Updated: November 4, 2011
It's been about a year and a half since I have last reviewed OpenOffice4Kids (OOo4Kids), which is a special version of OpenOffice for children aged 6-12 more or less, tweaked to look and behave. I loved the concept very much, mostly because it offered something that pretty much no other suite does; it offered visual simplicity.
OOo4Kids had very few buttons in its GUI, which is commendable, since most people can hardly use them. But if the idea works for kids, why not adults? Still, we're here to talk about OOo4Kids. Version 0.6 was ok, but it was mostly the Writer that has undergone polish, other elements of the suite suffering from some rather odd choices. Now, the software has grown to version 1.2. Let's see what it can do.
Writer remains little changed from the previous release. It's still a simple thing. My one gripe is that there's still no emphasis on styles, whatsoever. Kids that learn using word processors with manual bold and italic and whatnot will end up with messy and inconsistent papers and never quite learn the critical importance of separation of content from style. No need to get drastic and pull the heavy guns, but it would do well to at least hint on this functionality. I mean, it's there, but it's just the usual OpenOffice stuff. The word marginalia does not seem right for 10-year old kids, does it?
Calc, the spreadsheet utility has seen some improvement, and so has Impress. There's less clutter, fewer unneeded buttons and the menus are simpler. However, there's a lot more work to be done. You still get the nerdy marketing templates in the presentations. Introducing a new product, now really, kids can't even work till they are about 18 or so, you wouldn't recommend child labor, would you?
It's not a bad effort overall, but there's a marked difference between what Writer and the rest offer. Most of the emphasis is on the word processor, so maybe there's no need for shipping a complete office suite then?
The rest is pretty much the same. The installation is as OpenOffice as it has always been. You get several more programs that no child will ever use. If you dig deeper into the menus, you'll find leftovers from the adult [sic] version. Still, there's quite a bit of progress, and OpenOffice4Kids is slowly shaping up to become a usable and comprehensive educational tool.
I liked OOo4Kids then and I like it now. You get small, incremental improvements, which is a good thing. But like I wrote earlier, the journey is still long. There's huge potential here, and it must be tapped. This require larger, bigger, more drastic, and faster changes to make the software the ultimate educational weapon.
I would recommend completely overhauling the interface in non-Writer utilities and maybe even ditching them altogether, especially if children are not likely to use them. Then, focus most of the effort on making the program as safe and smart to use, with intelligent hints toward efficiency, separation of content and automated tasks.
Version 1.2 is better than its half-number sibling, but there's more to be done. I'm pleased overall and still quite optimistic, so I shall surely follow its progress into puberty. With some luck and lots of hard work, this could be the best office suite yet, for all the unintended reasons.
Thanks to Alexandros for the recommendation!