Category Archives: Linux

Articles about Linux.

StarOffice 5.0


The review of StarOffice 4 is, at the time of writing, the most popular on this site. There is a good reason for that. Not only did Simeon do an excellent job of it, but StarOffice is probably the major office application for Linux.

StarDivision were first on the scene with a serious product and, with the onslaught of Corel and Applix, they intend to keep the lead. But is StarOffice 5 enough to keep people from defecting?


After the hassle of installing SO4, 5 is refreshingly simple, assuming that you have a glibc system such as RedHat or Debian. It would have been nice it if had used a standard ‘.deb‘ or ‘.rpm‘ package, but the Windows-like installer is painless enough. Even for older installations (without glibc) shouldn’t be too difficult as a suitable library is supplied.

One caveat that’s probably in the manual, but I was so keen to have a look that I didn’t notice, is that you have to install the application as the user that you want to run the it as. I originally made the mistake of installing it as ‘root.’

In Use

When it starts, SO5 throws you into a file manager not unlike the Windows Explorer. In fact, at the bottom of the window is a ‘task bar’ complete with ‘Start’ button on the left and clock on the right. Even the tool-bars have a Windows-look about them — they have the ‘highlight when you move over them’ thing as well as looking just like MS Office.

Your ‘home’ page allows you to create new documents by clicking on short-cuts, or you can move around your file-systems either by entering a URL or by double-clicking on folders and clicking on the ‘up’ button.

You can also open documents on remote machines by entering the appropriate URL. FTP and HTTP protocols are supported.


Anyone familiar with Microsoft Word are instantly going to be at home with the word-processing component. It feels half-way between Word 95 and 97 and has the most-used features of both.

It’s fully WYSIWYG, comes complete with an on-the-fly spell-checker, advanced styles, paragraph and typeface handling and a whole host of other bits and pieces that most people won’t even look at!

For me, StarWord is missing only a few things. Firstly, it doesn’t use X’s own fonts. I spent ages trying to get X to use TrueType fonts and now StarOffice comes along with its own that are just as bad as the ones I was trying to get rid of! I couldn’t find a way to force it to use my Windows fonts, either.

Secondly, although it has quite adequate table-of-content functions, it seems not to have the ability to do cross-references except as hyper-links — not quite what I want. (I suspect that you have to do something fancy with field-codes, which is, therefore, not as easy as it should be.)


I’m not exactly what you’d call a spread-sheet power-user. Give me an AutoSum function, pretty colours and the ability to easily create graphs and I’m happy.

StarSheet is perfectly capable of doing this and far more.

My standard test of a spread-sheet was very easy. The test is: I create a grid of random numbers and add a graph of them. I didn’t guess the formula function for generating random numbers, but the insert formula dialog made finding what I wanted very simple — just pick a suitable looking function and tick the appropriate boxes. I then dragged the bottom-right of the cell and copied the formula to other near-by cells. This is great; it’s just like Excel.

Creating a graph was just as simple. Highlight the area and click the ‘Chart’ button. You then follow a simple ‘Wizard’ interface and you’re done.

This is hardly a complete test of the functionality, but what’s there appears easy to use, complete and well thought out.


Most people are going to spend most of their time either word processing or creating spread-sheets so I won’t dwell on the other bits in quite so much detail.

StarDivision have been trying hard to compete with Microsoft feature-for-feature. Other applications, therefore, include a diary or scheduler, mailer and web-browser.

All are passable and, as they’re so easily accessed and consistent with the rest, are probably worth using. The web-browser is neat, but is no Netscape; the scheduler is decent but I much prefer my Psion; and the mailer may get some use as I have something against almost every competing product I’ve even used!

It’s not all good

The applications all look good, read other people’s data and are fully functional, so there isn’t a lot wrong with StarOffice. But what is wrong is serious.

StarOffice is extremely large and slow, and the monolithic “do everything in one place” approach can’t help. On my Pentium 120 — some way behind the leading edge but hardly pedestrian — it takes nearly four minutes to open and frequently swaps furiously when you select a menu item. (To put this into context, Word 95 under Windows 95 starts in about five seconds.)

