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.
As I wrap up these posts on NeoOffice, I can’t help but be impressed by the software. Are there rough edges? Yes. Are there some usability issues that need to be resolved? Yes. However, the size and scope of this project is just impressive, especially when considering the small size of the development team and the fact that this is not commercial software – it is entirely free. Its very existence (as well as that of its parent project OpenOffice) sternly challenges the notion that we as consumers are obligated to continually pay for expensive productivity software.
Will NeoOffice supplant my normal workflow involving Keynote and Pages? Probably not. I like these two applications too much to give them up, and I will happily upgrade to the next versions of these applications whenever Apple rolls them out. On the other hand, can NeoOffice replace my Office installation? That is a more interesting question.
On my PowerMac G5, Microsoft Office outperforms NeoOffice at every turn. It’s more reliable, and it is more stable. On the other hand, NeoOffice and MS Office are very comparable in terms of performance and stability on my new MacBook Pro. I still see some weird redraw issues in NeoOffice, but not near what was present on the G5. (By the way, these performance gains support my theory that the PPC version of NeoOffice is being throttled by the Java code.) The fact that I like the layout of NeoOffice’s interface better than the mess of floating toolbars that is Microsoft Office 2004 is additionally helpful.
I think I’m going to try to supplant Word and PowerPoint with the NeoOffice equivalents for the next couple of months and see how things go. Those are my two most commonly used Microsoft applications, so this will grant me plenty of opportunities to grow even more familiar with NeoOffice and grow accustomed to its quirks. However, I will probably still upgrade to Office 2008 when it becomes available later this year, especially if I can still get it through the university.
As a couple of final notes, starting February 27, the NeoOffice team will begin seeding a new milestone of their product to members of their Early Access Program. One key feature of this release is support for OpenXML documents and VBA macro support. Also, the OpenOffice team is currently working on a Mac OS X native version of the original, and I’ll be checking that out when it becomes available. Ideally, I think it would be great if the OpenOffice team and the NeoOffice team combined resources as opposed to creating competing free products.
By and large, I’ve really been getting into NeoOffice. As I learn more about coding, I will definitely look into contributing toward ways I hope the product can be improved. It amazes me that something like this can exist in an economy that has become so centered around commercial solutions and specific vendors, and I hope NeoOffice continues its development for many years to come.