Applixware and StarOffice

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A detailed comparison of the two office packages, their installations and ease of use.
Applixware Installation

Installation of Applixware requires the user to log in as the superuser. Installation for Applixware is managed by rpm, the Red Hat Package Manager, a copy of which is included on the Applixware CD-ROM. A shell script invokes rpm, queries the user via a crude graphical interface for options (e.g., the directory into which the package should be installed and alternate languages for documentation), then installs the selected Applixware features. The default installation, including optional clip art and English-language documentation, consumes about 112MB of disk space.

Applixware's various applications work through a single master program, called applix. Applixware creates a symbolic link to applix in /bin at installation. Because applix manages access to shared libraries and other utilities, a user does not need to modify her environment to use Applixware.

The license for this version of Applixware limits it to a single user.

In brief, installation is simple and straightforward.

StarOffice Installation

Installation of StarOffice requires the user to log in as the superuser, then use rpm to install packages of executables. A copy of rpm is included with the release, in case your release of Linux does not include it. Unlike Applixware, in which installation is managed by a shell script, you must invoke rpm by hand for each part of StarOffice you wish to install.

Installation goes quite smoothly. The default installation, including English-language documentation, consumes about 75MB of disk space.

The license for StarOffice allows the package to be used by only one user. That user must run a set-up program to configure the package for her. She must then add a script to her account's profile to set the environment properly for StarOffice.

Installation and setup are relatively simple. Unfortunately, the need to patch the user's environment is not documented. A naive user will find StarOffice does not work after setup and will have no way to figure out how to fix the problem.

Test Environment

I tested both packages on a home-brew PC built around a 100-MHz i80486 DX4 processor. The machine has 16 megabytes of RAM and a 2.2-GB SCSI disk plugged into an Adaptec 1542 controller. The machine runs Slackware release 3.2, which uses kernel 2.0.19 and libc release 5.4.17.

Both packages require a lot of horsepower. The test system was able to run both reasonably well. However, running either package on a 486 is not something I would recommend if you are at all impatient.

Criteria for Testing

To exhaustively test each module in two complex packages is impossible in a reasonable period of time. I decided, therefore, to concentrate on the following criteria for each package:

  • Functionality: Does each module provide at least the minimum needed to perform a given task?

  • Communication: Do the modules work well with each other?

  • Portability: Do the modules import and export files correctly? I was particularly interested in their ability to import and export files to Microsoft Office.

  • Robustness: Could I find any obvious bugs?

  • Aesthetics: Which package's “look and feel” did I prefer? This is, of course, a subjective judgment.

Applixware Results

As mentioned earlier, Applixware works through a single master application, which invokes all of the other applications.

First, here are my global impressions. A user who is familiar with Microsoft Office will find herself at home in Applixware. The biggest difference is that toolbars and buttons cannot be rearranged dynamically—what you see is what you get. Likewise, it does not come with as rich a set of fonts and templates as Office. The contents and ordering of menus, including right-button menus, closely resemble their Microsoft analogues.

A few minor differences exist. For example, you must click a menu's button before the menu drops down, rather than just sweeping the mouse pointer over the button. I, for one, find this to be an improvement rather than a problem; you may disagree.

As with the Microsoft Office applications, each object manipulated by Applixware is linked with the utility that generated it. For example, if you drag clip art into an Applix Words document and then double-click over it, Applix invokes Applix Graphics, which displays the graphic and allows you to edit it.

Finally, Applix comes with a nicely written set of documentation, including context-sensitive help screens.

Applix Words is a full-featured word processor. Figure 1 shows the Applix Words screen with some text dropped into the document. (Images in this article were made using xv.)

Figure 1. Applix Words Screen

My preliminary test showed it to be robust. I found I could export documents to Microsoft Word and import documents from it without error. Unlike Microsoft Word, the user must click the Import button and give the document's type, rather than clicking the Open button and depending upon the application to sense the file's type; however, I found this to be only a minor difficulty.

An anecdote may illustrate the application's robustness: while I was working on this review, I was also doing the index for The Linux Network. The publisher insisted on receiving it in Microsoft Word 6.0 format. I prepared a raw form of the index in text under Linux using Emacs, because Emacs is a much more powerful editor than any available in a GUI environment. My intention was to convert the file to Word format just before I shipped it. However, the weekend before I was to deliver the index, the hard disk on my Windows 95 machine died. I did not have time to install a new disk and reconfigure it. In desperation, I used Applix Word to convert the index to Word format and shipped it to the publisher; the file was accepted without a murmur.

Applix HTML Author is a simple, straightforward tool for preparing web pages. I found it useful for editing existing web pages, less so when preparing a web page de novo. One drawback is that HTML data types are presented in the menu by name rather than through descriptive text.

On the whole, a user who is not already familiar with HTML will not find this tool especially helpful.

Applix Graphics is a tool for drawing and assembling graphics. Anyone who has used similar tools, such as Frame, Microsoft Word or xfig, will find its features and interface familiar.

Applix Graphics serves as the graphics “lightboard” for Applix Presents (described below) and other Applix applications. Created images can be exported to most common graphical formats and can be pasted into other Applix documents. In this, Applixware has a definite advantage over Microsoft Office. Office's applications each have their own graphics engine, and the output of each is by no means totally compatible with the other Office applications. (As I found once when I tried to export a PowerPoint graphic to Word 6.0, only to find that all gray-scale elements had vanished.)

Applix Spreadsheets is a spreadsheet with the usual features. I am no spreadsheet maven, so I will pass over it by saying that it appears to do what one would expect from a spreadsheet.

Applix Presents: This tool lets the user build graphical presentations such as slide shows, sets of overhead displays or handouts. It is analogous to Microsoft PowerPoint. As I mentioned earlier, this tool uses Applix Graphics as its “lightboard”, so if you've become familiar with that tool, you should not have much trouble mastering Presents.

This tool comes with a nicely designed set of templates.

Users who are used to PowerPoint will find this tool departs from the Microsoft “look and feel” somewhat more than the other Applix utilities. However, most of the useful PowerPoint features are present, including outline format, notes format and the ability to print in a variety of single-slide and multi-slide arrangements.

Applix Mail is a mailer which contains the usual features, such as those found with Netscape Communicator or similar GUI mailers. One nice feature not seen in Netscape Communicator mailers is that messages with attached files built by Microsoft applications can be exported immediately to the appropriate Applix utility and viewed. You don't have to save it to a file, then export it to a Windows box before you can view it. Not every Microsoft format is recognized; in particular, a filter for Word 7.0 is not included with the package reviewed. However, I nonetheless found it to be quite useful.

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