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OpenOffice.org For Dummies : Book

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OpenOffice.org is a free office suite of applications available for many different operating systems including Linux, Microsoft Windows, Solaris and Mac OS X. It supports the OpenDocument standard for data interchange.

OpenOffice.org is based on StarOffice, an office suite developed by StarDivision and acquired by Sun Microsystems in August 1999. The source code of the suite was released in July 2000 with the aim of reducing the dominant market share of Microsoft Office by providing a free, open and high-quality alternative.

OpenOffice.org is free software, available under the GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL).

The project and software are informally referred to as "OpenOffice", but project organizers report that this term is a trademark held by another party, requiring them to adopt "OpenOffice.org" as its formal name, and abbreviated as OOo or OO.o.[1]


According to its mission statement, the OpenOffice.org project aims "To create, as a community, the leading international office suite that will run on all major platforms and provide access to all functionality and data through open-component based APIs and an XML-based file format."

OpenOffice.org aims to compete with Microsoft Office and emulate its look and feel where suitable. It can read and write most of the file formats found in Microsoft Office, and many other applications; an essential feature of the suite for many users. OpenOffice.org has been found to be able to open files of older versions of Microsoft Office and damaged files that newer versions of Microsoft Office itself cannot open.[2] However, it cannot open older Word for Macintosh (MCW) files.[3]


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The primary development platforms are Microsoft Windows, Linux and Solaris. There are also ports available or in progress for Mac OS X, OS/2 and many Unix-like operating systems such as FreeBSD.

Federal Computer Week issue listed OpenOffice.org as one of the "5 stars of open-source products."[4] In contrast, OpenOffice.org was used by The Guardian newspaper to illustrate what it claims are the limitations of open-source software.[5]

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OpenOffice.org is a collection of different applications that work together closely to provide the features expected from a modern office suite. Many of the components are designed to mirror those available in Microsoft Office. The components available include:

  • Writer — a word processor similar in look and feel to Microsoft Word and offering a comparable range of functions and tools. It also includes the ability to export Portable Document Format (PDF) files with no additional software, and can also function as a WYSIWYG editor for creating and editing web pages. One important difference between Writer and Microsoft Word is that in Writer, many functions and number formats from Calc (below) are available in Writer's tables.
  • Calc — a spreadsheet similar to Microsoft Excel with a roughly equivalent range of features. Calc provides a number of features not present in Excel, including a system which automatically defines series for graphing, based on the layout of the user's data. Calc is also capable of writing spreadsheets directly as a PDF file.
  • Impress — a presentation program similar to Microsoft PowerPoint. It can export presentations to Adobe Flash (SWF) files allowing them to be played on any computer with the Flash player installed. It also includes the ability to create PDF files. Impress suffers from a lack of ready-made presentation designs. However, templates are readily available on the Internet.[6]
  • Base — a database program similar to Microsoft Access. Base allows the creation and manipulation of databases, and the building of forms and reports to provide easy access to data for end-users. As with Access, Base is able to work as a front-end to a number of different database systems, including Access databases (JET), ODBC data sources and MySQL/PostgreSQL. Base became part of the suite starting with version 2.0.
  • Draw — a vector graphics editor comparable in features to CorelDRAW. It features versatile "connectors" between shapes, which are available in a range of line styles and facilitate building drawings such as flowcharts.
  • Math — a tool for creating and editing mathematical formulae, similar to Microsoft Equation Editor. Formulae can be embedded inside other OpenOffice.org documents, such as those created by Writer. It supports multiple fonts and can export to PDF.
  • QuickStarter — a small program for Windows and Linux that runs when the computer starts for the first time. It loads the core files and libraries for OpenOffice.org during computer startup and allows the suite applications to start more quickly when selected later. The amount of time it takes to open OpenOffice.org applications was a common complaint in version 1.0 of the suite, and Quickstarter was a solution of sorts. Substantial improvements were made in this area for version 2.0.
  • The macro recorder — is used to record user actions and replay them later to help with automating tasks, using OpenOffice.org Basic

It is not possible to download these components individually on Windows, though they can be installed separately. Most Linux distributions break the components into individual packages which may be downloaded and installed separately.

Currently, a developed preview of OpenOffice.org 3 (OOo-dev 3.0) is available for download.

