It's been a few months since the release of OpenOffice.org 1.1, and during that time I've been slowly coming to...
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this conclusion: Some smart people did some good work on this release. It's not just the big changes; there are some smart little changes as well that make a big difference.
The big picture
First, let's hit the big features that everyone will use.
What's one of the big issues with OpenOffice.org? Making sure you can still work with the people who haven't switched yet. Enter the ability to print to PDF, the non-editable, portable document format that everyone can read. Whether you want to create a PDF of your OpenOffice.org document or skip the middle step and just automatically create a new e-mail document with a PDF of your OpenOffice.org document attached, you're loaded for bear now if you want to send around non-editable versions of your OpenOffice.org documents to anyone. That includes Microsoft Office users, WordPerfect users, WordStar users -- anyone.
On the other hand, if you need to send around your OpenOffice.org documents to people on other office suites who need to edit the documents, the improved conversion capabilities between the two applications means that there's less, if any, change in formatting when you save a Microsoft Office copy of your OpenOffice.org document and e-mail it to others. Tweak the settings under Tools -> Options -> Application -> General in the Compatibility section to see how the settings work best for the documents you use.
Also, you now have a new way to run your Impress presentations: In addition to exporting to HTML or saving them as Microsoft PowerPoint, you can export your Impress presentation to Flash. Choose File -> Export, and select Macromedia Flash as the export file type.
There's also a nice AutoPilot approach to creating a mail merge document, both to creating the document and the data source. Just click through from Tools -> Mail Merge, and you're walked through the process from soup to nuts.
Delete extensions no more
So those are some of the big things. But the improvements are also in the little things.
When you save an OpenOffice.org file as Microsoft Office, you don't have to delete the file extension anymore. When you print a mail merge document, you don't have to know to choose File -> Mail Merge; now you just choose File -> Print.
And now, every toolbar and object bar icon that gives you a drop-down menu has a green arrow on it. This means I don't have to teach people about which ones give you a menu and how to use them -- and you don't have to try to remember. These changes might not seem huge, but they resulted in my being able to delete a lot of "be careful" and "watch this" sections from my training materials and book. After 13 years in documentation and training, I've concluded that good software means less documentation.
Something for XML geeks
Architectural and openness features make this release better, too.
Choose Tools -> XML filters if you're a DTD or XML geek; you'll see some powerful features just waiting to be hooked up to the right XSLT.
There's also a new data type in the data source setup window (Tools -> Data Sources) for better support of MySQL.
In short, I think OpenOffice.org 1.1 is definitely one of those upgrades that offers an immediate benefit. You can download it from www.openoffice.org, and you can find it on CD in a number of locations.
There are more features; these are the ones that I've found affect people the most and that provide the most benefit. To read about all the new features and learn how to use them, you can download a free supplement to my "OpenOffice.org 1.0 Resource Kit" users' guide at Informit. The link is also on my Web site at www.getopenoffice.org, where you can also a find simplified download page for OpenOffice.org.
Solveig Haugland is a StarOffice and OpenOffice.org instructor and author, as well as a freelance technical writer. She has also worked as a course developer. She's worked in the high-tech industry for 12 years, including six years at Microsoft Great Plains, three years at Sun Microsystems Inc., and one year at BEA Systems Inc.