Office Wars: Applixware and StarOffice
For your desktop web-publishing needs, Applix offers HTML Author, a variation of Applix Words designed specifically to create web pages. StarOffice Writer, the word processor, is likewise equipped for producing web documents. Already you can include hyperlinks in normal text files, but with these packages, you can create and format documents for the Web. After all, it's the most logical extension of desktop publishing, since web content can reach an enormous audience while consuming practically no resources (compared to the tree-slaughtering, postal-service-dependent printing press). It seems a bit like cheating to use these visual web programs instead of just writing the HTML yourself, but WYSIWYG can be more appealing than the trial-and-error (type this and see what happens) approach. The HTML capabilities are more of a convenient extension of desktop publishing functionality than a substitute for Netscape (or preferably just learning HTML), although you can also browse the Web with them; StarOffice Writer works much better for this. Also, there's no clever caching as in Netscape, so you're best off with Netscape/Mozilla or KFM for web browsing with graphics.
If you want serious graphics, you need either the GIMP or to wait for CorelDRAW. For any small or medium-size drawing projects especially producing objects for your documents, spreadsheets or presentations, the Applixware and StarOffice drawing applications can do what you need quickly and easily. Applix Graphics looks simple on the surface, like X Paint, but has much to offer including support for many graphics formats. It is simple and easy to use, but not exactly full-featured. In contrast, the StarOffice Draw and Image programs are well-designed for graphics components in an office suite (the phrase “almost engineered” comes to mind). There is a good assortment of brushes, effects and functions, all of which are quite flexible. The brush control is particularly nice. It's a bit complicated to get around, but if you can figure it out, you can produce usable graphics without much effort.
The spreadsheet was once the killer app of the computer world, and maybe it still is. As useful as word processors are, it is the spreadsheet that best exploits the computer's number-crunching capabilities. From office workers to statisticians, scientists and students, it seems we're all on spreadsheets at one point or another. Spreadsheets can dig into databases, crunch enormous amounts of information, spit out colorful and elegant graphs, and provide answers for our mathematical and statistical curiosity; hence they're quite popular. However, spreadsheets are tricky. There are so many different functions and syntaxes to support, it becomes very difficult to give comprehensive support to numerous popular spreadsheet file formats. The Applixware and StarOffice spreadsheet programs are quite good in their own right, but still have compatibility issues. Of course, Excel doesn't exactly support Applixware and StarOffice formats, either.
Cross-platform support is a big problem with Applixware Spreadsheets and StarCalc. While supporting word processor formats is not so difficult, the complexity involved in formulas, arrays, titles, graphics, tables, relationships, etc. makes it excruciating to program a spreadsheet that can deal with so many formats. If you import complicated spreadsheets, expect to find some titles missing and some functions listed as unimportable.
Ideally, you will be running your business on Linux/UNIX machines, so you shouldn't have to put up with Windows formats on a regular basis. There is a growing awareness of Linux as a business platform, and we can all help this along by taking the leap to break away from our dependency on non-native spreadsheet formats.
As for the spreadsheets themselves, they're fast and high quality, the difference being that StarCalc (see Figure 3) has far more to offer in terms of functions while Applixware Spreadsheets is fast and easier to use. Applix says Wall Street brokers use their software, and it's pretty good in the financial department. However, Applixware is missing too many formulas for it to be useful for serious statistical work (without having to program your own formulas, which can be done), whereas StarCalc is well-endowed, which can also mean a higher success rate in importing formats. Applixware is also quite inaccurate in its current incarnation in dealing with discrete floating-point operations. Worth considering is the excellent Xess spreadsheet from Business Logic, very fast and full of formulas, which I will review next month. If spreadsheets are crucial to you, check this one out before deciding.
The graphics on both spreadsheet packages are fine. The computer will generate color graphs of your data, rotate it, label it, and let you decide all the details of how it will look. This is typical of spreadsheets, but these actually do a good job of it. StarCalc is more thorough and offers some nice 3-D functions. Applixware is a bit funny; it uses chi as the formula icon, but then doesn't have chi stat formulas.
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