Discovering the New Features of OpenOffice.org 3.0

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Just after our how-to series on OpenOffice.org (OOo) wrapped up, OOo 3.0 was officially released--more specifically, on Oct 13, 2008. Most of the tips and tricks covered in the series, based on version 2.4, will still apply. Though there's a big jump in the version number, there's not a huge difference in the office suite. However, as you can guess, there have been some improvements. This tutorial will introduce you to some of the new features and functionality. Now let's get started!

Start center and new look and feel welcomes you to OOo

The changes made from OOo 2.4 to 3.0 aren't as all eye popping like from the changes Microsoft made from Office 2003 to Office 2007. OOo 3.0 still has the traditional file menus and toolbars--no Ribbon here. The open source developers madeover many toolbar icons to give them a more modern look. Plus when OOo is opened without a document, a start center (see Figure 1) is displayed instead of a blank application. This center makes the office suite a bit more user friendly and inviting. You can hit the buttons to start or open documents, manage templates, or browse Extensions.

Installs on Mac OS X (without X11)

Though you could install OOo on Mac OS X machines in the past, you could only do it with help from X11. This is an implementation of the X Window System, that makes it possible to run X11-based applications in Mac OS X. Starting with OOo 3.0, you can install the suite without this dependency.

Cropping images in Draw and Impress works better

OOo used to only offer the cropping of images via a dialog box, by inputting measurements for how much to cut off from the top, bottom, left, and right. However, version 3.0 offers a less crude way of cropping in Draw and Impress. Like other office or photo applications, now you can "visually crop". As shown in Figure 2, after you click the Crop Picture icon from the toolbar, use the cursors on the edges of the image to crop it. It feels just like if you were to resize an image, but instead of shrinking, it cuts off portions of  the image. After you exit the cropping state, the picture edges will function for resizing purposes. If you find you bit off more than you can chew, just click the Crop Picture toolbar icon again to uncrop or adjust the cropping.

If you are a fan of the Crop dialog box, don't worry, its still available. To bring it up, right-click an image and choose Crop Picture. As with pervious versions of OOo, the dialog box (see Figure 3) sports a thumbnail of the image with cropping marks to help you see how it will look.

Calc in OOo 3.0 now includes a Solver tool to perform what-if analysis, similar to what has been provided by Microsoft Excel. This addition may be especially useful for Mac OS X users, as Office 2008 for Mac discontinued the feature. Another great addition to Calc is Workbook Sharing. When enabled from the Share Document dialog box (by clicking Tools > Share Document), multiple users can open the file, add data, and make changes at the same time. Any conflicts in changes are resolved by the user before writing them to the workbook. The last notable change in Calc is the four-fold increase in the amount of supported columns; 256 to 1,024 columns. This may not affect most users, but those who deal with a mass amount of data will be thankful.

Full table support in Impress

In previous versions of Impress, real tables could not be inserted into presentations, rather a Calc worksheet could be inserted and modified. However, the OOo developers have added native table support for Impress 3.0. To add a table to your presentation, click Insert > Table and on the dialog box that pops up, input the desired amount of rows and columns. As you can see in Figure 6, the Table toolbar and the Table Design task pane will appear so you can modify and design the table.

OOo is free and open, give it a try!

As we discussed, there hasn't been a load of new features introduced in OpenOffice.org 3.0. However, the community still continues to support the office suite with improvements, and it is still comparable to Microsoft Office. If you haven't used OOo, give it a try; it's free!

Eric Geier is an author of many computing and networking books, including Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies (Wiley 2008) and 100 Things You Need to Know about Microsoft Windows Vista (Que 2007).

This article was first published on LinuxPlanet.com.

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