OpenOffice 1.1.1 Experience Report

by Eric M. Burke

I started using OpenOffice 1.1.1 about a month or so ago. I wanted to use the presentation package for my RSS talk at OCI last Friday.


For me, the compelling features of OpenOffice are:


  • It is free. I have three computers and am tired of
    paying the license fees for MS Office.

  • It has built-in PDF export capability. I've used third-party PDF tools for Windows in the past, but it's nice to have that built-in.


  • OpenOffice is "good enough". It has its share of quirks, but it gets the job done.





Quirks



I encountered a few issues with the presentation package. It seems to turn on a password feature automatically. One day I opened my file and it prompted for a password. Talk about scary! Luckily, it wanted a blank password.


The other issue, a much more serious one, was that images vanished. I had pasted them in from the clipboard. I'm assuming they were stored as links to the original image, which was in some temporary Windows file. At any rate, I fixed the problem by first saving my images to the same folder as my presentation file, then inserting them as links.


Incidentally, these are known issues.



Usability



So far, I've figured out every thing I need to do by experimenting. I'm very proficient with MS Office, so OpenOffice slowed me down because I don't (yet) know where everything is at. I do have the impression that OpenOffice is slightly less organized than MS Office. But the differences are very minor.

Stability


Nothing has crashed yet. But then again, MS Office never crashes on me, either.

Conclusions?



For anybody who is reasonably proficient with computer software, OpenOffice is easily good enough. They REALLY need to fix the problems with embedded images, however.


In my opinion, This article from Microsoft is the best evidence that OpenOffice is starting to get really good. If OpenOffice was not a threat, they'd ignore it.


15 Comments

Jonathan Gennick
2004-03-30 07:38:35
MS Office never crashes?
You haven't had MS Office crash on you? Word crashes on me with depressing frequency. Usually, in my case at least, crashes or other bad things seem to happen most often after a Word document gets passed through several people, all of whom are using a different release of Word. Have all those people make changes with revision-tracking on, and comment using the embedded comment feature, and, well, let's just say I worry a lot when I get a document like that back.


Just last week I had Word crash repeatedly on several documents such as I've just described. Sometimes Word won't crash, but will spin and burn 99% or more off my CPU. Sometimes I'm able to use OpenOffice to fix things, by running a badly-behaving Word document through OpenOffice and then saving it back as a Word file again.


I like Word, but it has its share of problems, and it's certainly not crash-proof.

burke_e
2004-03-30 07:46:37
MS Office never crashes?
I had similar problems with an older version of Word, but not the current version. I won't claim that office never crashes. The latest version just never crashed for me. That's all I'm saying.
vesperdem
2004-03-30 10:34:34
RE: MS Office never crashes?
I use Outlook, Word, and Excel (all part of Office 2003) on a regular basis, and have only had problems with Outlook giving me some problems when I first installed it. I haven't seen Outlook crash in a couple of months now.


I have looked at OOo, but I'm conserned about the lack of a decent e-mail client. Previous versions of Outlook totally sucked, but Outlook 2003 is just about perfect. I have tested it with SPAM and it get's about 98% of it with out any help from other filters! They finally implemented a system for not getting graphics from external sources to help prevent SPAM. Smart folders are really useful!


I find myself much more organized with Outlook 2003 than I have ever been with other e-mail clients, and I have tried several (Eudora, The Bat!, PocoMail, Mozilla, Pegasus, and others)


Do I need the features that Office 2003 has vrs. OOo? I actually used a PivotTable just last week. Those things are truly incredible! I don't remember of OOo has PivotTables, however, I really want that feature now. It helps me break down my Cell Phone bill, which has 4 phones on it. I also use Excel for things that others wouldn't have even imagined. I have used it to layout screens for programs. Making each cell 10px by 10px, I can draw boxes to create buttons and group panels, merge cells to created edit fields, lists, etc...


I don't use a ton of power that Word offers, so I could probably do with OOo there.


The rest, I could do with switching without any concerns since I don't use them that much.


I'll probably check OOo out again soon to see if they have improved things, but when I last looked at it, 1.0.?, I wasn't all that impressed. Of course, I'm not paying for Office 2003, thanks to a buddy of mine with 10 licenses that loaned me 2 of them. :)

nedrichards
2004-03-30 11:01:40
RE: MS Office never crashes?
You can use PivotTables in OOo Calc. They just don't call them that. Can't remember exactly what but a quick search of the help should, er, help.
mvolkmann
2004-03-30 11:39:48
more quirks than listed
You didn't mention that the PDF produced by OpenOffice caused Acrobat to lock up every time you visited a certain page. That's more troubling than any of the quirks you mentioned. I want to dump MS Office too, but OpenOffice doesn't seem quite stable enough to me yet.
burke_e
2004-03-30 12:00:57
more quirks than listed
I didn't mention that because I don't know if that is an OpenOffice problem. The exact same PDF file is on my web site and works just fine. It was Acrobat Reader that locked up, but only when reading that particular page of the PDF file from the CD I burned.
jwenting
2004-03-30 22:47:56
MS Office never crashes?
Never had Word crash or hang since switching from Office 95 to Office 2000...
And even before that it was rare.


