Suites for the Sweet: StarOffice 5.2 - page 3
The First in Our Series of Reviews
StarOffice Writer fared well in our series on Linux word processors, taking top honors as a high-end product.
Writer deals well with most word processing tasks of even high complexity and offers a wide variety of features. Most formatting commands are easy enough to get at from the intuitively structured menus, and there's a convenient style application tool (The Stylist) that allows for easy use of styles.
Star Writer also provides a fairly solid set of import filters for common word processors, including (naturally enough) Microsoft Word for Windows. It didn't handle our WordPerfect 9 files, however, and there were a few minor issues with importing some of the more complex elements of other documents. In general, though, our test documents were imported cleanly and well.
The online documentation for Star Writer is a little on the skimpy side. Fortunately, the publishing market has stepped in and offered a number of third-party manuals, because the online help varies from "somewhat useful" to "irritatingly vague."
Overall, documentation issues aside, StarOffice Writer is an excellent word processor. It provides, as word processors do for most, an excellent anchor to the suite and reason enough to use the entire package.
The Core Applications: StarOffice Calc (Spreadsheet)
StarOffice Calc is the StarOffice spreadsheet. As with StarOffice Writer, it's a solid and reliable element of the package that provides most of the features users will expect of a spreadsheet, including filtering and goal-seeking.
Calc's interface will be nothing new to experienced users of common office spreadsheets, but, as with StarOffice Writer, it suffers from a deficiency in documentation. Fortunately, most users will find it easy to format cells in Calc and to access the features it provides.
Calc also handled import of data with little trouble. We didn't have truly complex spreadsheets from "alien" products to throw at it, so we can't speak for how it might handle a truly large and complex document, but we saw no reason, during our testing, to suspect it would have any problems with most files.
Calc is a good spreadsheet and a nice companion to the rest of StarOffice. Most users who value the spreadsheet as a component of their office suite will find it a valuable and useful tool.
The Core Applications: Graphic Work with StarOffice Impress and StarOffice Draw
Impress and Draw form a useful team for creating presentations with StarOffice. Impress is the actual presentation tool, and Draw is a vector graphics tool that forms a natural complement to Impress.
Impress provides an easy "wizard"-style interface for the initial creation of a presentation. Among the options are several media types (paper, screen, slide), an impressive number of attractive enough templates and the standard bevy of wipes, fades and the rest for transitions.
Using Impress was easy, and a handy floating menu allowed for easy and quick insertion of slides.
We also found StarOffice Draw easy to understand and use. A number of useful tools were available, including access to basic 3-D primitives and the easy means to adjust their apparent "light source" and texture.
Not meant to provide bitmap editing--which you should leave to programs like the GIMP--Draw provides a great way to manipulate the generous amount of clip-art available with StarOffice, for integration with any of the other elements from the suite.
Overall, we found both elements of StarOffice featureful and smooth. Users making the transition from Microsoft Office will have no problem with either, and will find StarDraw a welcome addition to their toolkit.
The Core Applications: StarOffice Base (database)
StarOffice Base provides the suite with a general-purpose relational database with enough graphical interface elements to keep it relatively simple. Base can deal with dBase, DB2, ODBC, JDBC, and Adabas databases. The online documentation promotes the use of the Adabas database engine heavily.
Base allows users to set up tables with a reasonable number of field types, queries, forms (for online data entry), and reports. A user experienced with the use of Microsoft's Access will feel largely at home with Base once the interface differences are worked out.
Tables are easy to create and design. Base's queries are set up in such a way that users familiar with SQL can construct SQL queries if they prefer that to the "Excel filters on steroids" approach to query construction provided by default. Establishing relationships wasn't so easy to figure out, though we did with a little elbow grease.
In all, StarOffice Base struck us as more of a front-end tool for existing databases than an actual development platform for them. This isn't a complaint about Base, since we doubt any serious database designers care to use a tool like this to work and suspect StarOffice's designers know this. As a front-end, Base is solid enough and will allow most office users to extract information from an existing database and put it to use throughout StarOffice.