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Suites for the Sweet: GNOME Office

Continuing Our Series of Office Suite Reviews

  • June 6, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

GNOME Office is an interesting challenge for anyone who plans on a simple stroll down a list of features and failings. Unlike just about anything else identifying itself as an office suite, GNOME Office is cheerfully formless at this point. The project Web site prefers to refer to GNOME Office as a "meta project" oriented towards coordinating the development of the disparate elements of an office suite.

When initially confronted with the task of reviewing GNOME Office, I kvetched, "It's not even really a suite! It's... stuff... that comes with GNOME and... will be working together sometime soon."

The element that will eventually make GNOME Office a suite instead of a hodge-podge of programs that look similar because they all use similar icons and GTK widgets is Bonobo, which will provide a means to produce reusable and embeddable software components for the applications working under GNOME. The technical details behind Bonobo are beyond the scope of this review, but the GNOME Office Web site provides a look at the underlying architecture and intent.

Those following the bleeding edge of GNOME development will, at this point, argue that Bonobo is already around. At this point, it's not implemented in its role as "glue" for the disparate elements forming the GNOME Office suite as experienced by most end users, who simply download major releases.

In addition to Bonobo, the GNOME Office project aims to leverage the unifying strength of XML (which the spreadsheet, Gnumeric, already uses for its files), and the GNOME Print mechanism.

In a way, GNOME Office provides something of a deconstruction of the concept of "office suite," because, as with all free software projects completed outside the auspices of a business, there are no marketing imperatives involved. In the end, GNOME Office will be nothing more or less than the sum of every application able to work within the unifying element of Bonobo. Programmers choosing to code for Bonobo/GNOME integration will contribute to the overall strength of the GNOME environment as a productivity desktop.

In the meantime, though, GNOME Office is less about the sum than it is the individual parts, which are what we looked at for this review. As you'll see, the components comprising GNOME Office are sometimes better suited for the needs of technical users than they are traditional office workers, but there's room for this subclass in a field largely dominated by attempts to be "just like Microsoft Office," and technical folks will likely enjoy the eventual integration Bonobo provides as much as the next user.

Getting GNOME Office

At the moment, GNOME Office isn't distributed as a whole. Parts of it are standard with the GNOME distribution itself, and others must be retrieved individually. The GNOME Office home page at http://www.gnome.org/gnome-office/ provides links to each of the elements of the suite.

The software carried under the GNOME Office umbrella includes:

  • AbiWord: AbiSource's open source word processor
  • Gnumeric: a spreadsheet
  • Dia: a structured diagram editor
  • The GIMP: the popular image editing program
  • Eye of GNOME (EOG): an image viewer
  • GNOME-PIM: a calendar and address book offering Palm device connectivity
  • GNOME-DB: a collection of tools for database access


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