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The StartX Files: Word to the Wise: StarOffice 6 Beta - page 2

A Mean Chicken Cordon Bleu

  • October 8, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

There has been little change to the Writer interface from versions past. The Navigator and Stylist pop-up controls are still there, lending Writer users easily accessed tools when they need them. This is nothing new for WordPerfect users, since Writer and its incarnations have always borrowed heavily from WP's interface. Again, I have noted a strong decrease in the amount of time it takes to perform actions within StarOffice components and Writer is no exception.

I was pleased to see styles applied instantaneously and much better responsiveness in AutoCorrect and AutoSpellcheck activities. The only gripe I really had with Writer was the fact that these component windows seem to be directly controlled from the StarOffice interface, which means you can pull them out of the way from the open StarOffice window. Instead, they get truncated on the sides of the open window, which is kind of annoying.

But I am saving the best for last. Throughout this second Word to the Wise series, I have been examining how each word processor works with other word processors--with a special emphasis on Microsoft Word. For good or ill, Word is the most prolific word processor on the commercial desktop and if any word processor has a hope of infiltrating the commercial (or home) desktop it must, at least initially, be able to work with the Word file format.

It is one thing to say that a word processor like StarWriter 5.2 is compatible with almost everything because it has document filters for almost every file format ever invented. But it is quite another to say that StarWriter is fully compatible. That's because, in an era of collaborative documentation, it is no longer simply enough to be able to open a Word document in StarWriter and say "StarWriter is compatible with Word."

This statement could never hold water because there is simply too much extra information stored in a .DOC file on a regular basis that other word processors could not get at. I see this every day while writing and editing chapters for a publishing industry that refuses to leave the so-called safe confines of Microsoft Office. Annotated text, revision marks, comments--these are all elements that are constantly used in all kinds of business documents, not just publishing. And this was all the kind of information that only Word itself could cope with.

Until now.

Because now StarOffice 6.0's Writer component can handle this kind of information: and it can handle it near-flawlessly.

After opening some heavily revised and commented documents for an upcoming edition of Red Hat Unleashed, I found that all of the comments and revision marks had come over perfectly. Reviser information, such as who, when, and what was revised, migrated perfectly. Comments were perfectly converted to Writer's Notes, which could be easily found with the Navigator control. Styles also migrated with ease, and maintained all of their properties when opened in Writer.

Hidden fields that appeared in the original Word document also came over when opened in Writer, though I could not figure out how to make them visible beyond a simple gray marker, yet. They were unaltered, though, as I opened the document again in Windows later and the hidden fields appeared once more in their original format.

In fact, the migration worked both ways. All of the revisions I made within Writer to the Word document were later there in the document when I opened it in Word itself. The date, time, and reviser information was also accurate. The same was true for Notes and styles I created within Writer--they showed up just fine as Comments and styles back in Word.

If this does not excite you, it should. Remember, one of the biggest hurdles to using a non-Windows platform in a business environment has always been an application's ability to play well with the well-established Windows environment. This new development in Writer smashes this argument to pieces. If a member of a collaborative team wanted to use StarWriter before, she would have little clue what prior revisions were made to the document and when. Nor would her colleagues know what changes she had made--even if she worked with the document exclusively in the Word format. Today, the transition of a collaborated document from Word to Writer and back again is nearly perfect in the maintenance of comments, notes, and revision marks.

Writer is a very good word processor on its own merits. The collaborative abilities I have mentioned here make it a great word processor.

But is it enough? Is StarOffice 6.0 the Answer that pro-desktop Linux advocates like myself seek?

I have to say: almost. If the resource use can somehow be trimmed and more speed lent to the overall running of the entire StarOffice application, then yes, this is going to be the One that will challenge Office on the corporate and home desktop.

That, in my opinion, will be StarOffice's recipe for success.

Available from: http://www.sun.com/staroffice/6.0beta/
Versions reviewed: Sun StarOffice 6.0 beta, Writer component
License: Proprietary
Cost: Free

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