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A quick review of OpenOffice for Mac

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.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://cheerleader.yoz.com/ Yoz

    It’s worth checking out ThinkFree Office too – it’s pure Java, runs as an applet, but despite this it has more features than OpenOffice (including one of my favourite MS Office features that isn’t in OO.o, namely outline mode in Word) and is remarkably smooth.

  • http://www.resurrectionsong.com zombyboy

    I’ve actually been pretty happy with NeoOffice. It does lag behind the OO releases, it’s still a solid product.

    Nice review, though; it’s always good to see people spreading the word about the capabilities and ease of use of the best of the open source movement.

    I don’t know that I’ll ever buy another office suite. I don’t use the presentation software often and the spreadsheet and word processing parts of OO are more than enough for me. I’ve installed some version of it on all of my computers.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    I’m actually looking again at NeoOffice, and I’ll write something up shortly. I’ve been looking at the latest beta of NeoOffice 2.0 and it’s very, very impressive too.

  • http://last-straw.net/ Christiaan

    Feel the same way about OpenOffice on Intel Macs, and I’ve been using it full time. Particularly like the fact that my docs are ODF now.

  • Mirko

    Actually, Apple still has X11 available as a download. I found it immediately using the search feature in the “downloads” section.

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Mirko, the only version I can see searching from the same page is the 10.3.9 and previous version – do you have a link for the later one?

  • http://thevoiceofra.tk Greg

    I was impressed with OO2 myself.

    The fact that Apple doesn’t make it easier to install X11 anymore is a gripe for me ,too.

    Fortunately, I already had it installed so I could run Gimpshop 😀

    Nice having at least ONE consistent app/option available when using my Winblows box at work, too.

  • Text Editor

    How about the Text Editor for text documents?

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    Text Edit is nice, but lacks one of the things that I need as a professional writer: a word count. For that reason more than anything else, it doesn’t quite cut the mustard.

  • Stephen Moye

    Actually, you can sign on as a member of the Apple Development Community:


    (free for just info) and then download:

    Xcode 2.4

    The Xcode 2.4 release provides overall stability improvement and adds support for 64-bit Intel based Mac computers. It is recommended that all Xcode users install this update.

  • http://www.ballagroove.com/ ManxStef

    It’s worth mentioning that the beta NeoOffice version of OpenOffice v2 was just released today. Get it here:


  • Brook

    Good article thanks….but how about an update on the oo port to mac osx? I saw some comments months ago about oo getting some free macs from apple to help with the port but since then nuthin. They were running down the neooffice guys at the time….about them “splitting” so they could focus on the “port”

    meanwhile neo office has an alpha of 2.0

  • http://technovia.typepad.com Ian Betteridge

    The current version of OOo is now up to date with the other versions, while NeoOffice is only in beta – although, with the kind of continual development cycle that open source software goes through, labels like “beta” are a bit moot. And in my experience with NeoOffice so far, the beta is very stable (more on that later today, I hope).

  • http://www.engadget.com/ Conrad

    Open Office is going OS X native next month.


    Can’t wait!

  • Peter M


    “Open Office is going OS X native next month.


    Can’t wait!”

    Sorry, Ian, but you are another one of probably many people taken in by this misleading information. It seems that a press release from the “official” native OS X port team of OpenOffice.org has led to many thinking that a release of the mac port from that team was imminent. If you check out their timeline at OpenOffice.org, you will find that they don’t expect to have a port available until about this time next year. If you can’t wait, you will be disappointed by that news :)

    What this mac os porting team have right now is some screens running natively. In the meantime, NeoOffice provides an aqua native port of OpenOffice.org 2.0 right now, and it’s free as in beer. It’s beta, but it works well. It looks great, and is being adopted in a rush by people looking for an open source office suite for OS X – at least, by those not caught up in the confusion about “OpenOffice.org””NeoOffice” labels. If you join their forums, you can get access to some great new Akua menu icons, which IMO make it look even better.


  • http://profile.typekey.com/ianbetteridge/ Ian Betteridge

    Yes Peter, you’re quite right. I’ve been meaning to write something about NeoOffice specifically for a few days, as I tried it out and was so impressed with the progress the team has made that I’ve donated some money. Hopefully I’ll get around to write something properly soon, because although I still think that OpenOffice has made great strides in its X11 implementation (and it may prove a better option for some), NeoOffice is also developing really well.