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NeoOffice 3 review

Verdict:

While it's outshone by commercial rivals, NeoOffice 3 remains the best of the rest.

Review Date: 21 Apr 2009

Price when reviewed:

Reviewed By: Giles Turnbull

Our Rating 3 stars out of 5

The last time we reviewed NeoOffice back in 2004, we found it an adequate open source alternative to commercial office packages, and an improvement on its counterpart and close cousin, OpenOffice.org.

Now in its third edition, NeoOffice looks a lot different from its first release, and now more closely resembles other Mac programs. There are still some rough edges visible, but it's much better-looking than OpenOffice.org's plain Windows-like controls and widgets.

One of this version's main selling points is its speed, and this is where it excels. Compared to OpenOffice.org, NeoOffice starts up very rapidly indeed. In our tests, an up-to-date version of OpenOffice.org took 31 seconds to start up and open a new blank text document, whereas NeoOffice 3 needed just nine seconds to get to the same state.

This improvement in performance is a major part of NeoOffice 3, but there are still a number of useful new features. For example, the Draw module for graphic editing now includes a more sophisticated PDF import, so you can easily edit PDF documents. There's also an improved chart maker built into the spreadsheet module, and new presenter view options and a file optimisation tool in Impress. The whole suite now supports read-only tools in the system-wide Services menu, adding useful connections to third-party programs.

However, while NeoOffice is perfectly capable, it suffers in comparison to Microsoft's or Apple's commercial alternatives, simply because despite speed improvements, it still can't keep up. And compared to Apple's iWork applications, even the Aqua-fied NeoOffice interface looks cluttered and confusing.

For example, the alignment guides in Keynote make it simple to create slide elements that line up perfectly, whereas NeoOffice's Impress seems clunky and frustrating in comparison, because there are no alignment guides. Worse still, the builtin slide templates are painfully old-fashioned, and lack the style and sophistication of those offered by Apple.

Bluntly put, iWork spoils us with its clean lines and its simplicity. In comparison, using NeoOffice feels like taking a step backwards. Not because there's anything seriously wrong with it, but simply because it falls down hard against competitors of much higher quality.

Built using a mixture of Java and Cocoa, NeoOffice can demand quite a hefty chunk of your system's resources. We encountered some crashes with multiple documents open, though file recovery worked as expected. It also didn't cope well with Spaces, and there is a documented lack of support for Mac OS X's built-in Universal Access functions.

NeoOffice's major selling point is its price. Apple and Microsoft's alternatives might be a step ahead but they cost money, whereas NeoOffice costs nothing apart from the bandwidth required to download the 160MB disk image. It works on older machines, and can open older file formats, such as WordPerfect and Microsoft Works documents.

Of all the free office suites descended from Sun's Star Office, NeoOffice is the fastest and best option for Mac users. If you use OpenOffice.org and would like something faster, or if using open source software is important to you, then downloading NeoOffice shouldn't require a second thought.

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