The OpenOffice.org product has been around since 2002 as an open source project sponsored by Sun Microsystems and then Oracle. It has seen many updates and has also derived alternative office productivity suites such as LibreOffice, NeoOffice and IBM Lotus Symphony. The Symphony product which was released in 2008 used the core OpenOffice.org code base, which was then built on the Eclipse platform and given a newly IBM designed award winning user interface.
As the IBM services lead for Symphony, the customers that I have worked with worldwide have all indicated that the user experience was a key aspect of their decision to implement the product for their users… the key components of the user experience being the “properties side bar” and the range of free “plug-ins” that allow additional functionality and integration to both IBM and non IBM systems to be added.
The side bar provided the user with a quick and very visual method of accessing the most frequently used options when creating a document, spreadsheet or presentation and dramatically reduced the education time required to be be productive with Symphony.
In 2011, IBM announced that the Symphony code would be contributed to the newly created Apache OpenOffice (AOO) community and over the past 2 years, as the AOO community has come together, debated, agreed, planned and finally started to build the AOO v4 product which is currently due for release in late June, it has been interesting to observe how the code contribution has been used, and how components such as the side bar have been incorporated into the AOO product.
As I write this blog post, we are finally at a stage of having snapshot builds of AOO v4 available for download. You can see the Symphony side bar integration when you create a document, sheet or presentation at the moment.
The snapshots are available for Windows, Linux and Apple Mac platforms and from the testing I have carried out to date, we have a reasonably stable product that has also improved greatly its support for files created using the Microsoft Office 97 – 2003 product (.doc, .xls, .ppt) – currently there is in excess of 300 fixes incorporated in this release 🙂
The templates and extensions sites have been made more stable and its likely that a new logo for AOO v4 will be seen soon to mark this significant release.
I believe that Apache OpenOffice v4 is a highly significant product release – it shows that a viable free of charge office productivity suite can accommodate sections of users at organisations of all sizes, it retains the appeal and strengths of previous versions that have achieved a large and dedicated following, whilst building a more consumable product that will gain new followers.
Watch out for the official release of Apache OpenOffice v4 on the official community website.