Office Wars: Applixware and StarOffice
The question on so many minds is how to set up a productive Linux desktop, and preferably, how to do it inexpensively. StarOffice is free of charge right now, so if you have the bandwidth, you might as well download it. It has a slightly steeper learning curve than Applixware, but once you have it down, you should be able to do anything. The point is, it's free, so if it's good enough for you, there's little sense in spending money unless you are worried about Sun gaining market dominance and not trusting what will happen afterwards. If you plan to spend most of your time writing, I'd opt for WordPerfect. Likewise, if you are going to be dependent on a spreadsheet, at least consider Xess before making a decision.
Applixware has its advantages. It's much faster than StarOffice (which has a habit of crashing and leaving tracers), and the interface is easier to negotiate. The feel is quite UNIX, and it's been a standard for a long time. Probably most, if not all, programs in Applixware are easier to use for anything basic, but when you find yourself wanting those weird, hard-to-do things, you'll probably have a higher success rate with StarOffice. Businesses could definitely take advantage of ELF, so I would recommend they consider Applixware Office, while I would suggest a download of StarOffice for individuals who just want to save money.
Linux office suites are not quite as easy as on other platforms. The features aren't all there, but if you're the slightest bit clever, you can do anything. A large part of the fun of using Linux is roughing it. “I'm not supposed to be able to do this, but look—I did it anyway!” is a defiant thrill, a key part of the Linux experience. The time when everything will work perfectly and there won't be any obstacles to office work is not far off. In the meantime, enjoy the mild challenges that come up when you have to do something weird that isn't quite supported; in the future, it's a recreational activity we might not have.
The market itself is a curious issue. Software's free nature has enabled the Open Source movement, but has also delivered to the commercial software industry the incantation for Armageddon, the ultimate price war. Applix is a strong competitor with unique offerings and intelligent strategies and should survive this full scale assault. Applix launched smartbeak.com, a web site devoted to the open-source exchange of ELF programs, and more recently acquired CoSource.com, a web site that matches free source developers with funding (truly a more modern development model). Nevertheless, the free-of-charge tactic exposes another fundamental defect in the already failing Cathedral-style, proprietary model. Without intervention, the commercial software industry might burn itself up, but with intervention it could strangle itself with more and more regulations imposed to support an arbitrary and inefficient development model, especially considering the impracticality of enforcing arbitrary “intellectual property” laws which are already considered illegitimate by many. With the new weapons of free-of-charge price wars, look-and-feel patents and reinforced hard-core digital copyright laws, this is a trip-wire and land-mine industry.
One thing we do know is this: Linux is completely ready to be your one and only desktop OS. We've got two excellent office suites, with more on the way, as well as individual components such as Corel WordPerfect and the Xess spreadsheet. Abolish your DOS partition, and put Linux on your secret Macintosh. What was once a hacker's project is now a completely viable system for home users, corporate users, government and public institutions, scientists, researchers, high school and college students; and yes, it's still the strongest magnet of brainpower in the computer world.