I’m sure more memory would help, and I’m sure that a faster machine wouldn’t be out of place, but even Microsoft can get a word processor to run at a more respectable pace.


StarDivision are not only going for Corel and Applix, there are going for Microsoft Office. StarOffice is easy to use and as fully featured as almost everyone could possible want.

Unfortunately, it’s starting to look like Microsoft Office in other ways too. It’s so big and slow that it is rendered completely useless on my hardware.

It’s a shame, as in almost every other aspect it looks to be a winning application.

Also see this more complete review of StarOffice 4.

tkCVS 6.0


If there are any regular readers out there, you may recall that one of the first reviews that I did was of tkCVS. The more astute of you will have noticed that recently it has vanished. Somewhat ironically, I managed to delete it while using my ‘mirror’ program and didn’t have a copy held safely in a backup or version control.

If this has taught me anything, it’s that CVS, although very powerful, is not very easy to use. If it was, to use a cliche, as easy as falling off a log then I would have had no hesitation in using it. However, it’s not and I didn’t.

What is it?

First, what’s CVS? It’s an advanced client-server version control system. Unlike many other systems, CVS works with entire projects or directories rather than just individual files. It also allows many users to edit the same files and merge the changes back together later.

However, with twenty-four commands, each with a large number of options, CVS isn’t exactly what you’d call easy to use. (Since most people don’t bother with configuration management at all, this extra hurdle can’t help.)

tkCVS is a much needed TCL/TK-based front end.

In use

First impressions are good. tkCVS looks good. A menu is at the top of the screen, a tool bar is at the bottom and in the middle is a list of the files in the current directory. On the left are the filenames, on the right are their status: ‘ok’ if the file is up to date, ‘????’ if the file is not controlled and ‘{Locally Modified}’ if your version is newer than that in CVS. (I assume that there’s also a ‘modified by someone else’ descriptor, but since I used this on my own single-user machine, I didn’t test this functionality.)

All very straight-forward.

Marginally less straight-forward, now I come to look at them, are the buttons on the toolbar. Sure, they look decorative, but you can only find out what many of them do by waiting for the tool-tip to appear. (Having said that, I’m not entirely sure what a suitable icon for ‘re-read the current directory’ should be. They’ve used a pair of glasses.)


Bundled in the same archive as tkCVS is a graphical ‘diff’ program called tkDiff that’s worth, if not a review of its own, at least a mention.

It does just what it says. Given two files, it finds the difference between them and highlights the differences in various colours. You can flip between the differences using Next and Previous buttons, which is useful if you’re used to the standard GNU diff.

Best of all, it’s integrated with tkCVS allowing graphical diffs between different versions of the same file. However, although it’s easy to get a diff between your copy and the latest copy in CVS, it’s not entirely clear how to get a diff between versions in CVS or your copy and an older version.


Like many TCL/TK applications, it looks good but falls down on its implementation. The UI, although infinitely easier to use than the CVS command-line, is not quite as intuitive as it could be, and there are a number of glitches and bugs.

Fortunately, these glitches are just that. They are annoying but don’t get in the way of what is, fundamentally, a sound program.

UAE 0.7.6


On the subject of emulators, there are two main factions. The first says that they are a good way of using all the software that you had for your previous computer when you upgrade. The second say that an emulator is a sure sign that a platform has no software. Why, they say, would you have an emulator if you could get as good or better software for your new machine? (They seem to forget that there are loads of emulators for DOS and Windows.)

I was first introduced to a useful emulator when I still had my old 386. A 386 has roughly enough power to run Sinclair Spectrum software at full speed. This was great: I could bring Bomb Jack, Manic Miner and Nebulous with me! And I could save levels and I could load complete games in a split second rather than ten minutes. The emulator was better than the real thing!

But my Amiga software just sat in the box. I had no way to bring that with me. Until now. PC’s are just about getting to the point that they are able to emulate and Amiga at full speed (and if they’re not then I can run them on my HP K box at work!).


The long and the short of it is that I’m lazy. If I can download an RPM archive of a program, I will. It’s not that Ican’t build programs — most work days I’m up to my arm-pits in C and Makfiles — it’s just that I want to use a program straight away. Okay, that makes me impatient too.

