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 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 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 is not radically different from its predecessor.

Nevertheless, you can now import Word 2007 documents into 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 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 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 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.