I'm writing this using Neo Office Writer from Version 2.0 Aqua Beta 3. For those of you unfamiliar with Neo Office, it's a port of Open Office designed to run natively on OS X; and this is the first version to use OS X's Aqua interface. I decided to download it and give Neo Office a workout on both my PowerBook G4 (1.5 Ghz) and my Intel-powered iMac. I'm going to try to employ all its different parts for work and private tasks over the next few weeks and report back on it here. If you're interested in checking it out for yourself, versions for both platforms (PPC and Intel OS X versions) can be found at http://neooffice.org.
My biggest gripe about Writer has been and continues to be be its two view limitation. You can only work in Page Layout and Web Layout modes. A Normal view, as can be found in both Word and in WordPerfect and that lets you concentrate on the words themselves, is non-existant. That means I have to fuss with magnifications and positioning to get the page where I need it to be. If there is one big improvement the open source community can make to this software, incorporation of a Normal view would be it.
Right-clicking on a page brings up a contextual menu containing most of the things one would expect. Font, Size, Style, Alignment, Line Spacing, and Character Case are all controlled from fly-out menus from a right-click. Character, Paragraph, Page (Styling), Numbering Bullets, and Edit Paragraph Style functions bring up other dialogs from the contextual menus when selected. I liked having access to these things from the contextual menu, but sometimes system response was slow when dealing with them. The Font menu was the worst offender; scrolling down the list of fonts was almost painful on my G4. However, it was the only place where I saw any kind of performance problem; all other dialogs popped up crisply.
Automatic spell checking was on by default; it underlines misspelled words with a wavy red line. Right-clicking on the problem word does bring up the correct spelling. I think I accidentally turned on auto correction, and I found it to be distracting but not intrusive as it often came up with the wrong guess about what word I was typing. Continuing to type took care of the problem.
Running quickly through the menus, I found most of the items I would expect to see in a word processor and a few I hadn't. Under the “Insert” menu was a “Manual Break” item which inserts a line, page, or column break at the cursor. (You choose which one want in a window that pops up when the menu item is selected.) There is also an “Insert/Cross-Reference” item which allows one to insert several types of cross-references (such as other documents or databases). There are lots of other features I haven't seen mentioned in Word I find interesting and seem like they would be especially useful to students, teachers, and researchers. I intend to show Neo Office to my wife who's an associate professor at a local university to get her reaction to it.
Overall, the word processor seemed responsive. During a Save, icons on the main toolbar faded out with a graphical ripple; and I also noticed a spinning blue beachball at times as the software performed other auto functions. Still, Writer is a pretty capable word processor and a great substitute for Microsoft's Office if you can't afford it.
Stand by for other commentary on Writer and Neo Office in particular as I use them over the next few weeks.