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The StartX Files: Word to the Wise: Writer 638C - page 3

Testify, Brother

  • October 16, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

The first big difference you will see when pulling down the latest binary for OpenOffice (which is build 638C) is that it is smaller than the binary for StarOffice 6.0 beta. Granted, a 76.9-Mb file is no slim Minnie, but compared to the jumbo 118 MB installation file for StarOffice 6.0, there is a significant amount of download time to be saved here.

Setup was virtually identical in both applications, though interestingly OpenOffice sets all of the components to be installed when you chose the Custom installation path, while StarOffice does not presume to do so. Interesting conspiracy? No, just something that I noticed. There is, however, a much more significant difference in the installations in that OpenOffice does not provide the Java Runtime Environment that StarOffice does. Presumably, that's where all the extra weight in the StarOffice installation binary is coming from.

Once installed, many of the same performance issues I noted with the StarOffice beta were present on my 400 MHz Celeron SUsE 7.2 platform. Namely, the suite is slow to initially start and only slightly faster in starting individual components after that. Function wise, one could hardly complain about the speed. Files opened quickly, dialog boxes snapped open nicely--again, very similar to how StarOffice performed.

I was also very heartened to see that OpenOffice Writer had the same file filtering capabilities I raved about for StarOffice. In hindsight, this was to be expected, but since I have not been following OpenOffice as well as I should, I was secretly worried that the ability to open and save Word documents and track all revisions, annotations, and comments at the same time was something Sun had slipped in for their beta alone and had not yet propagated back to OpenOffice. Not to worry, it seems.

Early observers of OpenOffice might remember that many of the features from StarOffice 5.2 were cut out of the first builds of OpenOffice, such as the Help system and spell checking. This was done because these tools were initially third-party applications. The Help system has been completely revamped and, while the interface is identical to StarOffice 6.0's, it seems that build 638 of OpenOffice has slightly more help entries than than its counterpart. Spell-checking, in case you were wondering, is back as well.

As you can see in the screenshot I took for this column, the interfaces are almost identical for StarOffice and OpenOffice. But there is one significant difference: font-handling. In this, OpenOffice appears to lag behind just a bit. In the screenshot, I have opened a Word document that deliberately has fonts not loaded yet on my Linux machine. While both interfaces give the Courier font a "scrunched" look, StarOffice seems to handle the nonnative font a little bit better. Also, if you look closely at the application's own fonts, OpenOffice's menu and window contents have a jagged look.

Is this enough to kill off any chance of using this application? Certainly not. In fact, based on what I have seen with these two applications, I am more inclined to recommend OpenOffice over StarOffice, especially for home and small business users.

This is a near thing, mind you, but I think that even though StarOffice has a slightly more polished feel to it right this very moment, this situation will clearly not remain static. You see, as good as StarOffice is now, it is not likely to change much after the final version of 6.0 is released. Sun, in the hopes of getting this product out to the masses, simply cannot update StarOffice has often as OpenOffice. It would drive their potential corporate customers insane, to say the least. So, StarOffice will represent a solid office suite for the corporate users who don't need a lot of version updates.

But for those of us who like to be on the cutting edge, I'm leaning towards OpenOffice. Because, even with the very minor font concerns I have with this application, I know that it will be updated with new features a lot faster than I will see StarOffice 6.1.

OpenOffice represents the future, not just in terms of the latest gadgets and gimmicks--but in the way software should be developed. And, though I harbor no ill will towards Sun, I sort of like the idea of directly helping out an open-source project.

Your own preferences will guide you, of course. But if you are inclined to use StarOffice, I invite you to give OpenOffice a look as well. You may find the choice between them a difficult one to make.

Available from: http://www.openoffice.org/dev_docs/source/build_638c/build638c.html
Versions reviewed: OpenOffice 638C, Writer component
License: LGPL, SISSL
Cost: Free

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