CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published Monday, July 24, 2000

Sun sheds light on office efficiency

Recently, I discussed the future of business as moving toward a more centralized computing environment and away from the distributed model of many individual personal computers. Hardware and software upgrades as well as in-house technical expertise make the distributed model expensive to manage and support, especially for large operations.

StarOffice, by Sun Micros Systems, is an office productivity package widely featured in many server-based models and is available as a free download for PC users as well. StarOffice includes tools such as word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, Web publishing, e-mail, scheduling and database applications. This software package is garnering high marks for its ease of use and compatibility with Microsoft Office documents, but moreover for its price.

I downloaded StarOffice for free from to assess the value of this office suite for myself. This download is not meant for the average dial-up connection since the file size is 80MB. You can download smaller segments, or order the program CD and documentation for $40. At DSL speed, the 80MB download took just 17 minutes, however. Life is good.

StarOffice opens in its own desktop view, complete with a unique Start button and taskbar. Because I'm running StarOffice on top of Windows 98, my Windows icons appeared on the StarOffice desktop, but as I opened files from the desktop, such as Word documents, they opened in StarOffice Writer, not Word. I opened a document containing headers/footers, tables, borders, bullets and Writer recognized all the elements and displayed them appropriately.

I then created a similar document in StarOffice Writer with the same elements and saved it in MSOffice 97/2000 format. The document opened readily in both Word 97 and 2000 with no degradation in formatting. Writer also recognized and opened my old and new WordPerfect documents, preserving all formatting.

StarOffice Writer includes a graphics library, templates and supports advanced features such as section breaks, table of contents, indexes, footnotes, endnotes, bookmarks, fields, macros and will even associate a bibliography database with a document. It is remarkably robust and in many ways is more reminiscent of original WordPerfect than Word, especially when using tables.

I had a similar experience opening and formatting Excel worksheets in StarOffice Calc. Calc actually bore more similarity to Excel than Writer did to Word, complete with the AutoSum button and fill handles. All the advanced formula Functions are there as well as macros, multiple sheet workbooks and data filter capabilities.

As expected, the StarOffice Impress program imported my PowerPoint files and translated them seamlessly. Like Write and Calc, Impress bears a striking resemblance to PowerPoint and is replete with graphics and templates. On a lark, I tried unsuccessfully to convert MS Works files to StarOffice and vice versa. I expected as much, since Works is not considered to be a business productivity tool. The free StarOffice program is in fact, much more powerful than MS Works.

Anyone picking up StarOffice after using MS Office will experience an easy learning curve. Granted, MS Office is still more powerful overall, but for everyday business use, StarOffice is more than adequate and hard to beat, especially for the price.

Last week Sun announced it will release the SunOffice source code to the open source community under the GNU General Public License. What this means is software developers can freely use this code to improve and expand the features of this software suite. Whether for the server based environment or individual users, there's finally an affordable alternative to expensive proprietary office suites.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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