by Scott Rhoades
As writers, our choice of writing tools are extensions of our minds and hands. What we use to write is very important to us. There've been a couple of releases in the past week or so that are worth mentioning. The first is the release of OpenOffice.org 3.3, and the second is the release of the new kid on the block, LibreOffice 3.3.
I'm not going to get into all the new features of the new OpenOffice.org. Most are likely to have little noticeable impact on our daily writing activities, although the more deeply you use the program, the more you're likely to notice.
But I will rave over one new feature.
I have an Internet acquaintance who writes extensions for Writer, the word processing part of the OpenOffice.org suite. A couple years ago, I suggested an extension for the one thing that's missing from the major word processors: a Find toolbar. When I'm revising, especially when I'm making changes from marked-up hard copy, it annoys me to have to open a dialog box to search for a particular place in my text. That always means opening a little window that covers part of the text, so you always have to open and close it as you go through your documents. So many apps have a Find toolbar. Why do all the word processors lack such an obvious user interface improvement. My friend loved the idea, but he never wrote the extension. Probably because this toolbar was in the spec for 3.3.
Microsoft Office 2010 lets you open a Navigation pane with a Find toolbar. This pane sits to the side of the document, where it's out of the way. That's not bad. But you still have to open something separate. That's a minor quibble, though. The new Navigation features are pretty nice.
OpenOffice.org 3.3 puts the Find toolbar right where I want it, on the toolbar at the top of the document window. Because OpenOffice.org allows you to customize your toolbars in ways that Word users can only dream of (I admit it--I love to customize my workspace so it works the way I like, and the tools I use are handy while those I don't use are out of the way or are out of sight completely), I can (theoretically--I haven't actually done it yet, since I just installed 3.3 today) move the new Find toolbar to a convenient location.
I've been using MS Office 2010 more lately, although I really prefer OpenOffice.org. I was able to buy Office through a program at work for a staggering $10, which pretty much negates OpenOffice.org's most obvious benefit: it's free. (Maybe I'll write about why I prefer OpenOffice.org to Word in a future post. Hint: It has nothing--OK, little--to do with the price and everything to do with functionality.) I think Office 2010's new collaboration and online features are interesting and compelling, although I haven't actually needed to use them yet. But this Find toolbar, even if it seems to be a little thing, is a huge deal to me. It's something I cry for every time I make changes from my crit group. This alone will encourage me to use OpenOffice.org more.
Or it would, if not for the new kid on the block.
LibreOffice 3.3 is a new fork of OpenOffice.org, released this week. Its reason for existence is a long story, probably of little interest to most readers of this blog. In short, it was started when Oracle bought Sun, who "owned" and was the main supporter of the open-source OpenOffice.org project. Based on Oracle's history of not supporting open-source projects all that well, a whole mess o' key OpenOffice.org developers jumped ship and started a new project based on the older program. You can do that with open source.
You won't notice a lot of difference between OpenOffice.org 3.3 and LibreOffice 3.3. They are built on the same code base, although LibreOffice has supposedly cleaned up the source code considerably to improve efficiency, added a handful of unique features, and made some slight differences in the interface. However, because LibreOffice is no longer tied to OpenOffice.org or Oracle, and because many of the top engineers from the older program are working on the new guy now, it's worth watching. LibreOffice (a name that could change in the future) will probably change faster and more dramatically than its mother application. New generations are like that: rebellious, inventive, and a bit iconoclastic. One of my favorite changes in LibreOffice is the streamlined installation that gets rid of--finally--OpenOffice.org's annoying request to register after you install. Why should you need to register an open-source application? I also love that LibreOffice automatically pulled in my OpenOffice.org templates and macros.
And, of course, LibreOffice also has my Find toolbar, a wonderful early Valentine's Day gift.