KOffice 2.0

The long-awaited upgrade to KOffice has arrived. It looks good and provides a great base for its future evolution.

More than a year after KDE 4.0 unveiled a radically revised desktop, KOffice 2.0 is preparing to release an equally revised office suite, which should be released before this article is published (KOffice 2.0-RC-1 was released in April 2009).

What users will see is not an extensive new feature set, but only a few additions here and there. Instead, just as KDE 4.0 provided the foundation for future developments on the desktop, KOffice promises to provide a solid basis for future improvements. Reflecting changes in the toolkit and library, the newest version of KOffice delivers a common interface across applications, enhanced graphical capacities and new accessibility to existing tools—all wrapped up in a look and feel proving that eye candy can be as much about usability and functionality as about superficial aesthetics. These changes are especially visible in major applications like KWord, KSpread, KPresenter, and Krita and Karbon14 (the main graphics programs), although they are evident in other KOffice applications as well.

This emphasis means that those who were hoping KOffice 2.0 would finally allow the office suite to match the rival OpenOffice.org feature for feature are going to be disappointed. If the late beta I am working from is a guide, KPresenter still will not have the ability to use sound or video, and KSpread will continue to lack filters and pivot tables. In fact, some features of KOffice 1.6.3, the previous official release, such as comments and expressions (autotext) in KWord or tables in KPresenter, may not find their way into KOffice 2.0 either. When you do find new features, they are apt to be fundamental ones, such as more printing options for KSpread.

However, this focus does not mean KOffice is lacking in scope. By any standard, KOffice 2.0 is an ambitious undertaking. With 11 applications to OpenOffice.org's six, and a considerably worse ratio of programmers, any release of KOffice is an exercise in logistics second only to a new version of KDE itself—and version 2.0 is more challenging than most releases. The new release not only marks KOffice's transition to the Qt 4.x toolkit, like most KDE-related software, but also new ports to OS X and Windows.

If that were not enough, version 2.0 also marks the first use of two major libraries: Flake, which introduces a new concept of shapes, together with tools to manage them; and Pigment, a color management library. No wonder, then, that the release is happening 16 months after the KDE 4.0 release and has staggered through ten alpha and seven beta releases. But, when KOffice 2.0 finally reaches release, the result promises to be a revamping that will allow the project developers to add smaller enhancements in point releases.

Introducing the Interface

Like the KDE 3.0 series, KOffice 1.6.3 is functional but easy to underestimate, because it looks like a refugee from the late 1990s. By contrast, KOffice 2.0 looks as though it is designed to ensure that nobody ever will dismiss it solely on the basis of appearance.

Figure 1. Old KOffice

Figure 2. KOffice 2.0 introduces an eye-catching but highly functional interface.

Ever since Microsoft Office 2007 replaced menus and toolbars with ribbons, rival office suites have been faced with the dilemma of either copying and looking modern or retaining the functionality of traditional program design and looking out of date. OpenOffice.org 3.0 met the challenge with a compromise that kept the traditional structure but increased the number of floating palettes or windows—selections of tools that could be positioned anywhere on the desktop or docked in the toolbar or against one side of the editing window. In version 2.0, KOffice's developers have opted for a similar solution, calling them dockers and adding controls for turning each one on or off in the Settings menu.

Dockers are accompanied by two panes to either side of the editing window. On the left is a pane with icons specific to the application. On the right is the pane containing multiple dockers. Click on an icon in the application pane, and the available dockers on the right change. The application pane, the docker pane or any individual docker can be removed from its position to float freely by dragging its title bar with the mouse. You also can drag dockers into different positions on the right-hand pane.

Figure 3. Dockers, toolbars and panes can all be unmoored from their positions to float freely.

Alternatively, you can close panes, toolbars or dockers, or change the horizontal space given to the docker pane. Unless you are working with a maximized window on a wide-screen monitor, sooner or later, you probably will want to use these customizations to give yourself room to work.

Possibly too, you might want to reduce the number of dockers, especially when you are first learning KOffice 2.0. Otherwise, the effect is like sitting down in the cockpit of a commercial airliner and trying not to be overwhelmed by the dozens of controls available.

The success of this interface varies with the application and your use of it. The layout works best in feature-rich programs, such as Krita and Karbon14, where they increase the accessibility of tools (although at first you might find yourself peering anxiously as you wait for the mouse-over text to tell you what each icon does). In fact, both these graphics programs actually have had a very similar arrangement in earlier releases, which may be where the design originated. But in KSpread, it might seem like worthless clutter, because many of the dockers have to do with graphics or layout, neither of which many spreadsheets need. Similarly, if your word processing never extends beyond a memo, you might find that the default docker pane is overkill. The same is true in KPresenter if you don't do original diagrams.

Still, despite their initially formidable appearance, these panes and dockers do have the advantage of removing many tools from their hiding places in the menu and placing them where users can become curious and investigate them. You may find yourself learning more about KOffice applications than ever before, simply because you can see more of the possibilities.


-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)


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KOffice 2.0

bharadhwaj's picture

As usual viewpoints are varied as there are no of people who look at these, since this is more of a community (having a completely varied Likes & Dislikes). But, the people who are in the KOffice Project - are not working for the entire community, right ?? they are trying to improve what they have, to what they want, and ultimately what THEIR customers (users of LINUX & KDE environment) want.

Who are we to judge them, and instead, wish them good luck ?? Who ever is working on to improve what they have, are doing fine & do justice to them.

I am a new converted to Linux (have Ubunty (Jaunty) and Gnome - with OOO 3.0. Like most of the new ones, I like everything about LINUX. And PSSSST..... dont let your animosity between the TWO BIG GAINTS (GNOME & KDE) shown to us newbees.

To all the LINUX community - THANKS PEOPLE.

reinventing the wheel?

