The Apache Software Foundation has released OpenOffice version 4.0, a leap forward from the previous 3.4 edition let into the wild in March 2012.
The Foundation's talking up over 500 enhancements, foremost among them a new sidebar built with code IBM cooked up for the Lotus Symphony productivity suite*. The sidebar comes in four sizes, each offering more document-manipulating options. The Foundation suggests sidebars are a jolly good ideas because more of us use wide screens these days, but in illustrations of the new feature assumes we're not using those extra pixels to view two pages of a document side-by-side. That space can instead be given over to sidebars.
Also promised is better support for Microsoft Office's file formats when loading or saving documents, with better reproduction of Office's implementation of nested and graphical bullet lists from both PowerPoint and Word promised.
The Calc spreadsheet has new syntax. AVERAGEIFS, COUNTIFS, and SUMIFS are now available. The RAND function has been upgraded and those who fancy a bit of XOR action can now get their thrills open source style.
Greek, Portuguese and Tamil speakers get their first native language versions of the suite, and upgrades have been made to the translations for 20 other languages.
A great many of the enhancements improve the suite's graphics-wrangling abilities, helping the suite to play nicely with tools like The GIMP and also making it possible to make nicer images with the suite. There's even a better, clearer, anti-aliased Print Preview that gets comfortingly closer to WYSIWYG than its predecessor.
Apache OpenOffice 4.0 also has this lovely new logo
There's also some bad news: the Gatekeeper security features in Mac OS will identify the suite as malware. There's a workaround for that and a Java compatibility problem under Windows that will require installation of some extra code if you wish to avoid error messages.
The Apache Foundation says OpenOffice 3.4 was downloaded about 57 million times since release and clearly hopes a similar or better reception awaits this new version. One thing in the Foundation's favour is the imminent end-of-life for Microsoft Office 2003, an event the organisation's canned statement on the new suite's release suggests is a good reason to consider the open source alternative. ®
*Your correspondent is a long-time Symphony user, as when IBM was still keen on it, it was utterly free and rather more pleasant to use than open source rivals. I've logged hundreds of hours in its word processor and cannot recall ever using or noticing the sidebar.