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.
So far, my experience with NeoOffice has been a positive one, but I can’t help but feel this application seems out of place in Mac OS X. Here are some points I’ve accumulated. Please note that some would be far easier to implement than others. In an ideal world, any of these could be achievable, but I understand that the NeoOffice team is very small, so few or none of these wishes may make future versions.
Native Interface Components
NeoOffice seems to rely on Java’s cross-platform interface elements to fit into Mac OS X. As noted in the post about look-and-feel, this works – but only to a point. Some interface elements, like the close button, don’t behave as they should, and many Aqua-fied Java elements just look awkward. Moving forward, it would be nice if NeoOffice began to slowly adopt an entirely Aqua native interface that fully blended into the Mac OS X environment. Right now, the interface still feels foreign despite its shiny exterior.
iLife Media Browser
This one may be harder to implement since I don’t think Apple has a public API for interfacing with the iApps. Still, some programs like RapidWeaver and Swift Publisher have pulled it off. There is even a shareware application called Media Browser that gives users a universal iLife media browser. This would hopefully be a part of making NeoOffice play nicer with iPhoto and iTunes media.
Drag & Drop Improvements
I noticed many times that I tried to just drop an image into a NeoOffice document window directly from the Finder or iPhoto, the image did not appear. I had to go through the “Insert > Image > From File…” method. If you are like me and keep all images in iPhoto, this is not a fun solution at all. Hopefully, future versions will offer better drag-and-drop support.
Drag & Drop or a media browser (like the one shown here from RapidWeaver) are both more efficient than browsing for an iPhoto image.
Modular or Not Modular
This last one is pretty big in terms of what philosophy NeoOffice is following. Right now, NeoOffice is a modular application. This means you open one application to access all of its components. This is in contrast to Microsoft Office or Apple iWork, for example, which are application suites. The programs work together, but you open the application unique to the kind of document you wish to create (presentation, spreadsheet, text document, etc.). The problem I run into with NeoOffice’s modular state is that I must open a Writer document first, regardless of what I wish to create. Then I can choose a different document type from the application menu or the Dock menu.
It would be nice if, when NeoOffice is launched, a project selector of some kind would appear. I’m partial to the one that appeared when launching Appleworks 6 that gave you access to each module, your recent documents, and some templates and assistants (think wizards) by way of a series of tabs. It was clan, uncluttered, and it got the job done. If NeoOffice wants to remain modular, it really should adopt a project launcher like this. Otherwise, each module should be a separate application, making NeoOffice into an application suite instead.
AppleWorks Starting Points. Image from Wikipedia.
There are other things I would like to see – soft shadows, better translucency effects, better scroll-wheel support in drop-down lists (like the font menu) – but these are really some of the bigger elements that would make NeoOffice an even better experience for end users such as myself. None of these are really deal-breaker quality exclusions, but including features like these would help NeoOffice blend in even better with Mac OS X and other applications.