If you’ve never heard of OpenOffice (and I’m not just talking Apple here) you should educate yourself. It is a full “office suite” that can compete fully with the likes of Microsoft Office, Corel Office, Lotus SmartSuite and Apple’s “iWork” suite. It actually has a rich and fascinating history, dating back to its origin as “Star Office”, a German product that was proudly touting advanced Object Oriented design and cross compatibility between Windows and IBM’s OS/2. We’re talking circa 1995 here.
I don’t remember the particulars, but Sun bought Star Office and did the split-personality part-open-source, part-commercial development thing, like Netscape had with Mozilla. Essentially they made it an open source application “OpenOffice” to attract a wide developer base while keeping a closed-license version they could charge money for. OpenOffice is really a viable product on two platforms: Linux/Unix and Windows. For a long time it has been a viable alternative to Microsoft Office, and some government agencies in the US and abroad have attempted to standardize on it in order to escape Microsoft’s expensive licensing. (To mixed results.)
“So where’s the Apple OS X version?” you may ask. Well, the answer to that is far from simple.
You see, one of the biggest difficulties in application portability is supporting multiple GUI models. Unix has a windowing system called “X11”, Microsoft has Windows, and Apple OS X has this thing called “Aqua” based on Display Postscript. These three windowing systems are as different as a watermelon is from a tomato. (They’re both fruit, and they’re both red inside. That where the similarities end.)
The original Star Office had Windows support, and the release of OpenOffice to the Open Source world motivated enough energy to spawn the X11 version. But there has simply never been enough demand to motivate the third OS X / Aqua development. Actually, that’s half true. OS X does have an optional X11 subsystem. If you use Gimp for OS X, you’re using the X11 subsystem. But frankly, I consider X11 and the Apple integration to be so clumsy as to not be viable. (Some will argue with that.)
But recently a spin-off group decided to run with the OpenOffice for OS X development, and they’ve titled their product “NeoOffice”. From what I’ve read, it actually uses OS X’s Java integration to handle the Windowing. Reading that was enough to raise my eyebrows, but I figured nothing was lost from downloading and trying this puppy out.
Now I don’t have time to write a proper “product review” article, but this thing totally rocks my world! NeoOffice will create an handle the following documents:
- Word Processing documents
- “Presentations” similar to Apple’s Keynote or Microsoft’s PowerPoint
- Databases similar to Microsoft Access!!!!
- Drawings similar to Visio
- HTML documents
- XML Form documents (don’t know what this is exactly yet)
In terms of feature completeness, this suite is amazing. It really makes Apple’s iWork suite look pale by comparison. The Database support is something I would kill for… the inability to easily manage data sources and integrate them with documents has been one of the only Apple deficiencies that keep driving me to boot up the ol’ PC at least a couple of times a month. Apple should be deeply ashamed of their pathetic ODBC manager and lack of universal relational database support. How many years has it been, and the ODBC manager is still broken?
NeoOffice is officially deemed Alpha-level quality, so I wouldn’t go whole-hog using as my primary document system quite yet. You could, just hit the “save” button frequently if you do. And I say this as a “cover-my-ass disclaimer” rather than a condemnation of stability. I haven’t gotten the app to crash yet, and I’ve been kicking the tires pretty hard now. Color-me more than impressed: I would call myself stunned.
Now Apple, light a fire under your own butts and do something impressive with your klunky, overpriced iWork suite. For what you offer for $100 you should be ashamed of yourselves!