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March 18, 2010
This year (2010) marks the 10th anniversary of a lot of things: Tuvalu’s entry into the United Nations, Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon, and the debut of Windows ME, for example. But much more importantly, 2010 marks OpenOffice.org’s tenth year of existence. To celebrate, here’s a look–literally, because there are a lot of screenshots–at how OOo has evolved throughout the decade.
OpenOffice’s history began on July 19, 2000, when Sun GPL’d the source code of StarOffice, which it had purchased a year earlier from the German company StarDivision. Granted, that means OOo won’t actually turn ten until this summer, but what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t jump the gun from time to time?
Since then, OpenOffice has been one of the poster children of open-source development, demonstrating that free-software projects can produce high-quality products able to compete with commercial alternatives (the fact that dozens of fulltime programmers were paid to work on OpenOffice certainly didn’t hurt in its success).
It’s no stretch to say that without OOo, desktop Linux would likely remain a pipe dream for most people, since a huge amount of Ubuntu’s attraction and viability would be lost if it lacked a quality office suite. Sure, there are other great open-source office applications out there, like Abiword and KOffice, but they lack the cross-platform appeal and exhaustive functionality of OpenOffice.
To trace OpenOffice’s evolution from its primordial days to the present, I took screenshots of various of its releases to see just how much has changed in a decade. Admittedly, the images below represent only OOo Writer, leaving out the office suite’s other important components. Apologies to fans of Impress, Calc, Math, Base and Draw, but I can only do so much in one day.
To start out with a view of OpenOffice from its nascent days, here’s version 1.0.3, released in May 2003 (it took a while for StarOffice to turn into OpenOffice). I installed the Windows build of the application in wine because I couldn’t find a Linux live CD old enough to include this version of OOo:
OpenOffice.org 1.0.3 Screenshot
The basic features of the application that we know and love today were there in 2003, but its interface remained a bit bizarre and ugly.
For kicks, here’s the Windows installer for 1.0.3 (apologies for the jumbled text; the installer was in the middle of transitioning from one paragraph to the next):
OpenOffice.org 1.0.3 Installation Screenshot
Next up, here’s OOo 1.1.5, which debuted in September 2005 as the last member of the 1.x line:
OpenOffice.org 1.1.5 Screenshot
Besides some prettier icons, not much had changed interface-wise since the beginning of the 1.x line.
Moving on, here’s the face of OpenOffice 2.0, which brought major improvements when it landed in October 2005. This is what it looked like in Ubuntu 6.06, Dapper Drake:
OpenOffice.org 2.0 Screenshot
Personally speaking, this is the version of OpenOffice that facilitated my transition to the Free (software) world, since I first began experimenting with Linux in 2006. I vaguely recall using some 1.x version of OOo on a Mandriva live CD and being thoroughly unimpressed with its laggy, cluttered interface. The first time I tried OpenOffice 2.0, however, I felt confident that free software could work for me.
The 2.x series of OOo remained largely the same throughout its nearly four-year lifespan, with only incremental enhancements to its interface. The 3.x releases also didn’t include any major overhauls to the face of OpenOffice, but they did bring a few noticeable updates, such as those visible in this image of OOo 3.1 (released in May 2009) running on Ubuntu Karmic:
OpenOffice 3.1 Screenshot
Of particular note is the zoom tool in the bottom-right corner of the main screen. Admittedly, this was a ripoff of Word 2007, but it’s a very useful feature.
And finally, to bring us all the way to the present, here’s OpenOffice 3.2 running in Ubuntu Lucid:
Beneath its visage, the OpenOffice 3.x series introduced important new functionality, such as out-of-the-box support for Office Open XML files–a.k.a. .docx, .xlxs, etc.
And on that note, of course, there have been plenty of other hugely significant improvements to OpenOffice over the years that aren’t obvious from the screenshots above. From its beginnings as a pretty bulky application, OOo has become steadily lighter and faster over the years. Its compatibility with Microsoft Office has also become nearly flawless, at least in Writer, which is a lot more than I can say about my first experience trying to open complex Word documents with OOo.
For the near future, OpenOffice development goals center on bringing Impress up to speed, so we’re not likely to see any remarkable new features in Writer soon.
All the same, I can’t think of much else I would like to see in Writer, short of a word processor that wrote my comprehensive exams for me. If only.
Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.
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