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Suites for the Sweet: StarOffice 5.2 - page 5

The First in Our Series of Reviews

  • May 16, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

The "added value" proposition of office suites tends to be how well the individual components hang together and work with each other. StarOffice brings some powerful (if underdocumented) resources to bear on this area.

OLE support in StarOffice is generally solid. It was a simple matter to create and embed a simple spreadsheet, for instance, in a text document and operate on that spreadsheet when needed. The documentation indicates this object linking is something users may import from Microsoft Office documents as well.

The other piece of glue in the StarOffice package is StarOffice Basic: StarOffice's equivalent to Microsoft's Visual Basic for Applications. Through StarOffice Basic, the suite is able to import VBA scripts (fortunately for the security-conscious it doesn't automatically execute them) and provide scripting for StarOffice components themselves.

This feature shows a lot of promise, but it is woefully underdocumented. We hope to see more on this, either in the form of user community-based Web sites or more thorough documentation on the part of Sun, since it represents a level of parity with Microsoft Office that will prove alluring to corporate IT decision-makers.

Conclusions
Taken as a collection, StarOffice provides a thorough and complete suite. Hints from Sun indicate that it will gain prominence in the coming months as its new owners prepare for yet another assault on Microsoft's dominance of the corporate desktop.

StarOffice 5.2 suffered from some stability issues while we evaluated it, but users should be aware that it is still a beta release: Sun doesn't recommend it for day-to-day work, and neither do we. On the other hand, the featureset is complete, and we believe the newest release will live up to its predecessors' reputation for reliability and stability once out of beta.

If we have any complaints about StarOffice, it's that there's no way to extract individual components from the whole for use outside the somewhat strange and Windows-like StarDesktop. StarOffice takes a while to start, and tends to be memory-hungry. Users who already have an established desktop environment tipping their base system requirements to the high end may find it frustrating to have to deal with a desktop environment within a desktop environment.

On the other hand, for a company preparing for the transition to a Linux desktop, or a company dealing with the sorts of issues having a more heterogeneous environment in place entails, StarOffice's insistence on owning the desktop begins to make more sense. Having the techs using the same software as the suits, who in turn are using the same software as the clerical pool, makes for a smoother environment for all. There's no need to deploy a single operating system to continue to get work done if everybody's working with the same software. Sun clearly has a stake in corporate IT decision-makers picking up on this wisdom, and it will be interesting to see their ongoing efforts in this area.

For most users, StarOffice will provide everything they could need and a few extras that show the software is designed with some care and a sense of quality. We recommend it on its own merits as well as for its unbeatable price: free.

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