A Hands-On Review of the Open Source OpenOffice - page 2
Building from the Source
In addition to the source code, the OpenOffice project provided a set of binaries to allow users a chance to see OpenOffice in its current state. We downloaded these expecting to see little more than StarOffice 5.2 with maybe some cosmetic changes, and were pleasantly surprised to find we were wrong, but we'll get to that.
Installing the OpenOffice suite is as simple as it ever was under StarOffice. The installation tarball provides a single installer binary that launches the familiar StarOffice installer program. The main change experienced users will note is the replacement of the StarOffice butterfly with the OpenOffice logo. Once it comes time to select which components to install, there are a few items missing from StarOffice 5.2, including Palm support and the wide variety of languages. The installer remains intelligent about searching out and suggesting a Java installation to use, as well.
Though the installer still seems to allow the /net switch, which permits multiple users to share a single installation of the main program with smaller, personalized directories for file and configuration storage, we had no luck getting this installation to run and decided to resort to the standard installation, which drops the program tree and all the needed files in a single, central directory.
The biggest complaint we had the last time we looked at StarOffice, and often heard from the program's users, was the nature of the interface. StarOffice's "Do everything in one place" philosophy included providing an entire desktop environment with which to access the various components of the suite. This drove up the program's footprint, and made for a sense of clunkiness and wasted screen space. This issue is already addressed on the first day of OpenOffice's release: the StarOffice Desktop is gone.
On launching the program, StarOffice Writer is the only program to present itself. The style wizard still exists as a curious Windows 9x-looking window that's constrained to the boundaries of the word processor's frame, but file dialogs and any additional windows the user chooses to open are under the control of the user's window manager.
We were unable to determine how to open any other app besides the word processor at launch, when we ran the soffice binary. The only way we could find to start a new spreadsheet, illustration, or graph is to select the File/New menu item and select the appropriate file type. Once the new file is created, it opens in its own window, and has no more control buttons than are necessary to the app being used.
Appearances are also deceiving. Those who didn't like the fact that a single, monolithic application is running the show with StarOffice will remain unhappy. Despite the welcome change of getting everything out from under the StarOffice Desktop, the application itself remains a single program, at least according to top. Launching a spreadsheet, a presentation, and other application windows had no effect on the number of processes running, and a minor effect on the memory footprint of the program: its five threads continued to consume about 20 MB of RAM.
Besides the fact StarOffice's components are now run as individually managed windows, users used to StarOffice won't see much difference in the look and feel of OpenOffice. Users familiar with StarOffice will be instantly familiar with the software in its current state.
One addition we did notice rather quickly was a new set of TrueType fonts that came available "out of the box." Font rendering under OpenOffice seems to be much cleaner than it was under StarOffice, where font scaling problems often rendered the text jagged and difficult to read on the screen. We experimented with importing Microsoft Office documents, which went off without a hitch (even a document that repeatedly crashed Applix Words), and we succesfully embedded documents between OpenOffice applications. We weren't able to configure a printer.
Currently missing from the available elements of the suite are the mail and news programs as well as the schedule program. The address book remains, and is tied to the database element of the suite, which is not available on its own. It's not appropriate to speculate about what the current existing elements or the missing pieces from StarOffice 5.2 represent since the composition of the suite is presumably open to the direction the OpenOffice project chooses to take it.