I’ve not been able to find an RPM of UAE, so I downloaded the latest stable version I tried to build it. Normally these GNU ‘configure’ scripts are straightforward: type configure; type make; and everything is ready. Configure usually goes away and finds the various bits and pieces without any trouble. The UAE configure script, however, couldn’t find my GTK library (I have the correct version according to the documentation) and it couldn’t see that I had the SVGA library, and the DGA support, which it did find and claimed to be using when I started UAE up, didn’t give full screen support.

So to summarize, I couldn’t get a nice user-interface and I couldn’t get full screen support in console or X. I wasn’t impressed.

Does it work?

It shows how long ago it is that I used a real Amiga. Like all the various kinds of memory that a PC can have (EMS, XMS, conventional, high), the Amiga has a number of different types too. I used to be able to remember all of them, what they are, what they do and why they’re there — on both the PC and Amiga — but I can’t now!

That’s to say, some of the programs that I couldn’t get working might, in fact, work fine if you can get the right combination of memory and video settings. This isn’t a criticism of UAE as such, more of the Amiga. It might be possible for the UAE team to add hints, though. (I never programmed my Amiga much, so I don’t know whether that would be possible.)

But I did have a number of successes. Workbench 1.3 seems to work fully (I’d forgotten how bad it looked), as does AmigaBasic and Deluxe Paint. With the windowed version of UAE, it is normal to have the Amiga mouse-pointer being completely independent of the X pointer. I find this annoying, but you can switch it off.

Perhaps more impressively I managed to get some games working. Arkanoid 2 works flawlessly; International Karate+ seems to work okay, albeit from the keyboard; Populous ran; as did Pacmania. However, all ran somewhat slowly. Arkanoid was fine unless the sounds was switched on. This slowed down the game, and the sound kept breaking up. Probably the worst was Pacmania, which was far too slow. The documentation does warn that some of the scrolling effects are the most processor intensive, and this is obviously the problem here.

As I mentioned before, there were a number of games that I couldn’t get working at all. Chase HQ gave me nothing more than a black screen. Rampage crashed. Paperboy didn’t work. Simulacra didn’t start. Maybe these will work if you twiddle with the memory settings?

In use

While it’s true that the performance and sounds problem can be overcome by throwing extra hardware at it, I think it’s fair to mention that most games are unplayable on a mid-range Pentium (120). Many application are probably okay, maybe even faster than the real thing, but I can’t see why anyone would want to run Amiga productivity software on a PC. Microsoft Word or LyX would be far better than anything on an Amiga.

UAE is supposed to come with a GTK-based front-end. I never managed to get this working, so all I was left with was the command line. This left no way to switch disks — they are emulated by files on your hard-disk — after the emulator had started, and no way to edit display or sound settings without resorting to obscure command-line directives.


I get the feeling that the UAE team may have bitten off more than they can chew. The Amiga was always considered a powerful machine, and trying to squeeze it into a ‘well behaved’ operating system like Unix was always going to be difficult. (One of the best Amiga emulators, Fellow, runs under DOS which is a far better option. There’s no chance of you being preempted by another process or user and you have full control over the screen.)

Maybe I’d have been more impressed if I’d managed to get the user-interface and full-screen mode working. And maybe I’d have been more impressed if I could install Linux on my PII at work. But I wasn’t and I haven’t, so, for now, I’m going to leave UAE well alone.

WindowMaker 0.20.0


I remember when I was at school I sometimes got bad grades when writing essays. This, the teachers claimed, was because I’d used an unconventional structure. Rather than start with an introduction, continue with the discussion and finish with my conclusion I’d often start with a rather long introduction, which included my view, and then argued my case in the rest of the text. I guess it weakened my argument a little to do it like that, but people did remember it!

I’ve still not learned my lesson. One of the first things I do with the review — not quite an essay but along the same lines — is say that I think that WindowMaker is the best window manager that I’ve used. In fact I like it so much I’m seriously considering changing from AfterStep, the window manager that I’ve used practically since I had a PC that could support X.

What’s so good?