Anonymous's picture

Diversity in open source is always a good thing. There is no problem with "reinventing the wheel" because these various projects *Borrow from each other*! That's the beauty of open source. You don't see that in closed-source environments. With FOSS, everybody wins.

Why KOffice is a good idea, even though we have OpenOffice.org

Terrell Prude', Jr.'s picture

I understand the arguments for focusing on OpenOffice.org. It's a mighty fine office suite, and it lets us deal with those closed MS Office file formats (I use it every day). However, OO.o does like a lot of DRAM.

KOffice is better on less powerful gear, for example, these new netbooks. Why? It does that shared library thing really well. I've run KOffice on a 256MB, 400MHz Power Macintosh, and it was considerably snappier compared to OO.o. Way less swapping to disk.

Less feature-filled than OO.o? Yup, no doubt. No contest there. But is KOffice good enough for *most* people to do basic office productivity tasks (reports, spreadsheets, presentations) and such? Before, I'd have said no, because KOffice used a KOffice-specific file format (open, yes, but still KOffice-only). But now that it supports OpenDocument Format, my position has changed. Now I say, yep, it's good enough.


Does it make a sense?

Steffen's picture

Why do we need a other free office package?

KOffice lacks a lot of useful and needed features Open Office already provides. At the same time Open Office is suffering from missing developers. And could not be a real competitor of Microsoft.

The open source community should concentrate on one project and face the real challenge.

Well... We were there first

Anonymous's picture

Not actually totally the first: that was Andrew. Then came Siag. If you know about those two, you won't be surprised that people started working on a modern office suite for KDE. So KOffice got started.

Then we got Gnome Office (well, abiword and gnumeric), and then, finally, Sun opensourced StarOffice as OpenOffice.

And that's only the historical timeline: there are other differences:

* KOffice developers are almost all volunteers. (Recently a company was founded that now has two developers working on KOffice, but until a few weeks ago, it was 100% volunteer hackers having fun.)

* We have a small, agile codebase, so we can do weird experiments. KOffice is about 1.000.000 lines of code, or ten percent of OpenOffice -- for all our applications. Experiments are cool because then you can see whether another interface approach works.

* We help ODF "stay honest": we are the other independent free software implementation of ODF next to OOo, and that helps the standard improve a lot

* We have a different strategy: OOo is mostly a Microsoft Office clone. We want to create something that is more fun, more flexible and more geared towards the home user. Like Apple's iWork, though we don't copy anything from Apple directly.

* By now we have a great set of flexible core libraries. We are in the process of turning those libraries into something you might call "OfficeKit" -- a base to develop new apps on.

* We have some features nobody has, like the music shape. Other office suites allow you to add editable mathematical formulas to your document. We got that, but we also give you editable musical notation. That's unique -- and adding something like that is within the scope of a single summer of code project. Our API's are that easy.

* We have a unique set of applications that OOo doesn't have, like Krita, KPlato or Kivio (well, that one is in disrepair)

Does this satisfy you?

Boudewijn Rempt, Krita maintainer

Because OO sucks hairy

Anonymous's picture

Because OO sucks hairy donkey bawlz?

MCSE Alert!

Anonymous's picture

Like the title says....

forget it, BillG, this is Linux

Anonymous's picture

LOL, right, One Everything to Rule Them All! There are also too many clothing and shoe sizes, too many brands of bottled water, too many streets and highways, too many different vehicle types and brands, too many kinds of cute kitty cats and puppy dogs, and certainly too many diverse people. In fact I think we should take this a step further and have a Global Dictator who eliminates all choices in everything, and tells us what to do.

I'm starting to think this whole ridiculous "Linux has too many choices!" silliness is an organized astroturf campaign, just one more attack on Linux by a convicted illegal monopolist whose fundamental survival and business plan is based on destroying as many customer choices as possible.

The article itself is an excellent review of a good office suite that deserves more attention, and is surviving the complex KDE4.x migration in good shape.


Tuxly_Tuxford_McTuxtington's picture

I definitely agree with the second poster. Linux would have died a quick, quiet death long ago if it wasn't for the great range of choices that it offers. If everybody puts their weight behind Debian, then there would be no Ubuntu or Mint (Mint especially wouldn't fit with the Debian philosophy). Competition is great for innovation. Gnome vs. kde pushes everything ahead, as does rpm vs deb (mainly because I hate rpm and would probably shoot myself if forced to use it :). We can use linux on old computers because we've got the choice to run Openbox / XFCE / IceWM / whatever. On the other hand, eye candy junkies can load the latest kde.

If I didn't have the great choice that linux affords me, I'd stick with Windows (eww, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little).

Because I'm poor.

Anonymous's picture

Yep, living in poverty. So, some of us get a PIII with 128Mb RAM as our primary computer... And, as has been said - Oo sucks donkey bawlz on such a system. Emacs treats us well enough, but for some reason the professors in my web-based Information Science program don't like assignments coming in in plain text. Stupid Web 2.0 nutlickers, I know, I know. Anyway - Linux and FOSS is awesome because I can eat food instead of making payments on a new Dell...

Yes and no

KiL's picture

While having a lot of diversity is a Good Thing™ I also see the point that if there are too many people trying to reinvent the wheel, we might be wasting resources.

I don't think that KOffice is an office suite too much, but sometimes I wonder how utterly awesome the Linux desktop could be by now if we could combine the creativity and productivity of the GNOME and KDE community for one fully integrated desktop (and how cool it would be if all Linux application would have a really consistens look and feel).

Now we have the two big environments GNOME and KDE, and I think both are great and have their unique philosophies behind them, but now we also need to programme every application thinkable at least twice if we want to give it a truly "native" feel for either environment. I just can't help feeling that we do waste some resources there.