OK, now OpenOffice is definitely good enough

OK, now OpenOffice is definitely good enough

Summary: There is a reason that the OpenOffice.org 3.0 servers are struggling to keep up with demand.


There is a reason that the OpenOffice.org 3.0 servers are struggling to keep up with demand. OO.org 3.0 really is a serious upgrade over version 2.4 and makes NeoOffice irrelevant for Mac OS X users (previously, OpenOffice only worked within X11; While NeoOffice did a great job porting OO.org to native OS X, OO.org 3.0 works out of the box in OS X as a native Aqua application).

Last week I asked if OpenOffice was good enough. The general consensus? OO.org is good enough to start a flame war, but we're not really sure if it's good enough to be a serious competitor to MS Office.

Now that OO.org 3.0 is out, I'm having a much tougher time seeing both sides of the issue here (I actually like Office 2007/2008, by the way; I think they're slick, well-polished, and highly functional). I had never liked the OpenOffice equation editor; this version brings a very nice graphical and text-based hybrid editor to us math teachers. Mail merge was clunky in OO.org; this version brings a mail merge wizard and improved label templates. Outline numbering tended to be a bit kludgy for notetaking in OO; this version improves the stability and interface of outlining.

Annotations are now incredibly easy to add (Insert, Note) and Office 2007/2008 formats are supported across the board. While Microsoft has dumped VBA support in Office 2008, OO.org users can run Visual Basic scripting, as well as Python and Javascript.

I'm not actually bashing MS Office here. It's a great suite and they still have something that OpenOffice lacks: Publisher. However, Publisher was lacking on the Mac platform anyway and *nix users haven't had access to MS Office (including Publisher) without some serious Wine work. Speaking of Access, OpenOffice continues to bring a solid database offering to all platforms. Is it as powerful as Access? I don't think so (let's face it - Access 2007 rocks). However, Mac, *nix, and Windows users can all interchange databases and use OO.org Base as a front end to a variety of data sources (including MySQL).

OpenOffice.org is not a clone of Office 2007 (good call, Sun). It's a full-featured suite that gives us everything we need from MS Office and the world of productivity software while keeping the bottom line quite a bit more reasonable (you don't get any more reasonable than free).

Yes, OO.org has been good enough for a long time; the latest release should leave little doubt for any users who had been on the fence.

Topics: Collaboration, Apple, Microsoft, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Sadly, it falls short of my needs

    I have a spreadsheet that works beautifully in Excel.
    It's unbelievably slow for OpenOffice Calc. 12
    minutes to open, each drop down takes 2 minutes to

    No scripts, just formulas.
    Ad Astra
    • I believe the reason is ...

      ... that Open Office is parsing the data while MSO is reading it directly into memory because it's binary. Gotta love those proprietary formats via Microsoft. ;)
      • BS

        You have to parse any data to get it to where you can interact
        with it in human-readable format.
        • You need to get out more ...

          You can save the data in XLS binary format on Excel, a proprietary format which is going to load faster. See for yourself:


          If you're going to make a statement at least make it factual so you don't look like an idiot. ;)


          I'll show you the interesting part of the source so you can't blame me for not finding it:

          [i]"Not too surprising. These binary formats are optimized for the guts of MS Office. We would expect them to load faster in their native application.

          So what about the new XML formats? There has been recent talk about the "Angle Bracket Tax" for XML formats. How bad is it?

          * Microsoft Office 2003 with OOXML = 1.5 seconds per 100K cells
          * OpenOffice 2.4.0 with ODF = 2.7 seconds per 100K cells

          For typical sized documents, you probably will not notice the difference. However with the largest documents, like the 16-page, 3-million cells monster sheet, the OOXML document took 40 seconds to load in Office, the ODF sheet took 90 seconds to load in OpenOffice, whereas the [b]XLS binary took less than 2 seconds to load in MS Office.[/b][/i]

          • Relative comparisons of file performance

            So, is there an easy way to find out how many cells
            I'm using?

            And, why the hell does Open Office take 2 minutes to
            update a drop down menu?
            Ad Astra
          • I have no idea ....

            [i]And, why the hell does Open Office take 2 minutes to
            update a drop down menu?[/i]

            I have no idea. You can check out the forums at OpenOffice.org:


            Jump in, do a quick search. It may be something very simple. :)
          • yes, something simple

            OO slowness sucks and there is no fix.
          • Ah, forum based support.

            So it's MAYBE compatible, but only if we're willing to
            modify a 12 MB spreadsheet to find out. :)

            Sorry, the only way OO Calc works for us is if we can
            take our EXISTING spreadsheets and use them without
            having to maintain two separate versions.

