Mac OS X version of OpenOffice slated for next September

Aqua developer porting force is (back) on the case

A version of the free OpenOffice.org productivity suite that will work natively on Apple Inc.'s Mac OS X operating system may finally be ready in September 2008.

That's when Version 3.0 of OpenOffice is expected to ship, according to a presentation (download PDF) to be given Wednesday by Eric Bachard, one of the lead developers of the Mac "Aqua" port of OpenOffice. He'll speak at the open-source project's annual developers conference in Barcelona.

"Aqua" is the name of the graphical user interface in Mac OS X. OpenOffice.org has long had a Mac version of its applications, but that requires that users first install a Unix windowing software called X11. Most users consider that a kludgy, unaesthetic solution.

There is a free, native Aqua version of OpenOffice called NeoOffice that is created by open-source developers unaffiliated with OpenOffice.org. It has received positive reviews.

The latest version 2.2.1 of NeoOffice includes support for Mac OS X Spellchecker and Address Book, and experimental support for opening Open XML files created by Excel 2007 and PowerPoint 2007. It was released late last month and is downloadable from neooffice.org.

OpenOffice.org discontinued its Aqua port in 2003, but restarted the project in February. And in May, OpenOffice.org's chief supporter, Sun Microsystems Inc., assigned two employee programmers to help.

Still, the Aqua project only has 10 to 20 people working on it at any given time, according to Bachard's presentation. None appear to be employees of Apple.

The most-up-to-date alpha version of the "Aqua" port can be downloaded from cusoo.org.

lt works on either Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5, running on either Intel or PowerPC-based Mac hardware.

That version still lacks key features such as the ability to drag-and-drop items, and compatibility with Mac OS X's spellchecker, address book, and search function, Spotlight. It is also not built using OS X's most up-to-date "Cocoa" application programming interface, though the team is working on it, according to Bachard.

In an e-mail, Bachard said he "expects to provide a build including everything ASAP."

Besides the Aqua port, version 3.0 of OpenOffice is expected to include a filter to import files saved in Microsoft Office 2007's Open XML document format, a report designer, and more language versions.

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