Manufacturer: Sun Microsystems
Price: Free download (shipping and handling for media)
Reviewer: Stephanie Black
The need for business applications that run on Linux is well documented. We all want something that will further diminish the hold of the Redmond Contingent on the corporate market. We want to be able to cheer on anyone bold enough, brash enough and bright enough to create a successful rival to Microsoft Office 2000. “Successful” is the key word here.
This certainly is an office suite. The manual says you can do everything administrative from “one place”. It's described as “intuitive”. The first claim assumes that the user has no temporal requirements with respect to those administrative tasks: it can take a while just to find the required administrative task. The second claim assumes that the user has been doing this sort of work for far too long, only under one other operating system. “Star” quality is elusive.
Granted, it doesn't cost a few hundred units of your local currency, even if you want the media. It installs without a hitch. It no longer requires every iota of available memory to run, unlike its predecessors. It's not a “special” or “millennium” edition. It's available for several different platforms. It doesn't crash when you open it. Technically, all the pieces are there in nearly the exact order as described in the manual. It apparently works as a word processor, presentation tool and Swiss Army Knife clone. And, I have to admit, the technical support available for it really is superb.
The problem is, someone decided StarOffice should follow St. Paul's dictates, to wit: to be all things to all people. StarOffice is not, and will never be, all things to all people. If it manages to be a simple suite of office software that is clean, original, functional and comprehensible, it will be enough for thousands. Especially if running it on 64MB of RAM makes for a quick initialization, as opposed to one during which you can talk with your lawyer, editor, mother-in-law and local bill collectors and still have time to get a cup of Starbucks Special before the software is ready to actually use.
Hint: there's a Start button at the bottom left of the application window, and it's labeled that way. The butterfly pixmap makes no difference to the functioning of the software. Really.
You will not necessarily require a whole Gig of either hard drive space or RAM to install StarOffice. Both, admittedly, might be helpful if you're going to use really large databases, but they're not necessary. I chose a custom installation of about 250MB running on SuSE 6.4. You can choose parts of packages, if you don't want the full allotment of graphics, templates, effects and backgrounds, but wish for only a selection of those gallery items that suit your purposes. This applies to other components of StarOffice as well. For this review, Draw, Image, Basic and Calc were omitted.
Note: StarOffice includes a kind of BASIC for macro and script creation. This would have usable applications under Windows but under Linux seems rather misplaced, given that C is the mother tongue of Penguinese and Bash.
It is cause for concern that, by default, the “Integrated Desktop” option is enabled in StarOffice. A splash screen is something common enough with applications run in a GUI environment. A suite of applications taking over the desktop without the user's knowledge (or choice) is something else entirely. However, deselection of View --> Integrated Desktop (or Ctrl-Shift-l) will allow you to keep your chosen desktop and reduce the desktop to an application-size window.
To get started, you will need to look for a vertical grey arrow on the left-hand border of the desktop window. By opening Click & Go (see Figure 2) you will see a list of choices of what you can do.