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The StartX Files: Word to the Wise: StarOffice 6 Beta

A Mean Chicken Cordon Bleu

  • October 8, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

It is a widely known fact that I like to cook, at least among my friends. I would not say I was the best cook in my little Midwestern clique, but I would hope that people liked to come over to our house and eat the dishes I try out on them. I can whip up an excellent mushroom and wild rice pilaf and I make one darn fine chicken cordon bleu with baby peas and a mornay sauce that can't be beat.

While you are sitting there salivating, I should point out that my love of cooking does lead to one of my worst pet peeves: the changing of packaging. Sometime in the 1980s, U.S. food makers decided to begin subtly altering the packaging and distribution of their products. Newer, flashier cans and boxes were introduced to tantalize the taste buds of American consumers. This is no big surprise, of course, marketing folks do this all the time. What was the big (and very unpleasant) surprise was the fact that the amounts of the contents for these new containers were shrinking.

In the good old days, for example, you could easily but a can of vegetables that had 16 ounces of, well, vegetables in them. For Americans, 16 oz. is a nice round number, since it equates to two cups. But without changing the size of the can, the food makers have reduced the amount of food within these containers. So now we get sizes like 14.5 oz, 15 oz., or (my personal favorite) 15.25 ounces--depending on which type of food you buy.

This insanity is not such a big deal if you are opening a can of green beans and nuking it for a dinner side dish. But if you have a recipe that calls for two cups of green beans, what the hell are you supposed to do with 14.5 ounces?

(And before all you metric-using readers start jumping on my case about the arrogant Americans who won't get off the old British system, you can just take a step back. Few of these new sizes equate to an easy-to-use metric measurement either, unless you know of a recipe that actually calls for 410.35 grams of green beans.)

Is all repackaging a bad thing? Of course not. But whenever the packaging for a product, be it food or anything else, care should be taken to see that the product itself has not been radically altered under the new glitz and glitter.

Or, in the case of the new StarOffice 6.0 beta, the product's new packaging isn't mistaken for a new product.

StarDesktop Takes a Powder

If I had ever taken a poll on the things potential StarOffice users hated the most, I would be willing to bet that the StarDesktop, Star Division's and (later) Sun's all-encompassing GUI for StarOffice would rank very high in that poll's results. I would also be willing to bet that the slow speed and the resource-hogging of the single huge binary of StarOffice would also be high on that same list.

With the release of the new 6.0 beta, it appears that Sun as taken care of one of these issues: that of the StarDesktop, which is now, as many of you know, gone. Also gone is the ubiquitous "Star" label in front of every component, so instead of StarWriter, it's now called just Writer. Personally speaking, I kind of the uniformity of StarThis and StarThat. But then, I appreciate things like Bat-Anti-Shark-Repellent Spray, so you know where my priorities lie.

But don't be fooled into thinking that this means that StarOffice has dramatically changed its underlying structure. StarOffice is still not a true suite of applications. This is still one big binary pretending to be a suite of separate applications. It does a great job pretending, mind you, to the point that if Sun could ever figure out how to reduce the resource problems, no one is really going to care if StarOffice takes up one binary or 212.

But that resource problem is still there, so the monster binary is still a concern. For instance, StarOffice was taking up five threads on my machine and about 64 Mb of system resources to open a 30-page Writer document. Opening other document types, such as an Impress slide show, just spawns another window from the same central binary and eats up more resources.

Others have commented that the speed of this new beta is faster than earlier versions. I think it is, too--but only to a point. Initially loading the StarOffice application, no matter which document type you're opening, still takes quite a while, and I saw no negligible differences between this procedure in StarOffices 5.2 and 6.0. I did, however, notice a significant speed increase in the functions of the application itself. Windows popped open much faster, menus snapped into place very quickly, and documents opened from within a running component of StarOffice came up nice and fast. In this respect, Sun has lent some much-needed speed to this application.

Other improvements for the application as a whole include a much faster installation routine than 5.2, and some nice goodies that you can install in the Optional Module path, including full KDE, GNOME, and CDE integration. There were also a lot of useful graphics filters and (in what I thought was a nice touch) an included Java Runtime Environment package that will install JRE 1.3.1 if you desire it.

But how well does the Writer component stack up to StarWriter 5.2 and the rest of the word processor offerings?

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