I’ve heard about the project known as OpenOffice on many occasions as a viable alternative to Microsoft Office, and I was pleased to find a Macintosh version of the office suite on the project’s website. What did not please me was the X11 requirement for the OS X version. Fortunately, it was not long before I discovered a project called NeoOffice written in a combination of Cocoa, Carbon, and Java. It’s based on the OpenOffice 2.0 code base but runs natively in the OS X aqua environment.
Over the course of a few posts, I’m going to be looking at the text editor, NeoOffice Writer, and the presentation module, NeoOffice Impress, to see how they compare to Microsoft Word 2004 and Microsoft PowerPoint 2004 in daily use. These articles are not going to be deeply technical or philosophical. They are just going to reflect my thoughts and feelings as I take the software through some paces.
In addition to Writer and Impress, NeoOffice includes modules called Calc, Draw, Math, and Base.Each of these has unique functions and adds value to the overall NeoOffice package. I am not a heavy user of these features, so I am not ready to speak to the quality of these products. This post will just let you see what they look like and what functionality they provide.
This is a very important component for MS Office compatibility – the spreadsheet application. Excel is used and misused in many work environments for a variety of tasks. Calc is the only Excel alternative on the Mac platform that can run macros in the spreadsheets, and when Office 2008 ships for the Macintosh, NeoOffice Calc will be the only solution for macro-embedded Excel files as the next Mac version of Office is dropping macro support. This fact alone should make Calc alluring for Macintosh business users.
Excel & Calc side-by-side
I simply imported an Excel spreadsheet I use a lot at school to see how it works in Calc, and I’m happy to say that everything seems intact. As you can see, some of the formatting in the top cells disappeared, but that is hardly mission critical. The little I know about Excel works as expected in Calc, and I have to say that the NeoOffice alternative is much less cluttered. (As an aside, MS Office 2008 for Mac is finally ditching those annoying floating toolbars.)
Math & Base
I really can’t say much about either of these as I have no experience with math and database programs. However, it is important to note that these programs fill voids in the world of Macintosh productivity suites. No Macintosh office suite ships with a database solution – not even the most expensive version of MS Office. I suppose you could count AppleWorks, but Apple doesn’t really support that suite anymore as iWork is slowly assuming its place in Apple’s software matrix.
Math seems to be a very straightforward equation editor, and I had little trouble figuring the application out. Base has a much steeper learning curve, but it looks similar to the limited exposure I’ve had to Access. Database users should be comfortable here, and the program is fairly flexible, supporting Access, MySQL, and other popular database formats.
Math and Base in action
Many Mac users remember the drawing module that was a part of AppleWorks. Unfortunately, while Pages and Keynote have some nice drawing tools, there has not been a simple drawing application included with Macs for quite a while. While Draw was fun to use, like MS Paint on Windows, I really couldn’t see myself ever using this module (although it is much more flexible than Paint).
NeoOffice is a very complete package. Basically every element you would expect to find in a business-class productivity suite is here, and the entire package is free. While I have some reservations about the current version of NeoOffice, the value of the suite is undeniable. There is a ton of functionality packaged here, more than is available with any single commercial Macintosh productivity package. That fact alone makes it worth downloading and trying out.
Stay tuned. For my next NeoOffice-themed post, I’ll be delving into a small wish-list for the application.