Where OpenOffice could do better

Some may argue that you cannot fault the quality or features of free software, so if MS Office still offers a few bells and whistles that are a tad more polished than their OOo counterparts, a potential user need simply decide if these refinements are worth £200+. Yet OOo Writer has emerged not only as the main competitor to MS Word, but as a serious challenge to the domination of one software giant, 40% of whose revenue stem from business's addiction to its ubiquitous Office Suite. In many respects OOo Writer is more powerful than MS Word with full support for master documents and structural markup, enabling encyclopaedia-length tomes with thousands of pages to be fully indexed. What a shame that just a few extra refinements stand in the way of making OOo a true MS Office replacement for professional writers working with others locked into the MS Office paradigm. Yes one can use a good text editor and layout engine such as VI and TeX, but in the real world you need to return an edited MS Word document in exactly the same format complete with comments. I hope in the near future wider adoption of ODF and further development of online writing tools such as Writelywill make MS Word a thing of the past, but for the time being any alternatives must enable seamless collaboration with users of existing de facto standards.

  • User-friendly comment-editing facility so writers collaborating on a project can easily add explanations for amendments and view comments inserted by others. Currently text entered in the notes dialogue box will not word-wrap, so lines longer than 60 or characters must be horizontally scrolled.
  • Tabbed interface: This has now become standard in the new generation of web browsers and could easily be implemented to emphasise the tight integration between components of the open office suite and discourage users from quitting the whole application just to close one document and open another.
  • Faster start-up: This has admittedly improved with version 2.0.3., but even with preloaders Open Office still lacks the virtual instant access that the MS Office suite provides.
  • Dashed and dotted table cell and frame borders. Why has this option been omitted? Currently the only way to achieve this effect is to manually add dashed borders from the Draw menu.
  • Simple command to cycle through upper case first (or Title in case), all upper case and all lower case, a handy features when editing documents with incorrect or inconsistent capitalisation.
  • Full support for SVG imports. With its growing use in Wikipedia and support integrated into Firefox 1.5+, SVG is fast becoming the standard vector graphics exchange format. Additionally SVG should be used for all clipart and custom widgets. The custom bullets, icons and borders supplied with the OOo are really quite naff and pixelate if enlarged.
Author: 
Neil Gardner
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