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 I originally made the mistake of installing it as ‘root.’
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.