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OpenOffice ready for world tour

OpenOffice.org releases a beta version of its open-source office software, featuring enhanced support for creating non-English versions of the application.

The organization behind OpenOffice on Wednesday released a trial version of one of the first major updates to the free open-source office software.

A beta release of version 1.1 of OpenOffice is available now from OpenOffice.org.

OpenOffice is the open-source sibling of Sun Microsystems' StarOffice, a software package that includes a word processor, spreadsheet application and other software tools. The package competes with Microsoft's dominant Office but can open and save files in Office formats.

Significant additions in version 1.1 include new formats for importing and exporting documents, including the ability to save files in PDF (portable document format), the widespread electronic publishing format popularized by Adobe systems.

The new OpenOffice also includes enhanced support creating non-English versions of the software, including languages that read text right-to-left or bottom-to-top. That means national governments or universities with a few developers to spare can quickly produce a localized version of OpenOffice, a key feature in spreading adoption of the software, said Sam Hiser, co-leader of the marketing project for OpenOffice.org.

"I think it's very, very important to have these capabilities to support the globalization of the software," said Hiser. "Penetration on cheap hardware in the emerging-market countries is going to be a very important source of growth for open-source software in general, and for that to happen, it's really important to get people working in their first language.

OpenOffice also includes enhanced support for XML (Extensible Markup Language) and expanded support for devices such as text readers that allow the disabled to take advantage of software. "Accessibility is really key for getting more government users," Hiser said.