Linux Office Suites
One of the things that will help define Linux on the desktop is the availability of quality office suites. These are, in fact, the way many computer users (who aren't geeks, of course) became computer users in the first place. If you are wondering whether you are one of these oft-mentioned, occasionally derided "end users", the office suite is as good a litmus test as any. It wouldn't be going too far to say that office suites helped put the "personal" in personal computing.
Before launching into a link-laden discussion of some of the various office suites available for users of the Linux operating system, it might be helpful to pause and consider where the office suite came from, and just where they are headed in the next few years.
What do we talk about when we use the term "office suites"? Generally speaking, office suites include word processing, spreadsheet and database software for use on a personal computer. However, of late, presentation software, e-mail and even Internet browsers have been considered to be parts of a full office suite. Called "office suites" because they were widely deployed in the workplace, giving harried white-collar workers liberty from typewriters and reams of columnar paper, office suites have increasingly been felt to be staples of any computer software bundle, whether the computer is headed for the office or the home.
The first widely popular office suites were developed by Microsoft, Corel and Lotus: respectively, Microsoft Office, Corel WordPerfect Office and Lotus SmartSuite. Each came equipped with many of the basic features mentioned above; namely, word processor, spreadsheet and database. However, these weren't the only office suites available. In fact, for some time, those with other operating systems, such as the Macintosh, were relegated to AppleWorks--a fine enough office suite in terms of the basic package, although most versions were neither as robust nor as feature-rich (to spin it positively) as the offerings from office-suite powerhouses like Microsoft and Corel.
Even if most people's first contact with office suites was at the office, the packages quickly changed as people realized the word processing software they used at work could also be used to compose letters or help their kids write reports for school; the spreadsheet program they had finally mastered in the office cubicle would probably go a long way toward simplifying home finances; and that databases were pretty handy ways of tending to things like inventories. And as more people started using office suites at home, the office suites began to adapt, providing more and more of the sort of software that people might want to use in their personal lives. Graphics packages, for example, can fall into this category, as well as games and multimedia software.
Does the emergence of Linux mean any major changes in the traditional office suite? For one, the role of networking (and Linux's native networkability) means that office suites based on the Linux operating system are especially likely to be shared by a number of users. Second, Linux office suites tend to come with the sort of tools that are rarely, if ever, found on other office suites. Application development tools, for example, often find themselves bundled along with Linux operating systems and office suites.
Rather than try to discuss the variety of Linux office suites here, especially when much more can and has been said by others much more knowledgeable than myself, what follows is an annotated listing of some of the most significant office suites available for Linux, as well as links to Linux Journal reviews and further information on the diversity of available office productivity software.
Applixware for Linux: Developed by Applix, Inc., Applixware is one of the original commercial office suites for Linux. The package itself includes most of the essential office-suite goodies: word processor, spreadsheet, "Applix Presents" (presentation software), graphics, data, mail, "Applix Builder" (application development software) and filters to help Applix users share files from other office suites. Our Jason Kroll reviewed Applixware for our "Linux on the Desktop" feature in Linux Journal #70.
StarOffice: Now the property of Sun Microsystems, whose acquisition of StarOffice led countless Linux users to believe that Sun's Linux commitment was more binding than it really was, StarOffice is one of the most widely used office suites in the Linux world. A sizable colossus of an office suite, StarOffice can be a boon for newbie Linux users terrified at the prospect of text editors, and a bust for many veteran Linux users who had always cast a somewhat evil eye toward office suites in general. Linux Journal's review of StarOffice is part of our "Linux on the Desktop" special issue, as well.
Corel WordPerfect Office: It's great to see one of the original desktop office-suite makers putting together an office suite for Linux. Corel WordPerfect Office 2000 for Linux began shipping in late March, and has already begun receiving positive reviews from a number of users. The Standard Edition includes Corel WordPerfect 9 and Quattro Pro 9, and also Adobe Acrobat Reader (a must for the Internet) and Netscape Navigator.
From here, there are a number of worthy, albeit smaller, office suites that have become the sentimental favorites of many Linux users. Koffice is another of the original office suites for Linux and one that is part of the same project which brought KDE to the Linux community. A great discussion on Koffice and KDE appeared in Linux Journal only a few issues back. Read what Kalle Dalheimer had to say about Koffice and KDE here. On the flipside, there's the GNOME project, which Linux Journal covered most recently in issue 70. GNOME is not as far along in developing an office suite as its cousins on the KDE team are. But GNOME's Gnumeric is a popular spreadsheet among Linux gnomes, and a pair of word processing packages, GWP and Go, are in the work-in-progress stage, although neither is truly up to full word-processor speed (Go, in fact, is considered to be virtually a text editor at this point).
Tune in to Wall Street News Hour Tuesday morning at 10:20 a.m. PDT for more talk about office suites and the Linux operating system.