Superficially WindowMaker is not that different to AfterStep. That could be part of the reason I liked it so much. (And after my disappointing experience with the new version of AfterStep last week I was most definitely open to suggestion.) Just like AfterStep and the NeXT, WindowMaker has a dock, or a wharf or whatever you want to call it, down the right hand side of the screen. This time there is also a paper-clip icon in the top left of the screen. This is WindowMaker’s method of moving between its virtual desktops. It’s a lot less fiddly than AfterStep’s mini-map but only slightly less intuitive.

Windows are handled in, more or less, the same way as AfterStep, they even look similar. The title bar is nicely gradiated, the top left has the minimise button, the top right has the close gadget. At the bottom of the window is the resize bar. A nice touch is the ‘technical drawing’ lines that are used to show where and how big the new window will be. It’s good to know that an xterm is eighty characters wide.

So far we’ve found that WindowMaker and AfterStep are pretty much the same. It’s when you try and configure things that the differences appear. To add an icon to the AfterStep dock you must open a text configuration file and try and interpret the syntax. Not hugely difficult, but someone used to Microsoft Windows isn’t going to be too happy. The WindowMaker method: open the application you want to dock; drag one of the icons, the one without the title at the top, to the dock. That’s it.

Unless you’re just skim-reading, you should have found something odd with the last paragraph, even if you ignore my English: “…drag one of the icons…” An explanation is in order here. WindowMaker does not just have an icon to indicate that an application has been minimised. If you launched a program any way other than from the dock then you get an extra icon, just as if you’d minimised the window but without a title at the top. Until I figured what it was for I was incredibly confused! The first one is the application — use it as you would in any other window manager. The other can be dragged to a dock. It’s a waste of screen real-estate and I can’t help but think that there must be a better way of doing it.

Other configuration parameters are also handled graphically in WindowMaker. Try to change some of the colours, or the backdrop or any other parameter in AfterStep and it’s back to the configuration file. WindowMaker has a very nice WindowMaker Preferences Utility to allow you to change them all graphically. I’ve not had the need to dig into the GNUstep directory yet it’s so complete.

The Verdict

If you don’t know that I’m impressed then you just haven’t been paying attention(!). While there are faster and smaller window managers, WindowMaker is small and fast enough. It is also very simple to use — it’s one of the first free window managers that doesn’t insist that you edit large and complex configuration files — looks superb and is fully functional.

And finally, despite dire warnings that it’s still beta software, it seems to be more stable than many commercial applications. (I only had one glitch: I loaded Netscape once and WindowMaker vanished and twm took its place. I have no idea what happened there!)

WINE 980614


This is the second time in as many reviews that I’ve started like this: I don’t want this to be the start of a trend. I did say in my ‘policy’ document that I didn’t want to look at very early releases of software and I stand by that.

However, sometimes you see something and, even though it doesn’t work fully, it show such great promise that you need to shout about it. WINE is such a piece of software.

What is it?

Wine allows you to run Windows applications on x86 Unix machines, Linux in this case. It should work on almost any PC based UNIX like NetBSD, UnixWare, etc. and it’s supposed to run 16- and 32-bit Windows applications, although the former are much better represented at the moment. There are some that will never work properly (the FAQ says something about VxD’s which I don’t understand).

At least, that’s what it will do. At the moment it is a developers release, not even stable enough to be called beta software. However, I’m not here to bash Wine because it’s in its early stages of development. I’m here to express how shocked I am that it’s so good!


I’ve tried a number of times in the past to make Wine, and they’ve all ended in tears. I rake around my hard disk trying to find enough space — around 50 Mb — spend ages while it compiles and then when I run it I find that there’s been a segmentation fault in 32-bit code. I don’t know what that means, only that it’s not mentioned in the FAQ and that I can’t run anything, not even Notepad.

Then the other day I decided to make one last attempt and, rather than get the source code, I got a precompiled RPM. It didn’t work at first. I had to customize it, changing the configuration file to match where my Windows 95 partition is, but nothing too arduous (or unexpected).

So, I fired it up trying to run calc.exe. I wasn’t hopeful, and the fact that it was taking 100% of CPU and seeming to get nowhere fast didn’t help. I left it chugging away and made some coffee and toast.


