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Some General Remarks

Personally speaking, I have not very much experience with these sorts of software --- if you wonder why, consider me as an hardcore UNIX user, who applies special tools for every purpose, and tries to choose the best, not necessary the easiest GUI tools to use, but aiming for most productivity and fast typer convenience, preferably not too much mouse interactions...

The major drawbacks of all office solutions are:

  • very poor printing quality: it falls far from being acceptable for booksetter measures; if that is, what you want, use typesetting solutions like (La)TeX or DTP (desktop publishing) solutions like scribus

  • the not really productive M$ Windoze style: somehow the Redmond mob and even others managed to make most people think, that this way of creating (printable) documents is productive and fast. In fact it isn't, but to grasp this, is no easy, if you know nothing else --- for example the above mentioned (La)TeX, a mature typesetting solution created by a talented mathematician (Donald Knuth) features as well by far superior line seperation, spacing balancing and index creation compared to any office package.

  • the issue of not portable formats: opposed to open formats like dvi (device independent), postscript or PDF (Portable Document Format) office document formats tend to be undocumented and unreadable by other applications --- this has just begun to change with the advent of clear text XML files as document format, but is still to be finished by definition of a general, interchangeable format, defined by a DTD set or better schema definiton.

Because even I'm not living in outer space regarding typical computer usages, I have some little experiences and made tests for interest too. So I hope this account will be useful anyway, primarily for the popularity of this topic... As being the most used and desired I will focus essentially on word processors and spreadsheet solutions.

The GNOME Office Ingredients

Just finished is the version 1 release of AbiWord, an open source solution belonging to the GTK+/GNOME family of products. It is astonishingly fast in launching and working with it, masters many of the prevailing proprietary word processor formats and features a similar, but superior user interface to make it more productive. It should be not a real hassle, to change from other mainstream office solutions to it...

Together with the spreadsheet open source software Gnumeric, also part of the GTK+ and GNOME projects and capable to import mentioned formats too, it is my primary recommendation for your office products on GNU/Linux: both are fast, smooth and rather portable --- they can be used even on certain proprietary OSs or the somewhat uncommon build Mac OS X (prerequisite: a running X server and the needed GTK+ and GNOME components), not to speak of other conventional mainstream UNIX flavors like Solaris and so on. When you ever want/do office work on GNU/Linux, I urge you really to try these seriously, probably you won't get another one after that... Of course there are some more office kind software projects on GNOME evolving, but they are as well less important IMHO and as matter of fact not as far evolved as these two key ones. These packages are usually included in any GNU/Linux distribution.

OpenOffice and StarOffice (by Sun Microsystems)

As with the GNOME versions, you will find the second most used office package of the world usually (with the exception of Debian, which of course doesn't distributes the commercial (pay!) software StarOffice) also within your distribution of GNU/Linux.

To clear things up: StarOffice has a long and changing history record of development, originally a small German company (in Hamburg) created it with platform independence in mind. Later Sun Microsystems took over the company in a friendly and welcome manner and helped it to even greater success. Due to different developments Sun finally decided to split up this office in two threads: an open source thread, now called OpenOffice, and a commercial thread, labeled as the original StarOffice. While the first can be used under usual GPL open source conditions, the second remains a (cheap) commercial product with some commercial add-ons the GPL version can't include, for example things like the ADABAS SQL RDBMS or some spelling and dictionary components. So you can/must choose from the not commercial, but open source community supported OpenOffice or the commercial, pay StarOffice, with commercial support on the other hand. Keep in mind, that internally both products are nearly completely identical and that exchange between both is a trivial matter. The current versions are: OpenOffice 641 and a lower case letter, now called the version 1 (last: 1.0.1) release, and StarOffice version 6, after long time 5.2 being the current stable version, which I could already test (not the beta, but really the release) too.

If you can afford the big size, you may download OpenOffice, which is rapidly developed further, but be warned, this is really huge! Both are supposed to be installed by the user using it, otherwise you will get problems with protections (if you like me try first to install as root and run as user). On UNIX systems this can be a waste of space of course, because contrary to proprietary systems these are usually essential multi user systems.

