adoption of many e-business standards including XML-related
standards and specifications. In addition, OpenDocument has been submitted to
ISO (International Standards Organization) for ratification as a public

As such, OpenDocument stands to make a big splash in the
industry and OpenOffice.org 2.0 is the first open source office suite to provide
full fledged support for the OpenDocument standard. For more details on the
OpenDocument standard, check out the OASIS
OpenDocument datasheet

The applications

As you can imagine, OpenOffice.org 2.0 provides a collection
of applications that work in concert to provide all the features you’d expect
from a standard office suite. And to help make it easy for anyone who has used
Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org 2.0’s designers have spent a great deal of
time making the user interface of each application look and feel like their
counterparts. As such, if you’re currently using Microsoft Office, you’ll feel
right at home if you decide to experiment with or transition to OpenOffice.org


Writer is of course the word processor and it offers just
about every necessary feature that Word provides. Some things are missing,
(there isn’t a grammar checker) some things have different names, (instead of
VBScript for macros you have OpenOffice.org Basic or JavaScript) and of course
some things are in different places. (Be sure to keep in mind that the OpenOffice.org
2.0’s Help system is very comprehensive and even provides a huge table for
translating Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org terms.) However, you’ll find
things in Writer that aren’t in Word. For instance, Writer has the ability to directly
export documents to Portable Document Format (PDF) files. Writer can also
double as a very functional WYSIWYG HTML editor and even comes with a host of
graphical elements for creating very nice looking Web pages.


Calc is OpenOffice.org 2.0’s spreadsheet application and
provides everything that Excel does for compiling, organizing, and graphically
displaying your data. This version of Calc provides support for up to 65,536 rows
of data and its DataPilot feature makes it easy to import external data and
manipulate it in whatever way you want. Once you’ve got your data looking just
right, you can save your spreadsheet as a PDF file for easy distribution.


Impress is a presentation program and just like PowerPoint,
will allow you to create some pretty, well, impressive presentations. While it
lacks the number of presentation templates found in PowerPoint, it more than
holds its own when it comes to special effects, animation, and file format
capabilities. Not only can you export presentations to PDF files for a sharing
a static version of your presentation, but you can also export a presentation
as Macromedia Flash (SWF) files allowing them to be played on any computer with
the Flash player installed.


Base, a database program like Microsoft Access, is a new
addition to the OpenOffice.org 2.0 suite. In addition to allowing you to easily
create databases, forms and reports with intuitive wizards, Base can work as a
front-end to a variety of existing database systems, including Access databases
(JET), ODBC data sources and MySQL.

Other apps

In addition to the big four applications, the OpenOffice.org
2.0 suite bundles in a couple of other handy little applications. First off
there’s Draw, a great vector graphics editor with a feature set comparable
CorelDRAW and is perfect for creating flowcharts. Then there’s Math, which like
the Microsoft Equation Editor is a tool for creating and editing mathematical

Stay tuned

In this article, I’ve introduced you to OpenOffice.org 2.0
and provided a brief overview of the suite’s applications. In future articles,
I plan to investigate OpenOffice.org 2.0 in more detail. Stay tuned!