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An overview of StarOffice5.2

Author: Rover
Posted on: 7/17/2000
Discuss: In the forums

Opening thoughts
As a Linux user I've always wished for an office suite that was as complete and functional as Microsoft Office. Also, as a Windows OS user I've wished for an office suite that was not as expensive as MS Office but still had the functionality and integration. Some of you may be familiar with StarOffice since it was one of the only complete office suite solutions for Linux for a long time, but you may not be familiar with StarOffice 5.2 which has refined all of it's previous elements and added multiple OS support. The StarOffice of today can be run on Linux, Mac, Solaris, UNIX, and yes Windows 9x/2000/NT/Me. To top it all off, this wonderful product is free, just download it from Sun. Let me warn you now the download is huge, around 80MB, but Sun has broken it up into more manageable parts, 10 parts at 8MB apiece. Also, I had to install the latest Java Runtime Environment, version 1.1.8. The installation program will detect which JRE you have and tell you if you need to install the newer version. You'll have to fill out a form before Sun will allow you to reach the download page, name, address, and other tidbits of information, but nothing too inconvenient. I thought about getting technical in this review but it would end up taking me too long and I don't think our server has enough space. So, I'm writing an overview leaving the fine points for you to discover or maybe a later article. This is a great product that deserves a look by everyone who needs an office suite and the price can NOT be beat!

One of the strengths of StarOffice is it's customizability which is immediately apparent when you get into the installation process. I've never seen an installation that asked so many questions, important questions that directly effected the operation, look and feel of StarOffice. I hate to say it but I was a little intimidated by it. I didn't fully realize the impact of the options I chose until after the program was installed, which is not to say the installation was cryptic. On the contrary, it was well laid out and highly documented, with plenty of explanations. My advice is to read every option carefully before you move to the next one. You can always make changes afterwards but its nice to do it right the first time. One of the installation options is to integrate MS Internet Explorer into StarOffice, I thought it would be cool, but in the end I turned it off. Every time I clicked on a web link StarOffice would start and then display the page, this was much slower than just using IE. Another quirk is the database program for StarOffice, Adabas, its not included with the base installation file. Yet one more large file to download, a measly 12MB this time, but wait there's even more. StarOffice has a viewer program called StarOffice Player which is also not include with the 80MB base file, 6.6MBs more. Player is not required and is only a file viewer for PCs that do not have StarOffice installed. After all that, you should have StarOffice installed so lets get started!

Any Place is a Good Beginning
With a suite as extensive as StarOffice its hard to pick a place to start so I'll start with StarWriter, the program I used to write this article. The layout is so like MS Word that if it wasn't for the colors you wouldn't be able to tell them apart at first glance. The similarity does extends beyond the surface but not too deeply. Because of this similarity, I was able to jump right in with both feet and begin writing immediately. As a matter of fact, many other parts of the suite look and feel very much like MS Office allowing a savvy MS Office user to get past the basics within minutes. All the functions are here, tables, auto formatting, auto spellcheck, thesaurus, hyperlink recognition, man the list is way way WAY, too long. Believe me all the functionality for the average end-user is here. Every time I clicked on a submenu I was confronted with a plethora of check boxes, radio buttons and pull down menus for every conceivable tweak known to mankind. There's also the added benefit of being able to open almost every type of document from nearly every OS, you'll be amazed. Another benefit of StarWriter is file size. I converted most of my MS Word2000 documents to StarWriter and the file size was cut in half, saving precious disk space.

To Integrate is to Dominate
StarOffice offers something MS Office does not and I'm still undecided on the issue. I'm talking about it's integration/takeover of the desktop. With a quick couple of mouse clicks StarOffice can almost completely replace the desktop environment of Windows. You don't of course have to use this option and can leave StarOffice just like it is, but even then it has the feel of a secondary desktop. When you start StarOffice the whole program comes up, unlike MS Office, then you choose which part of the suite you wish to use. If I want to write a letter in MS Word I start Word, but in StarOffice you start the whole program and then choose StarWriter. StarOffice starts in a desktop like view complete with shortcuts to the various programs available, you can change this to any folder in your system. I have mine set to open the 'My Documents' folder, but it will only show folders and files not Windows specific icons like the 'Recycle bin', IE, Network Neighborhood, etc. StarOffice also contains a 'Start' button that mimics the Windows 'Start' button, leaving off Windows' specific things and adding StarOffice related items.

