OpenOffice.org 3.1: Better Performance

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The 3.0 release of OpenOffice left some issues in the productivity suite. This new version makes a good job of fixing them

It’s been less than a year since Sun Microsystems’ OpenOffice.org hit its major 3.0 release, but the next version of the open-source, cross-platform productivity suite is already available, complete with a slate of feature enhancements and performance tweaks.

After testing OpenOffice.org 3.1 on both Windows XP and Ubuntu Linux systems, I found Version 3.1 a worthwhile upgrade, particularly for those who work with charts and graphics within their documents, spreadsheets and presentations (OpenOffice 3.1 is also available for Apple’s OS X and Sun’s Solaris).

Featurewise, OpenOffice.org 3.1 matches up fairly well with Microsoft’s Office. In addition, the OpenOffice.org team has done to make its suite compatible with Office’s traditional binary and newer, XML file formats.

With that said, the only way to truly determine whether OpenOffice.org can serve as a replacement for – or complement to – Microsoft Office in your organisation is to try out the suite with your own documents and processes. Since OpenOffice.org is free to download and use, the barrier to trying it out is rather low.

Calc Faster, Friendlier

Some of the most dramatic enhancements in OpenOffice.org 3.1 involve the performance boosts that the project’s developers have managed to wring out of the suite’s spreadsheet component, Calc. In particular, the team addressed the so-called “Zaske Case,” in which a spreadsheet with many formulas referencing the same range of cells took much longer to process changes in that range than did Microsoft’s Excel.

In Version 3.1, the OpenOffice.org team erased this gap by broadcasting cell changes to affected formulas in bulk, rather than through repetitive broadcasts. In my tests, a recalculation that took 14 seconds on Calc Version 3.0 took 1 second on Version 3.1.

Another notable improvement in Calc 3.1 involves the application’s row-sorting toolbar control, which now behaves more sanely by default. When I hit one of the sort buttons in Calc’s toolbar, the application correctly identified my column headers and sorted the data beneath them accordingly. In Version 3.0, the sort buttons paid no heed to my headers, requiring me to visit a sort dialogue to tell Calc that headers were present.

Elsewhere in Calc, the spreadsheet application has picked up the view-zooming slider control that debuted in OpenOffice.org’s Writer 3.0, which saves a trip to the application’s view dialogue. Along similar lines, Calc has adopted Excel’s style of sheet renaming — I could double-click on a sheet tab to rename it, rather than do the deed through a right-click menu.

I also appreciated Calc 3.1’s new formula tool tips, which would pop up after I began typing in a formula to remind me of the proper syntax for the function at hand.