StarOffice’s broad array of tightly integrated applications delivers every important productivity feature you would expect to find in an enterprise-class office suite that competes with Microsoft Corp.’s Office 2000 and Ottawa-based Corel Corp.’s WordPerfect Office 2000. The new package from Sun Microsystems Inc. also has two features you seldom see – freedom from licensing fees and true Windows/Unix cross-platform compatibility.
You can tailor the suite’s look and feel while its running under Linux, OS/2 or the Unix X Window System to closely match the look and feel of Windows 95, 98, NT or 2000. This continuity will help users who use different operating systems when traveling.
StarOffice 5.2’s collaborative computing features – called Schedule, Discussion and Mail – include support for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Palm Inc.’s Palm OS. They should be useful in promoting communication among colleagues who work across the hall, across town or across the globe. I liked the way Schedule handled task management and event planning. Its convenient e-mail reminders simplify scheduling.
Despite its extensive array of features, the suite’s customizable, well-designed menus, dialog boxes and tool tips help simplify navigation. For example, a pop-out, multiview navigator offers one-click access to four varieties of exploring tools, letting you organize files and folders by project, task or hierarchy. Two features I miss – and the main reason I still prefer WordPerfect – are reveal codes and in-context font preview. But even without reveal codes, it was easier to correct formatting problems in StarOffice than in Microsoft Word.
StarOffice’s extensive integration, however, can be a disadvantage. It takes noticeably longer to start up, about 10 seconds, because it loads almost a dozen applications. By contrast, Word and WordPerfect load their primary modules (such as Word and Excel) separately, as called for. Once StarOffice is loaded, however, switching between its modules takes only a second or two.
Leveraging the suite’s cross-platform interoperability, StarOffice’s import and export filters let you exchange files smoothly with other office suites. I transferred files from StarOffice to both Word 2000 and WordPerfect 8, but not WordPerfect 9 or WordPerfect 2000 – that filter is due early next year.
Occasionally, some minor tweaking was needed, for example, to fix sub-8-point fonts in tables. Revision tracking, which can often muddle file exchanges between Word and WordPerfect, worked well.
StarOffice uses a platform-independent file format, so documents created on the Linux edition are transferred accurately and intact to the Solaris or Windows versions. Early next year, Sun plans to release StarPortal, a browser-based tool that will integrate with StarOffice to provide network-centric services.
Platform-independent StarPortal will let users view documents on Wireless Application Protocol-enabled cell phones, personal digital assistants and two-way pagers.
All tasks begin in StarOffice’s Desktop, a control center that replaces Windows’ desktop by default. You can reverse that, but you might like the new look. I found StarOffice’s Desktop as good a launchpad as Windows, and even better, it lets you organize files and folders and open or create documents, projects and e-mail.
StarOffice Writer, the word processor, creates documents from simple memos to complex, multimedia-enabled brochures. An array of specialized tools, such as AutoPilot (an interactive document-handling macro that’s Sun’s version of a wizard) and AutoFunction (real-time spelling, error-correcting and auto-completion agents), help you by jogging your creativity and anticipating your needs.
StarOffice Calc, the spreadsheet program, will be familiar for users of Quattro Pro, Microsoft Excel or Lotus Development Corp.’s 1-2-3 to get up to speed quickly. Among Calc’s functions are data analysis capabilities, multidimensional data views and creating what-if scenarios.
StarOffice Impress creates portable, eye-catching, interactive two-dimensional and 3-D presentations. It includes vector graphics and special-effects tools for organizing, illustrating and delivering your message.
This package is an unbeatable value: free, or $40 on CD with a users guide and without a 70MB download. Sun’s recent decision to release the source code will let value-added resellers and developers add custom features.
As with any one-size-fits-all software package, however, StarOffice’s sweeping array of powerful applications may be overkill. While I recommend it for use in multinational enterprises, especially those with multiple computing platforms, its loading delay may annoy some users. Sun says it may unbundle the suite’s primary applications. That would further enhance StarOffice’s appeal.
Millman is a consultant and freelance writer in Croton, N.Y.
StarOffice On Linux
Once you customize StarOffice’s appearance into a look that’s right for you, you’ll find few differences in using the program under Windows or Linux. One notable exception is how you save and open files. Linux uses a descriptor (“floppy” or “CDROM”), rather than disk-drive letters.
Initially, I ran the suite under Red Hat Inc. Linux 6.2 on a clone P-200 with 32MB of RAM. The hardware proved inadequate. Excessive disk swapping caused even the simplest tasks, such as a global search-and-replace, to take twice as long as Word or WordPerfect running on Windows. I switched to a 733-MHz Hewlett-Packard Co. Vectra with 128MB of RAM and achieved excellent performance. With that configuration, the Linux version ran about 25% faster than the Windows version.
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