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.comment: KOffice Is A Good Start - page 2

Who's It For?

  • October 30, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

KOffice comprises the customary litany of applications: KWord, a word processor, KSpread, a spreadsheet, KPresenter, for making presentations, KChart, for converting data into pictures, KIllustrator, for making vector graphics, and KOShell, which provides a unified workspace for all the applications, ala StarOffice (though unlike StarOffice before version 6.0, KOShell is optional--the applications can run without it). These are the applications that by default consensus are thought to be required by businesses. Whether these, beyond word processor and spreadsheet, actually are what businesses typically need is probably debatable, but they seem to be the applications necessary to achieve the official stamp of approval of the Office Suite Advisory Council or whoever it is who decides these things.

It is in this respect that in its initial version KOffice seems to me to be a little bit unfocused. Yes, there are applications that fall into all of the Official Office Suite categories, except for a database application, which, fortunately, is under development (I'd bet money that more companies use databases than make charts and presentations or, for that matter, draw pictures). Vector graphics are great for computer artists and hobbyists, but they're scarcely essential to business.

I am not a spreadsheet expert by any means. I rarely use them and never use their advanced features. In discussion with people who do use spreadsheets a lot and who have taken KSpread for a spin, I've gotten the impression that it's a very nice little application that does not match the features of Excel, or 1-2-3, or late versions of Quattro Pro, or even the spreadsheets in StarOffice or Applix. This is not necessarily a bad thing, in my view, because such applications have suffered from such feature bloat that their original intent often seems lost.

But I do use word processors, a lot. I've written these columns in KWord for months now, and KWord has steadily gotten better. I haven't explored all its features by any means.

It has a couple of attributes that annoy the hell out of me. First, its import-export filters are all but useless. (When I finish this column, I'll save it as a text file, then open StarOffice to format it before saving it there as HTML. When opening the text file, I'll have to go through it and replace the pound signs it uses to denote tabs with actual tabs.) Second is an ease of use problem that is inexcusable.

It is now standard pretty much everywhere: when one is editing a document, if one highlights a word or section and then begins typing, the new typing replaces the highlighted text. This is true largely throughout KDE2 as well, in such applications as KMail and Konqueror. Not so in KWord. Highlight some text, start typing, and you're typing next to the highlighted text. This is inconsistent with every modern word processor--and for no good reason.

Likewise, it would be nice to be able to actually configure the thing and save the configurations from session to session. Here, at 1280x1024, I need the magnification set to 200 percent. Not sometimes but all the time. I use a U.S. Letter layout, not sometimes, but all the time. Yet there is no way of making these the defaults--indeed, the only things one may semi-permanently set is whether or not a couple of toolbars appear.

I simply cannot imagine any business that has a choice electing to use KWord at this point in its development.

Which brings us back: Who is KOffice's target audience?

Sometimes this can be determined by playing around with an application for awhile, but this doesn't work with KOffice: It's not especially easy to use, but it's also not so feature rich that it can be said there are rewards in store for those who master it. It's plenty stable, so it can't be thought of as a beta. No, the impression is that it is a competently executed thing that nobody devoted much time to designing. But that doesn't mean it's bad.

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