Applixware and StarOffice
As I mentioned earlier, I found StarOffice more difficult to install than Applixware, although an experienced Linux user should not find installation of either package particularly difficult.
Unlike Applixware, in which each application is invoked through a master control-panel utility, StarOffice consists of individually invoked applications that communicate via a special daemon. Unfortunately, I could not get either the inter-application daemon or the help daemon to work under Slackware. In all likelihood, this was due to my system's lacking some special configuration; still, without the help daemon working, I had no way to read the documentation to discover the cause of my problem.
First, here are my global impressions. The StarOffice package is quite sophisticated. Its look-and-feel is slicker than that of Applixware—clearly some very talented designers and programmers paid a great deal of attention to the details of this package. While its interface will be easily used by someone who has worked with the Microsoft Office tools, it is, in my opinion, more flexible and easier to use than its Microsoft counterpart. There's something very German about StarOffice, in the same way there's something very German about a Mercedes or a BMW—a combination of impeccable engineering and a design that is solid, rich and intelligent.
As with the Microsoft tools and unlike Applixware, StarOffice implements each element of the interface as a separate object. This lets the user assemble and arrange the elements of the interface to best suit her preferences.
This look and feel does come at a price, however; StarOffice runs considerably slower on trailing-edge hardware, such as the system I used for testing, than Applixware does. This is serious software that requires serious hardware. The subtlety of the interface, too, requires at least a 17-inch monitor to be used to its best advantage.
StarCalc is the spreadsheet application included with StarOffice. As I mentioned earlier, I seldom use spreadsheets; however, as best I can tell, StarCalc offers the features that one would expect from a well-designed spreadsheet.
StarChart builds charts and graphs. The user can either enter data by hand or use files built with any of a variety of word processors, text processors or spreadsheets. StarOffice allows the user to build the standard variety of charts: pie, bar, line, scatter or area. Images or graphics in any of a variety of formats can be pasted in. Graphs can be exported to other StarOffice applications, or to a variety of other tools.
StarDraw is a tool for assembling images. With StarDraw, you can assemble images and graphics plus text into presentations of one or more slides. This is the StarOffice analogue to Microsoft PowerPoint.
StarImage is a tool for working with images. It comes with the usual features for assembling and manipulating images. However, I don't think it is a tool that will make anyone forget xv.
StarMath is a tool that enables building and testing of mathematical formulas. You can import formulas from other tools, use a point-and-click interface to select from a rich set of mathematical elements in order to modify a formula, and export the results to a variety of other tools, including StarCalc.
StarWriter is a full-featured word processor. Figure 2 shows StarWriter's main window. The StarWriter interface will be familiar to those who have worked with Microsoft Word. Folded into StarWriter are a number of features usually seen in separate tools, in particular tools for displaying and building documents in HTML. What a novel idea: a tool for working with documents should work intelligently with a variety of documents, regardless of format.
I should state here that I have spent thousands of hours working with text processors, starting with troff and working through Word, Frame and other WYSIWYG tools. Over that time I've become rather jaded; I've found that slickness in a tool usually impedes my work rather than helps it. But this jaded user quickly fell in love with StarWriter; it is now my word processor of choice. Now, if I could just convince the boss to let me use it at work.
I was delighted with both packages. I found them both to be good, robust office tools. I warmly recommend both Applixware and StarOffice to users who need to run office applications under Linux.
Which package you choose will depend on a number of factors:
Applixware's installation is easier than StarOffice's. Applixware does not require a user to modify her environment before using the package.
Applixware runs more briskly than StarOffice, at least on the trailing-edge hardware I used.
The edition of Applixware I reviewed includes a printed introductory manual, which I found helpful. StarOffice requires users to gain access to the on-line documentation, and doing so is by no means easy.
StarOffice's interface more closely resembles Microsoft Office than does Applixware's. StarOffice's buttons, switches and menus will appear familiar to users who have worked with Microsoft Office.
StarOffice's interface is configurable: buttons can be added to the toolbars, removed from them or repositioned. Applixware has a static interface: what you see is what you get and that's it.
Each package offers some applications not included with the other. For example, Applixware includes an HTML-builder, whereas StarOffice includes a mathematics package.
These differences notwithstanding, each package offers excellent value for your money, especially compared to its Microsoft counterpart.
If you are considering an office package for Linux, I strongly suggest that you try out both packages and select the one that best suits your needs and tastes.
In my opinion, both Applixware and StarOffice offer the ordinary computer user a reasonable alternative to Microsoft Office, and offer other features as well—not to mention giving the user access to the power of Linux.
Fred Butzen is a technical writer and programmer who lives in Chicago. He is the principal author of the manual for the Coherent operating system, and is co-author of The Linux Database (MIS:Press, 1997) and The Linux Network (MIS:Press, 1998). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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