Xess Spreadsheet for Linux, Standard Edition

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What is so special about this spreadsheet, and why might you prefer it to the StarOffice or Applixware spreadsheets?
Xtensible

Xess is endowed by its creators with certain indispensable utilities, such as direct read and write of Excel and Lotus spreadsheets (Excel 97 and WK4, but don't count on VB macros coming across), filtered text import and export, as well as HTML and LaTeX output. Obviously, it can print and do the usual generic things.

One big advantage for business users is that through the use of xsBasic, you can have macros to automate repetitive tasks (and many people find business boring precisely because of the endless streams of repetitive tasks). xsBasic is an expensive add-in ($200 US), but it's not bad for a Basic.

As a language, Basic has been constantly maligned, but I found the linear thinking involved in using Basic made the jump to assembly code particularly easy and obvious. The newer versions of Basic are similar enough to C that again, the transition is easy. In fact, when I finally had a computer with a hard drive and enough memory for a C compiler, I used to tell would-be C programmers, “Don't get intimidated; it's just like Basic.” (Of course, hackers who overheard would remark, “What Basic are you using, man?”) So, I think Basic is not such a bad language. It's particularly simple, and for some reason the business world demands simplicity to the point of idiocy, so (pardon the half-pun) Basic fits the bill. This particular implementation concentrates on dealing with the objects of the spreadsheet, from the borders and buttons to boxes, graphs and widgets. If you need this, you can buy it; contact AIS for information.

Apparently, some people are making interesting integration projects with Xess, although it's odd to me that anyone gets excited over spreadsheets. If you get really excited, there's even an API you can use that's based on the X Window System protocol.

Across Platforms

Another characteristic of Xess is that it is available across platforms. This includes not only the typical Linux and Windows NT, but also SunOS, Solaris, HP-UX, IRIX 5 and higher, SCO UNIX, Digital UNIX, Ultrix, OpenVMS, VMS, DG/UX and AIX. Check the web page for chip set and version specifics. You can probably put this spreadsheet on all the computers, even at extraordinarily diverse offices (and if you're using an unsupported platform such as C64 for some mission-critical application, I'd sure like to hear about it). This is probably more than the StarOffice and Applixware spreadsheets support.

Ad Infinitum

While it pains me to take sides in commercial affairs (because this implies siding against people who have put part of their lives into creating something which gets labeled “second-rate” or “not as good”), I am always compelled because it's important to help people make informed decisions; in this case the choice between Xess and other spreadsheets such as StarOffice and Applixware. While it's true that with the latter two you get whole office suites, their spreadsheet packages do not really compare. Applixware is probably the easiest to use, and StarOffice has a lot of features (not to mention being free of charge, which makes it nearly impossible to compete with), but Xess delivers more functionality and appears to calculate faster (it's hard to be sure on Linux boxes, which are already so fast). AIS concentrates exclusively on this one spreadsheet, whereas StarOffice and Applixware have whole office suites, so it stands to reason that the latter two would be hard-pressed to pay as much attention to the spreadsheet parts of their suites, while AIS can go beyond the basics and develop according to user needs faster. I should mention Xess pricing also goes beyond the basics; you can spend a fortune on it if you have such a mind. Still, one must economize, so it should be mentioned that most people will not find the StarOffice and Applixware spreadsheets to be limited at all; like many things in life, this is a case of good vs. better. But, if you do find other spreadsheets limited for your purposes, Xess is one solution. At the very least, get rid of Windows already—you don't need it anymore!

Further Rambling

For myself, the neat thing about Xess is that it brings to Linux a genuinely high-quality spreadsheet, like we'd expect to find on any other platform. Hopefully, this indicates that Linux users will no longer be stuck with almost-there-quality commercial wares. Too many producers go into business selling proprietary software that isn't up to par, and when I see their products, my only question is “why does this exist?”, because their packages are usually worse than the free offerings, not to mention being gratuitous (one point of free source is that we don't have to develop the same software several times over). While I usually can't stand proprietary software and seldom touch it outside the office (which makes some of my favorite activities completely impossible), I don't feel bad about recommending Xess to people who are willing to use commercial wares. AIS (the developer group) has actually delivered a high-quality proprietary application. A troupe of free software coders is hard at work on a spreadsheet named Gnumeric (part of Gnome Office), while the KDE folks are developing KSpread (a component of KOffice), so if you wish to contribute to a project, or just wait for the free spreadsheets to be delivered, those are your options. In the meantime, if you have a lot of money to spend on a commercial spreadsheet and aren't afraid to use it, Xess is probably your best bet.

Jason Kroll (hyena@ssc.com) is Technical Editor ofLinux Journal. In his mind, GNU/Linux is truly the miracle that saved computers.

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