Outlook sometimes hangs, but that's either the AV or the spamkiller plugins I've installed which aren't completely stable. Hardly Microsoft's fault as they're 3rd party plugins.

bazzargh
2004-03-31 02:12:16
RE: MS Office never crashes?
"I have looked at OOo, but I'm conserned about the lack of a decent e-mail client. "


I have a similar problem - I've looked using Cessna aeroplanes instead of my Convert-a-car, and none of them seem to be usable as a family car? Previous versions of the Pat Pending mobile sucked, but hey, he finally implemented seatbelts.


Seriously speaking, there are many reasons not to like outlook, but the one that put me in the 'never again' camp was the impossibility of recovering your emails in their original format (for export to natively-RFC822 mail systems, as opposed to X.400). Once your mail is in there, you'll never get it out again. (I just checked with the - unused - copy of O2K3 I have installed here and the export options haven't changed since O98 - still they think I might want my email as csv not mbox...)


Yes, I like excel, too, but I think there are only tenuous links between the office apps, the only reasons for bundling them are (for MS) lock in, (for customers) discounts, and (for OOo) to compete for mindshare with MS Office - not because a spreadsheet and an email client "belong" together.

hewhomustbeconfused
2004-03-31 05:03:02
You poor guy ...
Wait until you need a table where a cell needs to cross a page boundary ... or better yet, where a cell occupies more than one page.


Wait until you need to collaborate on the preparation of a document with a Word user.


Wait until you find out that all your carefully formatted documents created in other products need to be re-edited to achieve the same effect.


Wait until you get tired of the SLOOOOOOOW document load times, particularly for spreadsheets.


Wait until ...


... until you come running back to Microsoft Office which, while not perfect, is far superior to Open Office.


Oh ... and then you can wait until each morning, when you get your daily dose of hilarity browsing the oooforum.org problem list, laughing at the misfortune of those still waiting to come to their senses.


burke_e
2004-03-31 06:01:44
You poor guy ...
Thanks for the advice - I will wait. If I start encountering all sorts of problems that are wasting my time, I'll buy a new Office license for my new PC. But since OpenOffice works fine for me, I have no rational reason to go buy office.
vesperdem
2004-04-01 10:43:06
RE: MS Office never crashes?
RFC822? X.400? Not being a Linux person, I have no idea what those are. RFC822 sounds vaguely familuar, but that's about it. If I ever need this export you mention, I'll have to reconsider...


When it comes to the format of my e-mail, I haven't seen any other mail client produce HTML mail better than Outlook. Now I know that HTML mail is dangerous. However, a lot of the newsletters I receive are HTML based and make them a lot easer to read.


The point I was trying to make about a e-mail client in OOo is that I haven't found a better e-mail client than Outlook. If I didn't have the free licenses to Office, I would be buying Outlook 2003 ASAP. I'm more than willing to pay $100 for an e-mail client that works as advertised!

aspinei
2004-04-02 01:22:32
Positive experience in production environment
My current employer is using OpenOffice in production environment before I came here (summer 2003). Basically, all IT people have OpenOffice and we have even standardized SXW as the choice format for documentation. For external communication we are exporting these documents as PDF (which presents some undeniable advantages, such as being slightly harder to tamper than a DOC document).
Only people having MSFT Office suite are secretaries and some on-the-field commercials, which might have contact with a lot of documents from external sources. This saved tens of Office licences, potentially thousands of euros; there were no najor complaints or problems with Oo until now.
Since summer, I had not encountered any problem among these mentioned here (most probably, I do not need and use the advanced features which might raise incompatibility issues). So far, Oo is rock stable and a good product overall. Of course, Office suite is undeniably more feature-rich, but its utility in a specific setting like mine and my IT coworkers is questionable, especially when we have a decent free alternative available.
bazzargh
2004-04-02 05:15:38
RE: MS Office never crashes?
RFC822 = internet mail - the format almost ALL your messages will be in (whether you use mac, windows, linux, whatever)
X.400 = a competing ISO standard, implemented in Exchange. You'll only get mail in this format from your intranet, if at all.


Both of these are orthogonal to the HTML mail issue, I'm talking about the packet that contains your message. Most mail tools use the open RFC822 format throughout, and so you can migrate mail between clients easily - thats why its important to me. Have you never changed jobs?


Microsoft convert RFC822 to X.400 at Exchange, then store messages in Outlook in a proprietary format (it used to be the access mdb format?), and you can't get the original mail back. The upshot is, once you start using outlook, you can't leave outlook and take your mail with you intact.

burke_e
2004-04-02 06:01:18
Positive experience in production environment
Well said! Thanks for the feedback.
dank
2004-04-11 02:46:28
Fix on the way in OpenOffice 2.0
OpenOffice 2.0 will fix the problems with
large cells and with formatting not coming
across properly when editing .doc files.


See http://kegel.com/openoffice/q.html
for an overview of issues fixed by
(and yet to be fixed in) OpenOffice 2.0.
In particular, look at the row titled
ms_interoperability; the links there
list the kinds of problems left in the
current OpenOffice 2.0 snapshot that
would bother people trying
to collaborate with Microsoft Office users.
I've been watching, and things are improving
noticably.