When I returned from the kitchen, the Windows Calculator was sat proud in the middle of my Trinitron. My jaw dropped, and the dog nearly got my toast.

Okay, the display wasn’t completely right. The text in the title bar is far too small, the buttons are in the extreme top left and right rather than in the middle of the bar, and the font on the menu bar is proportionally spaced meaning that it looks rather odd, but I suspect that this is all configurable — you can certainly tell Wine to use your window manager rather than X directly.

But it worked. I could do sums; I could change between normal and scientific mode; I could get the About box. I was stunned.

Moving onto Notepad, I found that the same was true: it worked. I trundled though a few other applets that Windows 95 comes with, many of which, at least partially, worked.

Getting arrogant

Having got the tiny programs working, I started hunting around my hard disk for new challenges. Why start small and build up, I though. ‘wine "`pwd`/winword.exe"‘ I typed. That’ll show it.

I started on my toast, figuring that it’d take a while before it gave up.

But it didn’t give up. After a worrying amount of disk activity, the Word 95 splash screen appeared. As did screens and screens full of errors in the console window. Despite the errors, Wine and Word battled on, eventually displaying the normal Word screen, tool bars, menus and all. Again, the fonts weren’t quite right and the toolbar was far too dark, but there it was. Linux running Microsoft Word 95.

Tentatively I entered some text. This worked fine — even the font rendering was spot on — until I mistyped something. Word underlined the suspect characters with a wavy red line and then crashed.

Next time I managed to get the About box (fairly simple, but with a big bitmap and a sound clip) to display, followed by the Options dialog (big with lots of tabs). A few others also worked without problem. The open dialog, however, causes Wine to exit. I guess this is because Microsoft didn’t use their own standard libraries for the task! (Let’s blame Microsoft.)

Excel works roughly as well as Word. It starts without any problems, you can enter data in the cells and auto-sum works. Many of the dialogs appear, full and correct, but save crashes the system. PowerPoint vanished shortly after completing loading and Access didn’t even get as far as the splash screen.

I was very surprised at the success that I’d had up to this point. Okay, nothing useful actually worked, but I was looking from more of a technical point of view. I did, however, find a program that worked incredibly well, something much larger than clac.exe or Notepad. The program? Maxis SimCity for Windows 1.1. (Saying that it’s useful is stretching the point, but I digress.) I play tested SimCity quite thoroughly and found that, although small parts of the screen occasionally became corrupted, everything worked. Since games are usually associated with some of the worst coding and low-level hacking around this was good. (I’m not sure whether the credit should go to the Wine team or Maxis!)


I’ll not mess around: Wine is not ready for the prime time yet and is still some way off. This is not news, the developers say this too.

What is news is that it is an incredible piece of software. A non technical user might not see this (unless they want to play SimCity), but anyone who has written a non-trivial program can see what an incredible achievement Wine is.

Corel WordPerfect 8


Linux is capable of many things. It is an incredibly fast and stable platform, able to sustain months, if not years, of uptime and has many world-class applications such as Oracle8 and Apache. What it doesn’t have much of are decent word processors. I find that, these days, the one of the few reasons that I boot up Windows is for Microsoft Word (the other reason is Worms 2).

So the day when WordPerfect, one of the few word-processors that can compete with Word feature for feature, arrives on Linux is a momentous one. However, just being there isn’t enough. Is it really on par with Word? And does it do justice to Linux?

First things first

Corel WordPerfect comes in three versions: Personal Edition, Standard Edition and Server Edition. I’m reviewing the Personal Edition, the one you can download from the Internet for free. The Standard Edition adds more fonts and clip-art and the Server Edition adds a character mode version and more administration tools.

Installation barely warrants a mention. It’s not a ‘standard’ Linux package such as RPM or DEB, but is very straight-forward nevertheless. It’s very Windows-like: click here, enter this information there. Easy. It’s not as confusing as StarOffice either – you install it as ‘root’!

Running it for the first time

X doesn’t make it easy to make a decent application. It imposes no standards on an applications look and feel, but does impose a relatively high memory overhead. I guess this makes it difficult for a company used to writing Windows applications.

