As mentioned, the word processor functions all seem to be present and accounted for. Mercifully, there are some elements that exist and can (once you've closed the “correction” windows) be ignored, such as the tendency for the automatic spell checker to write “quantitative”, when you were simply typing “quantity”. The manual mentions “streamlining routine formatting tasks”, which by all accounts involves turning on wordwrap as a default setting and not indicating this to the user.
My personal bias against HTML editors was confirmed upon attempting to draft a simple grey-on-black information page. SO 5.2 did not display the grey-on-black information page; it did display a black-on-black information page, which may indicate a certain independence of spirit to its creators but is hardly a useful quality in web publication.
There are several formats supported by Writer, including Word 6.0, Rich Text Format and StarOffice's “housebrand” of text formatting. ASCII is, thankfully, also supported—although you have to confirm this choice when saving your document.
There are two ways to configure Mail and Discussion: you can specify that the configuration parameters should be the same as used in Netscape Messenger, and choose for the program to do this automatically, or you can manually enter these parameters. As I'm not altogether certain of the security risks involved in the first choice, I've chosen to do this manually. You can bypass these options by specifying “Don't Use Internet” with the click of a mouse.
E-mail is a nice thing to be able to access whilst pounding away on a recalcitrant document. Access you may, but replying to that proton epistle is a wee bit more of a challenge than one might wish, especially if “Reply” buttons/keystrokes are your custom. If all else fails (and it will), right click. The same principles apply to newsgroup-reading.
Need to make a presentation to the board? Need to be able to rehearse timings of slides and make the best impression you can?
Both of these tools were surprisingly good. I'm no graphic artist but still managed to get a little slide up in less than seven minutes. Actual presentation makers could probably get the whole presentation done in that time. As it was, I attempted to make a few more “slides”, create a slide show, change the order, etc., and view the results with Player. In terms of tools that are designed for productivity, and not for messing about with configuring/de-configuring options, these two applications exemplify the ease of use the developers of other StarOffice applications should be aiming for.
There are minor components of SO 5.2 that are interesting and provide pleasant “dressing” to the office suite. Some of the clip art is quite welldesigned. The Schedule is very nicely set up, allowing the user to survey an entire week at a glance. Fonts, as well as 2-D and 3-D effects, make for some eye-catching products.
On 10/13/2000 (yes, a Friday) Sun made the code for StarOffice 5.2 available for download (http://openoffice.org/). It's worth noting that Sun is still retaining the copyright of the project, regardless of who contributes what code or how much of the code is completely rewritten.
From what this writer has seen, three elements are missing from Star Office 5.2: consistency, modularity and unity. There is no consistent quality among the applications: some work very well indeed, while others are “not-yet-ready-for-prime-time”. Modularity would allow each application to run separately, as does Player, and therefore give the user more direct control over what s/he wants to run. Running everything from “one place” sounds nice, but better results would arise out of an expanded context menu than from a bulky pseudo-desktop, which is more visible and serves less purpose than the menus concealed in its left border.
An office suite is normally categorized as “Productivity Software”. StarOffice 5.2 doesn't yet belong here.
Stephanie Black is a recent migrant to IT and owns and runs Coastal Den Computing, a Linux consultancy. She has spent 80% of her coding life working with Linux and can be reached at email@example.com.
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