Office Wars: Applixware and StarOffice
There is little to be said about e-mail. It's not hard to implement, so it works. Both Applix Mail and StarMail are fine for sending and receiving e-mail, supporting MIME, Sendmail, POP3, folders, etc. These actually seem a bit dull, and I'd prefer to use mutt with all its colors, but they're integrated components and that's what' important. StarOffice even has its own threaded newsreader called Discussion.
Presentation software is important for people who make presentations. If you are one of these people, you can use one of these packages. As is typical in the Applixware/StarOffice comparison, Applixware is simpler while StarOffice is more thorough. I found Applix Presents to do well for informal affairs (probably just on account of the nature of its templates), while StarImpress would be better suited for formal presentations, although this is a bit categorical. StarImpress has a nice collection of templates and a well-designed drawing program, so with some resourcefulness, you can put together quite a decent presentation. Applix Presents will also do for most circumstances and it's quite easy to use, but seems a bit less flexible and the included templates are not as beautiful. Since presentation software is so bureaucratic and businesslike, it fits in with the office-culture scene, but I have my doubts as to its value. Still, it's fun to play around with.
In the LJ Readers' Choice poll, many people asked, “Who needs databases?”, and honestly, they can be a bit dull. In any case, StarOffice has a database with drag-and-drop and relational-link capabilities between several tables. Applixware in turn has more or less the same thing, to spare you the effort of learning SQL. ODBC (for example, MySQL and ADABAS) should work fine, so if you feel the need to bother with databases, you can choose either of these tools. Not being a database connoisseur, I don't have a preference.
A key element of Applixware Office is ELF, the Extension Language Facility, a scripting language with interactive interpreter, compiler and debugger. The idea is to allow rapid prototyping, so there are over 3,300 macros included, as well as typical user-interface design tools such as a menu editor, bitmap editor, drag-and-drop/dialog editor, a TCP/IP socket interface and an SQL database interface. Applix says the Applixware Office suite is written largely in ELF, so clearly it's capable of something. Although it was once proprietary, ELF has been detached from Applixware and is available under LGPL as SHELF. Inside of Applixware, the giant advantage of ELF is that it rapidly allows users to extend the functionality of the suite. Businesses each have their own peculiar demands, and this kind of flexibility and extensibility is said to have popularized Applixware. ELF is a composite of Elisp and BASIC (sounds promising, eh?), but apparently ELF is more like an evolved awk or sed.
Applix Builder is the integrated development environment for designing and debugging ELF programs. The ELF library is LGPL and can be dynamically linked. The applixware.org web site is devoted to the open-source exchange of ELF software. It's an interesting attempt at utilizing the open-source phenomenon to increase the value of a product, and it may actually be working. In any event, you can incorporate C, C++ and CORBA into your ELF code, so it's fairly powerful.
StarOffice has a unique offering, an office-scheduling program which is a lot like those big white calendar sheets people put on their desks—only digital and a bit more organized. Control freaks can chart out their days, weeks and months and keep track of projects, meetings and the usual business events. PDA enthusiasts may find this quite useful, as StarOffice Schedule will synchronize data with PDAs such as the PalmPilot. I think plan is good enough, but at least you've got this scheduler around if you feel inclined to use it.
By including so many components, Applixware and Sun haven't made it easy to quantify their office suites. First, the filters. There are a ton of them, and they work well enough to get a file loaded into your office suite. However, there are far more filters than importers, and filters take things away. That means you can bring a document, spreadsheet or presentation across, but umprocessable data will be removed and you'll have to fill it in by hand. Exporting is a bit easier to implement, especially for simple files. In general, the less fancy the file, the easier it is to move. The more advanced the formatting, the more likely it will be mangled, er, filtered.
StarTools are components of the individual programs in the office suite. StarOffice Image, for example, is part of StarDraw; Chart is part of the spreadsheet; Math is a formula editor; Gallery is for navigating clip art and other multimedia bits; HelpAgent is the on-line help; Navigator is your typical GUI; Stylist manages the templates. Ultimately, they're just necessary components. For advertising purposes, Sun catalogs its accessories while Applix catalogs its filters, although both packages have components. It's generally true that StarOffice is better on accessories and Applixware is better on filters, but both are fairly well-balanced.