October 6th, 2006 • 10:08 am
A couple of weeks ago, the long-awaited Aqua-native version of OpenOffice for Mac OS X was finally relased—albeit in a ‘beta’ version, indicating that the software is not exactly ready for prime-time.
The software is called NeoOffice 2.0 Aqua Beta 3. It is the first version of OpenOffice for Mac OS X that does not require you to use the X11 environment, meaning that it is more fully integrated with Mac OS X and takes advantage of some core Mac OS X features.
In other words, it is the first really usable version of OpenOffice for Mac OS X.
It is, of course, far from perfect. It is a Java application and it shows, both in its visual appearance and in its performance. In addition, OpenOffice is by definition a clone of Microsoft Office for Windows, and it has various Windows-specific UI quirks, such as the very un-Mac-like underline in button labels in dialog boxes, the absence of any menus in the main menu bar when no document window is open, etc.
But, you know, for a free open source project, it’s a pretty decent product. Its menus are native Aqua menus, it has the standard Mac OS X “Open” and “Save As…” dialog boxes, it uses Mac OS X’s fonts, it supports Quartz Font Smoothing, it has native printing support, copy and paste support, and drag-and-drop.
One additional benefit of this software is that, unlike either Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages word processor, NeoOffice is actually able to directly open WordPerfect documents.
In my day job, I have to work with a number of people who still use WordPerfect in Windows, and they keep sending me “.wpd” files as if it was the most natural thing in the world and everyone with a computer should be able to open such files.
For many years, I have been using DataViz’s MacLinkPlus Deluxe to convert these WordPerfect documents into readable files (either RTF or Word documents). However, in recent years, MacLinkPlus Deluxe has become a scandalously neglected piece of Mac OS X software. The product’s name does not even appear on the company’s home page, which should tell you something.
MacLinkPlus Deluxe for Mac OS X is anything but a “deluxe” product. It hasn’t been updated in ages. It suffers from some major interface flaws. It doesn’t support file names longer than 32 characters. It fails to use file extensions properly when renaming files. In other words, as a Mac OS X product, it’s beyond pathetic. But until now, it was my only option to convert WordPerfect files into a usable format.
Now, we can actually use NeoOffice to do this. Granted, it’s a pretty cumbersome mammoth to use just for that purpose. But at least it doesn’t suffer from all of MacLinkPlus Deluxe’s shameful shortcomings.
I haven’t used NeoOffice enough, with a wide enough variety of documents, to determine how good the conversion of WordPerfect documents actually is. But in limited testing it was able to open the documents I threw at it just fine. I was then able to save them in a variety of usable formats.
NeoOffice’s support for WordPerfect document is actually based on another open source project called libwpd, which is a WordPerfect document importer/exporter. But libwpd does not come in a Mac OS X-friendly package, whereas NeoOffice is a product that now works natively and reasonably well in the Aqua interface of Mac OS X.
All these efforts will not free us from the clutches of Microsoft’s monopoly and WordPerfect’s obsolescence overnight. But they certainly do help, and you cannot beat the price. I am still hoping that one day someone will come up with a native Mac OS X document converter application, but in the mean time it’s good to have access to a tool such as NeoOffice 2.0 Aqua.