Among the planned features for OOo 3.0, set to be released by September 2008, are:

  • Personal Information Manager (PIM), probably based on Thunderbird/Lightning
  • PDF import into Draw (to maintain correct layout of the original PDF)
  • OOXML document support for opening documents created in Office 2007
  • Support for Mac OS X Aqua platform
  • Extensions, to add third party functionality.
  • Presenter screen in Impress with multi-screen support

OpenOffice.org Basic

OpenOffice.org Basic is similar to Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) and is based on StarOffice Basic. In addition to the macros, the upcoming Novell edition of OpenOffice 2.0 supports running Microsoft VBA macros, a feature expected to be incorporated into the mainstream version soon.[7]

OpenOffice.org Basic is available in the Writer and Calc applications.


Sun subsidizes the development of OpenOffice.org in order to use it as a base for its commercial proprietary StarOffice application software. Releases of StarOffice since version 6.0 have been based on the OpenOffice.org source code, with some additional proprietary components, including:

  • Additional bundled fonts (especially East Asian language fonts).
  • Adabas D database.
  • Additional document templates.
  • Clip art.
  • Sorting functionality for Asian versions.
  • Additional file filters.
  • Migration assessment tool (Enterprise Edition).
  • Macro migration tool (Enterprise Edition).
  • Configuration management tool (Enterprise Edition).

OpenOffice.org, therefore, inherited many features from the original StarOffice upon which it was based including the OpenOffice.org XML file format which it retained until version 2, when it was replaced by OpenDocument.


As of September 26, 2006, the security site Secunia reports no known security flaws for OOo 2.x.[22] Kaspersky Lab has shown a proof of concept virus for OpenOffice.org.[23] This shows OOo viruses are possible, but there is no known virus "in the wild".

In a private meeting of the French Ministry of Defense, additional macro-related security issues were raised.[24] OpenOffice.org developers have responded by noting that the supposed vulnerability had not been announced through "well defined procedures" for disclosure and that the ministry revealed nothing specific. However, the developers have been in talks with the researcher concerning the supposed vulnerability.[25]

Market share

Although Microsoft Office retains 95% of the general market, OpenOffice.org and StarOffice have secured 14% of the large enterprise market as of 2004.[26] The OpenOffice.org web site reports more than 62.5 million downloads.[27]

OpenOffice.org is the office suite used on the British Army's Bowman deployable tactical communications system. Other large scale users of OpenOffice.org include Singapore's Ministry of Defense, and Bristol City Council in the UK. In France, OpenOffice.org has attracted the attention of both local and national government administrations who wish to rationalize their software procurement, as well as have stable, standard file formats for archival purposes. It is now the official office suite for the French Gendarmerie.[28] The Supreme Court of India and the Allahabad High Court[29], which use Linux, completely relies on OpenOffice.org.

On October 4, 2005, Sun and Google announced a strategic partnership. As part of this agreement, Sun will add a Google search bar to OpenOffice.org, Sun and Google will engage in joint marketing activities as well as joint research and development, and Google will help distribute OpenOffice.org.[30]

Besides StarOffice, there are still a number of OpenOffice.org derived commercial products. Most of them are developed under SISSL license (which is valid up to OpenOffice.org 2.0 Beta 2). In general they are targeted at local or niche market, with proprietary add-ons such as speech recognition module, automatic database connection, or better CJK support.[31]

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OpenOffice.org 2.x versions are far more developed than the 1.x versions, but there are still key features that need to be incorporated or refined to make it a clear alternative to Microsoft's Office suite. These include:

  • Lack of a grammar checker
  • Limited ability to customize charts (this is being addressed [2])
  • Lack of an integrated multivariate optimiser (solver) in Calc (project underway [3])
  • Incompatibility problems that hamper sharing Writer documents with MS Word users, particularly with bullets and numbered lists or headings [citation needed]
  • Speed and memory usage: Tests by George Ou in 2005 comparing the memory usage and speed of file I/O operations show lower performance of OpenOffice when compared to MS Office. This was attributed in part to larger processing requirements of the XML format. [4]


OpenOffice.org includes several Easter eggs, including some quite fully fledged games: a version of Space Invaders is playable by entering a cheat code into a cell in Calc, as is a version of Tic-tac-toe, and the names and picture of the OpenOffice.org Calc developer team. (To play this game, type =game() press Enter, cell should now read "say what?" Type =game("StarWars") press Enter again.) If the user tries to play the game for the second time, it will say "oh no, not again!".

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