Corel, like StarDivision, have chosen to make WordPerfect look and feel like their Windows version. This is going to annoy some Linux users, claiming that it’s not ‘UNIX’ enough, but I think it’s a good thing. It makes anyone used to a Windows word processor (i.e., almost everyone) instantly at home. No one is going to have a problem with the Office 97-like tool bar, nor the simple and logical menu structure.

Perhaps more of an issue for people coming from Windows or a Macintosh is what the application is capable of. Word processors on those machines can, just about, do everything from letters to fairly advanced desktop publishing. Most free Linux equivalents just can’t compete with that. LyX is great for long, structured documents (with certain caveats that I noted when I reviewed it last year), and many of the others look good, allowing import of multimedia clips, but are disappointing when you want to do any real work.

WordPerfect is more like a Windows word-processor in this respect.

Doing some real work

I thought a good test would be to write this review with WordPerfect. I suspect that documents of around a thousand words are not atypical and it would allow me to test out some of the nice new features, such as its Internet interoperability.

Unfortunately, half way though the review I found that there was very little to write about. This is not a criticism, in fact it should probably be taken as a compliment. In writing simple text, WordPerfect has all the tools you need exactly where you would expect them, doing exactly what you want. It has the basics, such as font and style selections, plus more recent innovations such as on-the-fly spelling- and grammar-checking. The latter is annoying and I usually switch it off, which is a useful feature that Microsoft Word doesn’t have!

So far, there is nothing that WordPerfect has that the Windows competition doesn’t already have. I guess it has two things. Firstly it has the ‘shadow cursor,’ something so obvious that I’m surprised that it’s not been done before. (People said that about the drag-and-drop cut-and-paste in Word for Windows 2.) If you switch it on, you can click anywhere on the screen and start typing. WP adds the necessary returns, tabs and spaces for you.

Secondly, it has what I can only describe as an on-the-fly thesaurus. It’s a drop-down list on the tool bar that gives a continuous list of alternatives to the word that you just typed. I’m not sure that it’s a great improvement over pressing Shift-F7 in Microsoft Word, but it’s there anyway.

Advanced stuff

Once I found that I could test more than a small amount of functionality while writing the review, I started playing round in other documents.

The first I opened was my CV, a Word 95 document complete with some of the dodgy advanced formatting that you can do there. The import was less than perfect, but was still quite impressive. It brought across all the text and most of the formatting, including most of the style information. Unsurprisingly it failed on the floating frames, but it did place the text at a suitable place in the document. Full marks for falling over gracefully. I was surprised that it didn’t manage to import the header and footer information, though.

I then tried to reapply the formatting that the import had managed to remove. Again, it gets boring to write about as it was so easy.

The second document I tried was rather longer, nearly seven thousand words. Again, conversion was impressive although imperfect. This time the main problem was the heading numbering, a fault that Word 97’s converter also has.

Having lost the table of contents, I tried to recreate it. I didn’t find this entirely straight-forward and never did get exactly what I was looking for. It looks like you have to define each paragraph that you need entering into the table of contents, rather like the way LyX insists. I much prefer the Word approach where it uses the list of styles to work out the document structure.

Not all good

It has to be said, there isn’t a lot wrong with WordPerfect 8.

The font handling – unique to WordPerfect – isn’t quite as good as that in Windows, but is probably better than that in most X applications, StarOffice included. Also, the version that’s free to download doesn’t have the on-line help. I can’t help but think that this is a very important thing to miss out.

The two worst things that I can think of are that the Microsoft Word filter doesn’t work with fast-saved documents (I’m not sure what MS has done with fast-saved documents, but no software other than Word itself seems to be able to deal with it!) – annoying as most of my Word documents are fast-saved!

And the finally, a question mark hangs over its stability. I had a couple of (unreproducable) crashes while wring this. However, it should be noted that WordPerfect managed to reinstate a recent backup each time meaning that I only lost a sentence or two.


This is exactly what we need. WordPerfect is a superb application, just as good as its Windows counterpart, but running under Linux. Due to its less-than-one-hundred-percent compatibility with Microsoft Word, I can’t guarantee to use it always (my work uses Word) but it is going to stay on my hard-disk.