The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) has released the latest version of its free open source productivity suite OpenOffice, providing new features that include an adjustable sidebar based on IBM's Lotus Symphony software.

OpenOffice 4.0's resizable sidebar provides users with context-sensitive toolbars that bring up options based on what they are editing at the time. Apache says it has been designed for widescreen displays and can be undocked or moved to a second display.

The latest version introduces a new framework that allows third party developers to build sidebar controls into their own extensions, which are available from ASF's website. However, the non-profit organisation has warned that not all extensions will be immediately compatible with OpenOffice 4.0.

It has also been tweaked to allow greater interoperability with Microsoft's Office programs, including Word 2003, Excel and PowerPoint. Other improvements include an extended colour palette that borrows colours from Lotus Symphony, and support for Greek, Portuguese and Tamil languages.

Growing popularity

Downloads of OpenOffice 3.4 hit 50 million downloads in May, peaking at around 150,000 downloads back in January. According to ASF's blog, more than 80% of downloads were made to machines running Windows.

The free software exists as an alternative to Microsoft's Office 2013 software, which begins at £109.99 for a single PC licence.