            Keep in mind - I would LOVE it if it worked that way,
            I can probably get many of my customers to switch, and
            Calc's ability to lay out sheets in points rather than
            Microsoft's rubber rulers would be a great boon.
            Ad Astra
          • Your Solution.

            Keep using Excel, keep paying for upgrades and hope you never have to export your spreadsheet. And one more thing, don't complain about it.
          • Why does OO take 2 minutes to update a drop down menu?

            Cause you have a slow computer!
          • It works with no lag in Excel

            Try again?

            Could it simply be that OpenOffice Calc isn't
            optimized for performance to the same degree?

            I've checked the forums. We'll see if anyone has an

            My experience with forum based support is that it's
            great for asking really basic to internmediate

            When trying to explain a performance issue, or get
            into technical details, you get told "Wurld
            Dominashun. Ur Doin' It Rong", or snippy comments
            about inadequate hardware, using software poorly, etc.

            Or, in other words, it's always the user's fault,
            never that the programmers didn't actually talk to the
            users about what they felt was important, because, you
            know, that's boring and you have to talk to dumb
            people. :)
            Ad Astra
          • Those famous hidden API calls to make MS look good and competitors bad....

            they'll be up to that, guaranteed.
          • RE: Why does OO take 2 minutes to update a drop down menu?

            You're not being better than MS with that answer. It's the same answer they gave to the "Why Vista is slower?" question.
        • Translation

          What is meant by "binary format" is that it is a dump of memory to the file. There's no need to parse anything. It's almost exactly like the difference between cold booting your computer and resuming from sleep. The file just needs to be read and put into memory and the program is ready to go.

          Good news: it's orders of magnitude faster than a proper file format.
          Bad news: it's an incredibly buggy and unsafe way to program. Reading files from old versions is really tricky.
    • Office 2003 or Office 2007 formats?

      Being familiar with both XML file formats, I am curious as to which one you are using for this. If it is Office 2007, it could be (as much as they may claim otherwise) that OpenOffice Calc takes a while to read the zip file and parse the xlsx format. This is a rather verbose XML based file format and they may not have the fastest parser for it yet.
      • The file is in Excel 2003

        It has no macro, just Excel functions.

        It IS doing something that most people wouldn't dream
        of using Excel for.

        It's also a file we send out to customers.

        We've watched 2007 adoption rates and haven't updated
        the file to 2007 specs yet, even though the additional
        levels of conditional formatting would be of great

        Many customers have asked if it works in OO, and every
        time a new version of OO comes out, we try it and see.
        It fails each time, though it IS making progress.

        It used to not open at all, then it used to open and
        handle the INDEX() and INDIRECT() functions
        differently from Excel. Now it just blows chunks on
        Ad Astra
        • Consider this...

          - you're using the binary file format: it is an almost direct memory dump of Excel's state when you save your data, that's why a corrupted file will make Excel crash, but OO.o can still open it (OO.o filters every file format it loads in a different thread, making it crash much less often and allowing file restoration); performance cost, as seen in another post referring to a well-written article, shows that this fact alone creates a x30-x45 speed impediment;

          - Excel's formulas need to be parsed and converted to OO.o's formula model; since Excel's formulas leave something to be desired (check CEILING() and FLOOR() on negative value for example), it adds another layer of translation: more time;

          - in an Excel spreadsheet, two values are saved: actual value and displayed value. On import, OO.o considers that the two should match, and recomputes everything, which adds yet more time on huge files;

          - INDEX() doesn't match between the two suites, as you say; this is in part due to the fact that both apps don't see a document the same way, and OO.o in fact needs to store an extra setting and execute a different code path when INDEX() et al. come from Excel: more time;

          - there are still performance bottlenecks in OO.o, although it's gotten much faster;

          - you could try increasing how much RAM OO.o allocates: a 12Mb spreadsheet may work better with more than (default) 20 Mb;

          - Finally, if said spreadsheet is, indeed, very much used, you may want to consider doing a proper port to OO.o (save it as ODF, and re-work those formulas that cause trouble to fit OO.o better; some workarounds or settings asked by Excel may not be needed in OO.o): this should make it load faster.
          Mitch 74
          • Thank you for the lesson!

            Seriously, it's appreciated that you took the time to explain in detail as to why OO seems slow with MS formatted documents! Thanks! ]:)
            Linux User 147560
          • I found it interesting and helpful

            As someone who must use Excel at work and OO.o at home
            (on Ubuntu) I am delighted to know these things. It helps me
            work around to know WHY problems happen. Thank you!
          • The Real Issue is that...

            OpenOffice is a Java Based Application.... and MS Office is a Windows API application. The Java Based Version will NEVER perform as well because the JRE has to interpret the Java code into the Win32 API.

            Platform independence has a price...speed.