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Suites for the Sweet: KOffice
Starting from Scratch: KOffice for KDE
May 16, 2000
Editor's note: We continue our series of reviews of Linux-based office suites with a review of KOffice, the KDE-based office suite. Yesterday Michael Hall reviewed StarOffice 5.2; further reviews will cover WordPerfect Office for Linux, GNOME Office, and Applixware Office for Linux.
Anyone who has looked has discovered that there is no full-featured, open-source, freeware word processor for the X Window System. There are extensions to GNU Emacs, true, and there is a world of little text editors. There are the Lyx and Klyx front ends to the LaTex macros for the TeX typesetting system. And the road behind us is littered with brilliantly conceived, half-finished, and ultimately abandoned attempts at creating what many users imagine when a word processor is mentioned. Also, there are a couple in the works at different places on the path to completion.
A word processor with all the features that people want is not a simple application to write. Imagine, then, the sheer audacity of trying to put together a complete office suite for Linux, with a half-dozen top-quality applications all capable not just of exchanging data but of providing the strength of each to all the rest.
Audacious though it is, that's exactly what the developers of KDE's KOffice are not just proposing but have actually mostly done, with the finished product scheduled for release in early autumn.
Mostly done? Well, yes. This report, for instance, is being written in KWord, the already perfectly useful word processor that to many will anchor the suite. The author has used it to write professionally to the tune of about 40,000 words so far, and while not all the bells tinkle yet, nor do all the whistles trill, it has been perfectly stable and has provided all the basics. When finished, it will have all the features anybody could reasonably want (it will not have an animated paperclip character; that would be unreasonable).
KWord would be quite an accomplishment and a thing of which the developers at KDE could be rightly proud, even if their work stopped right there. But it doesn't, by a long shot. The KOffice suite includes a 3-D chartmaker, a vector-drawing program, a bitmap-graphics program, an application that prepares presentations, a formula editor, an image viewer, and, of course, a spreadsheet. In the works is a database application that will become part of the suite when it is ready, though it may not be part of the initial release.
Before we go any further, it would be good to answer the inevitable question--the one that has killed a lot of applications before they ever got off the ground: What file formats does this office suite support? What the questioner is really asking is: "Does it read and write Microsoft Office documents?" The answer is more complicated than is the question, alas. The native KOffice formats embrace the emerging XML standard. They go beyond that--they are natively gzipped for storage. (Someone wishing to look at a KWord .kwd document, foo.kwd, in a simple text editor would first invoke the gunzip foo.kwd command before looking at it in the editor. The first thing such a person would notice is that there's a lot of air in XML, which is why the files are gzipped for storage.)
The supported image formats include all those for which support has been compiled into the KDE libraries or the underlying QT toolset, which is to say a great many, with more available as the individual need requires and one cares to add them--and by default it's all but inconceivable that there is a bitmap graphics format that KOffice and some other application do not have in common. KWord as of this writing supports its native format, HTML of several varieties, and plain text, with rich-text format (RTF) and Microsoft Word filters in the works. KSpread, the spreadsheet program, has its own format and reads and writes Excel 97 and comma-separated value files. KPresenter, the presentation editor, again has its own native format, but it can work with Power Point 97 files, too. (Microsoft file formats are a bit of a moving target; cynics would offer that this is to encourage people using Microsoft applications to upgrade absent any compelling new features. Whatever the reason, updated filters are likely to be available by KOffice's release or soon after. One of the advantages of open source software is that there's the possibility of an improved version just about every day, for free.)