One of the occasional complaints that I’ve heard is that there’s no truly native version of OpenOffice for the Mac. The official version requires X11 to be installed, rather than running natively under the Mac’s own windowing environment, and while NeoOffice is a great attempt at getting a more “Mac-like” experience, it often seems to be a release behind the main OpenOffice version – which isn’t all that great.
It’s been quite some time since I first attempted to use OpenOffice running under Mac OS X’s built-in support for X11 applications, and so I was pleasantly surprised when, having head good things about the Intel X11 version, I took the time to actually try it out.
Actually, “trying it out” involved one quick issue. As far as I can tell, Apple no longer makes X11 available as a download from its site for Mac OS X 10.4 or later, including – of course – the Intel versions. You need to install it from the OS disk that came with your Mac, and you’ll find it in the “Applications” folder there. This instantly confused me, as I was expecting it to be with the System software – X11 is system stuff, right? Not on OS X, which treats X11 as an application running on top of the system, at least conceptually for the end user.
Once you’ve got X11 installed, though – and it’s a very easy install, with nothing to configure – you’re on your way. OpenOffice 2.0 can be downloaded for free from the OpenOffice.org web site, in versions for more operating systems than you’re likely to want to run unless you’re a geek.
The first thing to note is that the port itself has come a long way since the early days. Although the familiar “X” logo appears in the menu bar, and each window has its own menus rather than following the Apple style, OpenOffice now looks much more like a Mac application. It uses the Mac fonts, which render properly. Things like the Styles and Formatting palette are separated out in their own window, as you’d expect. And, for many of the functions, pressing the command key does the job of the control key – all very Mac-like.
In fact, OpenOffice is treated pretty much like any other Mac application. OpenDocument format files have their own icon, and double-clicking on them launches OpenOffice (and X11 if necessary). There’s no additional complication for anyone using it, other than an occasional issue with knowing whether to press control to do something or command. Command-S is save, for example, but Control-X is cut. And yes, you can cut and paste perfectly well between OpenOffice and non-X11 applications.
But what impresses most of all is the speed. Where OpenOffice on the last machine I tried – a PowerPC G4 tower – was sluggish and unresponsive, this is crisp and fast. Subjectively, you’d almost never know that it’s actually running with X Windows as a layer between it and the “native” Mac windowing system – it’s that quick.
I have to say that I’m impressed. Despite owning Apple’s iWork suite, I’d certainly rather use OpenOffice for writing text documents, although Keynote still wins out for presentations. If you’re looking for an office suite, are prepared to put up with a few rough edges, and want to minimise the cost, then I’d really recommend looking at OpenOffice again.