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Suites for the Sweet: GNOME Office - page 3

Continuing Our Series of Office Suite Reviews

  • June 6, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

Much as Dia invites users interested in a more traditional presentation manager to leverage other existing UNIX/Linux tools, the GNOME-DB package provides very little in the way of an Access or Paradox-style database. Rather, GNOME-DB provides a suite of tools that allow those already working with a common Linux database package like Postgresql or MySQL to provide themselves with a GNOME-oriented front end. GNOME-DB's designers took a layered approach to their task, providing a back end for the supported databases, a middle layer of user interface design and implementation tools, and a top layer of applications.

GNOME-DB is an interesting approach to providing a GUI database front end, and one we're inclined to think has a lot of long-term merit. MySQL and Postgresql, for instance, have proven they can handle reasonable demands. Coupled with an interface that seems to be part of a unified whole (and, once again, tied to other pieces of the suite with Bonobo), they could be powerful tools even in the hands of relatively non-technical users. What's missing, though, is the dumbed-down interface work that makes something like Microsoft Access easy for just about anybody to pick up: maybe GNOME-DB will provide this.

In the meantime, GNOME-DB is probably the least end-user-oriented of the GNOME Office project, even though there are small applications taking advantage of it now. We expect its current appeal will be limited to much more technical users.

Keeping Track of Your Life: GNOME-PIM
The GNOME-PIM package is a calendar (GNOME Calendar) and address book (GNOMECard). Both are lightweight and simple to use, and both offer solid integration with PalmOS based devices. We were able to sync a Handspring Visor to both using the GNOME-Pilot package with no problems at all.

GNOMECard provides an easy way to keep track of phone numbers and addresses, and supports the vCard standard.

The GNOME Calendar is also a solid tool. We found it easy to use, and it includes a good array of alarms and notification tools to make keeping track of appointments easier.

One touch we really admired was the ability to use command line options to output todo lists and a given day's appointments, making GNOME Calendar a useful information tool for writing scripts and providing a quick overview of a day's events. We welcome this sort of bridge between the world of the GUI and the command line, because it allows hard-won shell scripting skills to be put to good use as a complement to the ease of a GUI.

Wrapping Up: Some Final Observations
As we noted at the onset, GNOME Office is much more of a theme and a promise for solid integration than it is a fully realized suite. It's not something traditional office suite users wandering in from the Microsoft Office-dominated corporate desktop are going to feel particularly at home with.

On the other hand, there's an underlying spirit to the efforts being combined to produce a functional GNOME desktop that we can't ignore. We're still believers in the UNIX mantra of small, reusable tools. We believe that GNOME Office, once it gels with Bonobo's integration, will honor this philosophy and provide users with a comfortable and fast office environment that resides easily within the overall GNOME framework.

GNOME Office is an interesting take on the largely marketing-driven notion of an office suite, and one we're interested in following.

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