A Quick Look at OpenOffice.org Writer 3.0 Beta 2

OpenOffice.org 3.0 beta 2 is available in preparation for an official September release. Here are some quick first impressions of the Writer word-processor program.

While I am a die-hard Linux and OO.org user, I must admit that I have been using Microsoft Office 2007 frequently - and I like it. That is, I like its features but dislike its closed nature. After much research, I decided that the best solution for the task of writing my master’s thesis was the combination of Word 2007 and EndNote. The main driver for choosing this combination was management of scientific citations. The Word-EndNote combination has saved me tens of hours of work in this area. The other driver was cost. I was able to obtain the entire Microsoft Office 2007 suite for $37. I would never pay the ridiculous full price that Microsoft demands.

Now, with some fresh Word experience under my belt, I thought I’d give OO.org Writer 3 a look.

While I was hoping that Writer 3 would adopt a Word-like interface, with its tabbed menus, but this is not the case. Although the icons have been updated, the overall look and feel of OO.org is not radically different from its predecessor.

Nevertheless, you can now import Word 2007 documents into OO.org 3, which is critical to its continued success and relevance.

Some other new Writer features include

  • The ability to view multiple pages simultaneously
  • Support for ODF 1.2 and PDF/A
  • Native Mac OS X support

As mentioned above, citation management is a deal-maker or breaker for me. How does Writer 3 stack up there? Unfortunately, citation management in Writer 3 remains deficient for at least three reasons. First, the database fields in the bibliographic database are incomplete and non-standard in relation to how things are done in academia today. Certainly one could spend much time customizing the database fields, but the cost-benefit calculus doesn’t make sense to me. It appears that OO.org folks just whipped up something they thought looks reasonable. Second, when you insert a bibliographic citation, neither does it appear in a format typical for a scientific journal (e.g. “(Smith et al. 2006)”), nor is it editable. Third, Writer will not create a real-time (or any) bibliography at the end of your document as EndNote and other citation-management programs do. You have to create your bibliography by hand. Thus, if I were to start my master’s thesis over today, unfortunately I would skip Writer and choose the Word 2007-EndNote combination once again.

So, is OpenOffice.org Writer 3 worth the upgrade? Given Writer 3’s new features, such as support for Microsoft Office 2007 documents, ODF 1.2 and PDF/A, as well as the ability to view multiple pages simultaneously, the answer is a certain “yes”. However, if you are looking for a quantum-leap upgrade from OO.org 2.4 – or if you need to write a master’s thesis! - this is not a ‘write home to Mom’ release. Version 3.0 is a solid, incremental upgrade from Version 2.4.


James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal.


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OO3.0 bibliographic project

bd's picture

I have been hopeful that OpenOffice3.0 will include compatibility with Thompson ISI bibliographic formats and integrate a reference manager similar to EndNote (able to import entries directly from the WebofKnowledge, organize them in a database, and insert the references in specific journal formats at the end of an article).

Latex and Bibtex are all fine, but when you have to collaborate with colleagues and students using Word and EndNote, my experience is compatibility beats every time encouragements regarding the learning curve.

So, I agree with J. Gray's assessment: OppenOffice 3.0 is not (yet) there in terms of the bibliographic project.

Stupid question: How does *Note save you time?

Anonymous Luddite's picture

The Word-EndNote combination has saved me tens of hours of work

How so? Honestly, where am I wasting "tens of hours" if I just type in my cites and references? I've never used any bibliographic software and I write about 4 papers/reports with 12-120 APA-style references each year. My students seem to think such software is invaluable.

YMMV but I think the writing itself takes at least 99% of my time. Formatting tables is easily a bigger time-suck than formatting the references.

BTW, my pet peeve is that if my students use Word+EndNote, then I can read the document in OOo but all of the citations and the references are missing. My other pet peeve about Word is that the Equation editor is not installed by default... invariably, students do not have it installed on their laptop (maybe Word 2007 fixes this... OOo certainly does) and they don't know how to use it.


Michael's picture

I too long for Open Office to have a bibliography management system that rival that of OneNote. I used One Note for my undergraduate research and used nothing for my masters thesis.

However, I have great hope for the zotero plugin which incorporates into Firefox and is supposed to work in the final release of OpenOffice 3.0 I have tried this plugin in 2.4 with bad results (I dont think its supposed to work in 2.4) and in the beta of 3.0 that your review covers, my build doesnt even open the extension manager, so it is impossible to test it in that!

However, I am confident that by September when rolls around and 3.0 comes out, it will be working well. How nice it would be to be able to use firefox to simply pull references from journal's pages and then cite them in an openoffice document.

Further, what a great tool for those of us stuck dealing with academia to use to get great minds to shift towards linux. That is, when its working.

other citation managment tools

Doug Holton's picture

Here are some other citation management tools that are free, open source, and some of them work with openoffice (maybe word too), including Zotero and Bibus:


BibTeX does the job

Gregory.x's picture

I'll second the other poster's views on LaTeX+BibTeX. I used them for my PhD thesis with great ease, too. There was even a .cls "template" to properly format the entire thing at my university.

I wouldn't be too harsh on the OOo folks. After all, they are building citation/bibliography management into their office suite, not writing a separate bit of software like Endnote to handle it (which costs money) for a commercial office suite like MS-Office (which costs money). Give them a couple of versions and I bet there are dramatic improvements.

Neither are good for thesis writting

Kais Hassan's picture

I am preparing to submit my PhD thesis soon, and I have tried diffrent combinations of office tools with citation managers. Although, Word 2007 and EndNote might appear like a good combination, they are not. You are better off with latex and bibtex. Software wise I recommend that you use Kile and Kbib as frontends. If you don't want to learn latex you can try Lyx which is a WYSIWYG editor for latex.

Citation management tools for a large document

Marc Lijour's picture

I will also support Hassan's comment. I had issues with both Word and Writer in the past. They are just not meant for large documents. Bottom line, serious writing should be just that, leaving serious formatting to a designer or the machine via, for example, LaTeX and BibTeX. Best case scenario, in my opinion, is when I can focus freely on the content and the machine takes care of the rest (sorting citations, cross-referencing, paginating, and so forth). Fortunately, LaTeX produces a nice professional-looking output, PDF ready. (Check-out beamer for sharp presentations and apacite for APA formatting.)

Word and Writer are good for short documents, and their loose (Mickey-Mouse) formatting is very helpful for quick assembly of good-enough office documents.

It should be acknowledged that LaTeX+BibTeX implies a learning curve but it is a good investment for somebody looking at presenting more than a few papers.


chemicalscum's picture

The Java based Jabref reads and generates BibTeX databases and integrates with OpenOffice.