Microsoft's Office suite could have plausible challenger on the desktop for the first time since Lotus gave up trying to take on Redmond a decade ago.
With developers struggling to get OpenOffice 2.4 out the door, details are emerging of the features users have to look forward to in the upcoming bullet point release, version 3.0.
A sneak peek on a developer blog OpenOffice Ninja shows a new and easier-to-understand start screen featuring the main applications, and overhauls of the Writer application to better compete with Microsoft's Word. That application can now display pages side by side, allows notes to be added in the margins of copy a la Word, while the Calc spreadsheet also features a large number of small tweaks to improve usability.
The suite will be able to cope seamlessly with Office 2007's XML-based file formats, though the blogger notes that the current development skeleton manages this with mediocre results.
Thus far the Sun-sponsored OpenOffice suite has remained an outsider, used mostly by open source enthusiasts or just those too tight to pay the high price ticket of Office. Despite offering a usable alternative to Office, it has made no noticeable impression on its sales figures.
One element that will remain missing is a rival to Microsoft's industry standard e-mail app, Outlook.
"For years, there have been talks of including Mozilla's Thunderbird and Lightning (calendar) application with OpenOffice.org. However, not much has come of it yet. Perhaps with the financial resources of the new Mozilla Messaging Corporation, the Mozilla Calendar will get the boost it needs," says the author.
It's also apparent that OpenOffice 3.0 appears to be modelled on a layout one generation behind Microsoft's Fluent interface, which admittedly not everyone has taken to .
Others maintain that the whole model of deskbound productivity applications is obsolete, foreseeing a future in which businesses and individuals instead use lightweight online applications such as Google's Docs . It is likely, however, that all models will flourish in their own way – desktop behemoths such as Office, alternatives such as OpenOffice, and online apps – being embraced by users for different purposes.