This is more than a little cool. Those of us who don't like paying the Microsoft Office suite tax have been waiting for the next version of OpenOffice for some time now and it's almost ready to go. The OpenOffice developers are still saying it's not ready for production use, but it is more than ready now for some serious testing by regular users.
This new version brings users a lot of features that they've been waiting for since 2007. One prime example is that you'll be able to import Office 2007's Open XML documents into OpenOffice. You may hate Open XML. I know I do. I mean what kind of standard can it be if Microsoft itself can't support it? Still, being able to trade files back and forth between Office 2007 and OpenOffice is another step in making OpenOffice acceptable to offices that are still stuck on Microsoft's proprietary formats.
OpenOffice's Writer also now allows you to view and edit two pages at once and in a 'book layout' format. It's no desktop publishing program. For that, in open source, you need Scribus, or, if you can deal with proprietary software, I recommend Adobe InDesign. Still, when you want to get an idea about what your printed manuscript will really look like, these two new ways to see and work with your document is darn helpful.
You can also now easily insert and use notes in your documents. This functionality, which comes in a feature called Notes2 can be a great help when multiple hands are working on a single document or just as a reminder to yourself that, for example, you really need to fact-check this paragraph before sending it out into the world.
Calc, OpenOffice's spreadsheet, has seen even more significant improvements. The biggest from where I sit is that you can now have spreadsheets with up to 1,024 columns. While I shudder at the mere thought of a spreadsheet with that many columns, my accountant friends tell me that they'll easily be able to put this feature to good use. They're also pleased by its linear optimization solver, which enables them-not me!--to determine a set of input values that maximize or minimize an objective function, while satisfying a set of constraints. Or, as they explained it to me, it will let them be able to tell me how much of my income to save to reach my retirement goal much more easily among many other common accounting problems.
OpenOffice's presentation program, Impress, has also been improved. It now comes with native tables and table design tools. Based on my toying with the betas of this program, I can see Impress as being a far more worthy competitor with Microsoft's PowerPoint.
There are dozens of other significant improvements, not least of which is that OpenOffice will finally be Mac OS X Aqua ready. When taken as a whole, I see OpenOffice 3 as being perhaps the most significant open-source application release of 2008. And, yes, I'm including Firefox 3/3.1 and Chrome in my listings.