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OpenOffice.org Opens 2.0 Doors

UPDATED: The latest version of the open source office suite is now open for business in what can potentially be a wedge against Microsoft Office.

In beta testing since the spring and more recently available as a release candidate, OpenOffice.org 2.0 is now finalized and ready for download, according to officials at the open source project Thursday.

Developers have taken great pains to make OpenOffice and its components more user-friendly and recognizable to novice users, as the new version is a major upgrade both in terms of look-and-feel and functionality.

New users are no longer required to extract the zipped installation package after download and hunt for the setup executable among the other files. Instead, the program auto-installs when it's double-clicked.

Program names have been given a face-lift, as well. In a new twist, users who upgrade can import their settings from previous editions of the software suite.

Text document, Presentation, Spreadsheet and Drawing in version 1.1.5 are now Writer, Impress, Calc and Draw, respectively.

Version 2.0 features a database as one of the main components of the product suite. Officials said database tools were in previous editions, but were hidden deep in the program. The program, Base, uses a HSQLDB database engine and can be used to view MySQL, Access, ADO and Adabas D files.

As a first-time component of the OpenOffice suite, it's not a full-featured database, but allows users to create new tables, maintain indexes, view tables and edit records.

The software suite now includes default support for the OpenDocument standard. Documents, presentations and spreadsheets in the software suite were previously saved by default in the OpenOffice 1.0 file format.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts recently instituted an IT policy that requires all documents used by its government agencies to be saved, by default, in the OpenDocument standard ratified earlier this year by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).

The move essentially cut Microsoft Office out of the commonwealth's government office as Microsoft said it is not currently supporting OpenDocument in the upcoming Office 12. It also placed a spotlight on the office suites that do support the standard, currently OpenOffice.org, StarOffice, Linux- and Unix-based KOffice and IBM Workplace.

One of the biggest draws to OpenOffice in the past has been its compatibility in opening and viewing Office documents, whether it's a PowerPoint presentation, Excel file or Word document.

Officials said version 2.0 contains significant improvements in compatibility to features found in other office suites. The latest version also includes import support for Corel WordPerfect documents.

Other feature enhancements in OpenOffice.org 2.0 include:

  • Digital signatures can be applied to documents.
  • The word-count feature has been moved to the Tools section and expanded.
  • The PDF export function now lets users link, index and use transition effects. Size and quality can now be modified upon export.
  • Calc now supports up to 65,536 rows of data and includes more data-analysis improvements to its DataPilot feature.

"OpenOffice.org is on a path toward being the most popular office suite the world has ever seen; providing users with safety, choice, and an opportunity to participate in one of the broadest community efforts the Internet has ever seen," said Jonathan Schwartz, Sun Microsystems president and CEO, in a statement.

Germany-based StarDivision acquired the OpenOffice technology in 1999. Sun, in turn, launched OpenOffice.org and licensed the office suite under the GNU Lesser GPL (LGPL).

Sun develops a commercial version of OpenOffice called StarOffice.