The preview release, which is meant for testing only, was made available for download at the end of last week. The final version of 2.0 will not be completed until April or May 2005, according to Michael Meeks, an OpenOffice.org developer.
There are various features in OpenOffice.org 2.0 that should help retain the formatting of MS Office files when loaded or saved in OpenOffice.org. "Interoperability should be substantially better in 2.0 -- there are lots of bug fixes," said Meeks.
One important interoperability issue that is difficult to resolve is converting proprietary MS Office fonts into a similar font in OpenOffice.org, said Meeks. This an issue for those who use OpenOffice.org on Linux, as only Windows users have access to the same font pool as is used by MS Office.
The copyright for many of the fonts used in MS Office are owned either by Microsoft or by the AGFA Monotype foundry, which means that open source developers cannot use the same font, and must create a similar one that is metrically compatible.
Interoperability with MS Office will continue to be a focus in future releases of OpenOffice.org. A group of developers are currently working on macro interoperability, so that individuals can port macros from Microsoft's Word or Excel to OpenOffice.org's Writer or Calc respectively. Macro compatibility is important for businesses, which often have specially formatted spreadsheets for business functions such as annual leave or expenses.
OpenOffice.org 2.0 also contains various changes to Impress, the presentation application, and Base, the database app, which both now have improved usability.
"The presentation application was previously very clunky to use," said Meeks. "Substantial work has gone into reworking it, for example, on the left-hand side there is now a list of slides that you can flick through very quickly."
Base also has a new application layer that Meeks claims is similar to the MS Access shell. The application layer allows users to create forms, reports, queries, tables and views.
OpenOffice.org is an important application for businesses that are considering a move to open source on the desktop. The City of Munich, which plans to migrate 14,000 desktops to open source software, is due to start migrating to OpenOffice.org in the first half of next year and will later shift from Windows NT 4.0 to Linux. The Ministry of Defence in Singapore has already installed OpenOffice.org on 5,000 PCs, and may switch from Windows XP to Linux in the future.