Next to the 'Start' button there is a taskbar that shows you all instances of all the StarOffice programs you have open plus a button that gets you back to the StarOffice desktop. On the far right side of the taskbar you have a 'systray' with a clock just like Windows, scary isn't it. If you choose Integrated Desktop some of the icons in your systray even appear in the StarOffice systray, not all but some.

A Helping Hand
Most of you are familiar with MS Office's on screen helper, the Paperclip guy, which many feel is very annoying. Fortunately, StarOffice does not have the animated helper but it does have the best on screen help system of any program I've ever had the pleasure of using. Most of the time simply holding your cursor over an area will bring up a bubble with a brief description of it's function. If that is not enough clicking on the 'Help Agent' in the 'Help' pull down menu will bring up a small window with in-depth information specific to where you're at. If you leave the help window open(it fits nicely on the side in StarWriter) the contents will change dynamically all you have to do is point and click on what you need help with and BAM the help window brings it up automagically! The Help Agent windows has full search capabilities, zoom in/out, back/forward/top of page and freeze buttons, plus hyperlink navigation within the window. When you come across a function/option within the window the Help Agent provides a link that will bring it up directly on screen so you don't have to navigate the pull down menus. I'm telling you with the great content and ease of use the Help system of StarOffice is second to none.

The Rest of the Suite
I went through almost every part of StarOffice briefly and as I've stated before the similarities to MS Office allowed me to do the basics right away. I'm not going to go into each of the other programs because I'd start to repeat myself, but the following is a complete list of programs/functions as advertised by Sun Microsystems.
The Sun Microsystems productivity suite includes:

  • StarOffice Writer: word-processing and Web page creation program
  • StarOffice Calc: spreadsheet program
  • StarOffice Draw: graphics program
  • StarOffice Base: database program
  • StarOffice Impress: presentation software
  • StarOffice Schedule: calendar program
Plus, Internet capabilities allow you to read your e-mail, visit newsgroups, surf the Web or download files from the Internet.
As you can see, StarOffice has nearly everything MS Office does, so jump right in and get started today! I can tell you that I was able to convert simple MS Exel2000 spreadsheets and MS Powerpoint2000 presentations without losing any formatting or functionality. Proving that StarOffice is developing into a great office suite that someday might rival the almighty Microsoft.

What's Wrong with It
Right now, as I write, StarOffice is using 34+MB of memory. On my system this is not a problem since I have 320MB of RAM, but if you don't have tons of RAM this could pose a problem. Maybe on systems with less memory StarOffice will have a smaller footprint! Another point of concern brought up by Max is it's scripting support. Yes it can run JAVAscripts but I haven't been able to test it with VBscripts. Judging from the options and help agent I don't think it can, if it does, please let me know. Scripting capabilities are important to many MS Office application developers, especially MS Access developers who use VBA for database frontends. I'll have to research this in more depth. I'm also a bit confused by 'Adabas' when I try to create a new database. It asks me for the path to the database when I'm trying to create one not open one. I've looked around and played with it for more than an hour and have yet to figure it out. I can create tables, forms, queries and reports which all get dumped into a database of sorts but I can't seem to create a database file directly. I think maybe 'Adabas' needs a little work before its ready for prime time. Other than that StarOffice has crashed once or twice on my Windows 2000Pro PC, sometimes my fault, sometimes not. I hope you have as few problems as I because that proves StarOffice is nearly ready to take on Bill and the boys in Redmond. And Bill needs the competition or he will only get worse!

The Finish
I can't stress enough how easy and enjoyable StarOffice is to use. I found myself looking forward to writing this article because it allowed me to explore StarWriter and discover new things about the program. Soon I was creating things in the other programs just so I could play with StarOffice and learn all I could about it. With it's excellent help system I was able to do things much more quickly then if I was in MS Office. I beg you to try StarOffice, I bet you'll use it more and more and eventually stop using MS Office all together. If you don't have an office suite save yourself a boat load of cash and take the time to download StarOffice, you will not be disappointed! I don't recommend it to MS Office application developers yet! That's not to say you can't play around with it maybe figure it out and right a more indepth review for LittleWhiteDog.

If you're interested in downloading StarOffice go here

Copyright © by LWD All Rights Reserved.

Published on: 2004-02-22 (8152 reads)

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