Office Wars: Applixware and StarOffice
Precisely what is included in an office suite varies from one vendor to another. Applixware and StarOffice provide many of the same applications, but each offers a couple of things the other does not. StarOffice has quantitatively more offerings, although one is well-advised to consider quality over quantity. And of course, the real question isn't “who's best?”, but which one makes you happiest. To complicate matters, StarOffice is free of charge at the moment while Applixware costs $100, so there is definitely a price incentive to go with StarOffice. At the same time, office suites are like office chairs; you should be sure you have the right one, because you're going to be spending a lot of time with it. Also, there is something to be said for the danger of letting larger businesses affect Microsoft-style price wars (<\#224> la Internet Explorer), but one wants to go with the best product either way, and Sun may adopt a semi-open-source policy at some point. Regardless, Table 1 is a summary of the similar offerings from Applixware and StarOffice.
Superficially speaking, the look-and-feel difference between StarOffice and Applixware is that StarOffice features itself as having a self-contained, uniform office environment, all in one window (see Figure 1), whereas Applixware's components are integrated but have individual windows operating within the window manager's environment (see Figure 2). The advantage of StarOffice's approach is that users have a complete office environment they can use on any platform with any window manager, without having to deal with anything unfamiliar. Likewise, the advantage of Applixware's approach is that it gives more flexibility to the user to manipulate the windows in whatever ways happen to work best. Hence, the disadvantage, if you call it that, is users will need the brainpower to cope with a window manager. Still, it must be said that window managers for Linux have become nothing short of amazing, while StarOffice's environment does not look as nice or work as well as any of our typical window managers or desktop environments. In fact, StarOffice's habit of restricting everything to one window loses the benefit of virtual desktops and can lead to several layers of clutter. However this is entirely an issue of personal taste, and while I prefer Applixware's flexibility of windows, many people will prefer StarOffice's self-contained environment, and none of this should really matter compared to the capabilities of the suites.
The word processor may be the most popular computer application and consequently has become a flagship product in office suites. Corel, for example, is planning to deliver an office suite for Linux based around the strength of WordPerfect. Word processors don't actually do anything phenomenal and they're very similar these days, so as a result of an effort to improve word processors that are already just fine, they have become overrun with gratuitous functions, while it seems some basic areas are given less attention than they might deserve.
An important consideration for Linux users who want to purge MS Word from their life, but need to read and write .doc files, is how well a Linux word processor can import and export different file formats. StarOffice Writer and Applix Words both export and import MS Word files and RTF (Rich Text Format), but Applixware supports more import/export formats including WordPerfect, Frame MIF and various ASCII formats, while StarOffice has very strong support for export formats but less support for importing. “It's not us vs. them, it's us and them” says Applix's web site, and this consideration is taken more seriously with Applixware. Sun probably doesn't see things this way and has the capital to make this an “us vs. them” struggle. In fact, Sun has developed a program to wean people from MS Office and get them trained for StarOffice. Still, cooperation is nice, and these processors would benefit from increased support of standards like PostScript and PDF. The existing support for importing and exporting document formats is not quite perfect in either, and there seems to be some resentment on all fronts to keep up with everyone's formats. However, documents are less complicated than spreadsheets, so you can expect things to be all right here.
As for the gratuitous functions, both Applix Words and StarOffice Writer are loaded. Obviously, these days you can easily import whatever you want into your document, especially anything created with any other component of the office suite. This is exceedingly useful, but a host of other features go a bit over the top. Both suites can make all sorts of formatting contortions, format automatically, correct errors, offer thesaurus support, insert all kinds of objects and fields, sort, merge and manipulate whatever you like. And, of course, there's clip art—lots of it. Word processing has become synonymous with desktop publishing, and now it's moved into the new territory of the Web.