The strong side of both is the quality of import filters, which manage even the newest spy OS document formats of the Redmond mob virtually perfect. On the dark side is the very slow speed of these, not only at launch time. If you run this on KDE, be warned, it will be even slower there! Only on really fast hardware this is no problem in my view. A much better thing is the new XML/DTD document format, which is the best documented, readable and interchangeable so far.

Finally this is available as StarOffice solely for GNU/Linux on ia-32 architectures, both Solaris architectures (from which the ia-32 is for sure rarely used, opposed to the SPARC ones) and of course, and with the most installations used, on the mentioned evil OS family. Of OpenOffice additionally ports for GNU/Linux on PowerPC and a very premature alpha version for Mac OS X (probably requiring an X server too) exists too.

In my view it's similarity to the prevailing office solution is rather extreme... No education for a change is necessary by realistic judgement on the other hand!

To clear up the names you need to get a certain function (necessary since the common desktop of StarOffice 5.x was cancelled completely, OpenOffice uses just Open instead of Star as prefix):

application nameUNIX command namekind/function
StarWriterswriterword processor
StarCalcscalcspreadsheet solution
StarImpresssimpresspresentation handling application
StarDrawsdrawpainting and drawing software
StarMathsmathmathematical formula assistant
StarWebswebhomepage/HTML creator: still only HTML 3.2 capable, therefore don't use! (at least HTML 4.0 should be used, even better is XHTML 1.0 Transitional)

The Evil emerges on GNU/Linux: Mž Office!

I can't avoid some principal considerations about this thing: one of the main reasons, maybe the most important, was the absence of this one, so far available only for the illegal monopoly bundled OSs from the same origin and the Mac OS (proprietary) as well as now for the UNIX Mac OS X too (a novelty: an essential non-proprietary OS, UNIX based, where it is officially available!). This is, what could become a killer application for the Wine (Mž Windoze call emulation) project, heavily supported and promoted by these people of codeweavers. They already sell a fine plugin, enabling with Wine too the Mž Windoze version of Apples Quicktime plugin, a rather useful thing for GNU/Linux and your only (legal) chance to watch Sorenson codec Quicktime movies so far. In earlier times Corel tried the same with it's now virtually off-the-market (behind StarOffice in market share) office solution, they failed due to several reasons, I guess. (in recent times Wine was most often [ab-]used for playing monopoly OS only games)

If the speed is up to my experiences with the demanding Quicktime plugin, efficient and fast work (as it is possible at all with this --- sorry! --- bullshit software) like on the evil frame OS used to work onto it will be possible. This is the most nearly native porting solution so far; the only realistic alternative with still using GNU/Linux was until now to run the resource consuming VMWare and there one of the monopoly OS flavors with the monopoly office inside.

Of course it's up to you, if you want to open your GNU/Linux system this way to the evil and highly insecure Mž stuff. For example, the only real security problem you have now on the modern UNIX flavor Mac OS X is the presence and usage of Mž shitware like M$IE or the so-called X Office (strange label indeed, isn't it?) --- of course you can remove the M$IE there and don't install the X Office, if you are security aware, this is essential. The usual macro viruses and worms are always happy with meeting the total insecure Mž shitware, you have to be aware of this simple fact... The price of about 60 US $ is moderate, but you have to buy the extremely over-expensive evil office as always too!

Some more to be mentioned...

There are products emerging from the open source KDE project and the commercial Applixware too. But in my view these are not nearly as important or well developed than the mentioned ones above. So I list these only for (relative) completeness.


The conclusion goes as follows: use either AbiWord and Gnumeric and the other parts of the GNOME office series exclusively, or get OpenOffice (or eventually StarOffice) for more compatibility requiring purposes. I don't consider the port of Codeweavers as really necessary or unavoidable... And for high quality text prints and big and complex documents you need still (La)TeX or a DTP solution!


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