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OpenOffice celebrates anniversary by squashing bug

Project had intended to observe occasion with 2.0 release, but that's been pushed back slightly.

The fifth anniversary of the launch seemed like a good day to release version 2.0 of the open-source office software suite, but a last-minute bug forced a delay.

The release date had been timed for Thursday, half a decade after Sun Microsystems launched the project. That day brought a new competitive front against the dominance of Microsoft Office, but only relatively recently has OpenOffice picked up significant steam.

Instead of unveiling the final version of an extensive revamp, though, OpenOffice developers stamped out a simple but significant bug that caused some opaque graphics elements to appear incorrectly as transparent, said Louis Suarez-Potts, community manager for the project. The bug is fixed in a new release candidate that should hit download sites Friday, he said.

Unless any other serious problems are found, version 2.0 should be released next week, Suarez-Potts said.

Though Microsoft's rival software remains dominant, OpenOffice can count significant victories. Its file format, in contrast to the proprietary ones used by Microsoft, is being standardized as OpenDocument, a format endorsed by the state of Massachusetts. Google will help distribute OpenOffice, Chief Executive Eric Schmidt said earlier in October. And so far, more than 49 million copies of the software have been downloaded, most of them version 1.0 or later, according to the OpenOffice Web site.

OpenOffice 2.0 includes a long list of new features besides the OpenDocument format. Among them:

• The user interface has been changed. People can use the software with a multipane view that divides the user interface into tool and work areas, while toolbars can be customized.

• Password-protected Microsoft Office files can be opened, as long as the password is known.

• A mail merge wizard is designed to make it easier to create different versions of the same letter intended for a large number of recipients.

• There are more-sophisticated options for export of files into Portable Document Format, a file format Microsoft plans to support with its upcoming Office 12.

• The Calc spreadsheet software supports twice as many rows--65,536, the same number as Microsoft Excel.

• The Java-based HSQLDB database is included.

• Documents can include digital signatures.

• WordPerfect files can be imported.

• There's support for different operating systems' native installation formats--MSI files for Windows and RPM files for Linux, for example.