The latest version of the open-source office suite 3.1 has just arrived, and it's a good one.

While some of the improvements to OpenOffice 3.1 are visible to the naked eye, we found that the most important changes were hidden under the hood.

What is it? 3.1 is a set of office productivity applications: Writer (word processor), Calc (spreadsheet), Impress (presentation manager) and Base (database manager). It's missing an Outlook substitute, but otherwise it's a complete replacement for Microsoft Office. The suite is available as a free download for Linux, Mac OS X, Solaris, and Windows; there are versions for most major languages.

OpenOffice 3.1: What does it do?

The first thing you'll notice about the new OpenOffice 3.1 is that it just looks better. Thanks to its use of anti-aliasing, the program menus, letters and images it displays are sharper and clearer. (You can see examples at Sun's engineering blog.)

We tested the OpenOffice 3.1 suite on a Windows XP system and one running MEPIS 8, a Debian-based Linux distribution. What really caught our attention after a few minutes of using the various apps was how much faster this version is than version 3.0.

This was especially clear on when we ran it on a Windows XP system. It used to take about 12 seconds to launch Writer; now it takes just over 6 seconds. We saw similar performance boosts when running the various other applications of OpenOffice 3.1. It's almost like running on a brand new machine.

Another good feature, if you're considering OpenOffice 3.1 for office use, is that it now has its own OS-independent file-locking system. Now Jack in marketing, who uses a Mac, can't overwrite a change that was just made by Jill in the (Windows-based) comptroller's office.

We tried to mangle a shared document (that existed on a Windows Server 2008 file server) by editing it from our Linux desktop and also from the XP desktop. We couldn't do it. The file-locking mechanism preserved the document from our best attempts to make a complete mess of it.

NEXT PAGE: what's cool about it, and what's not?

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