April 26, 2019

The StartX Files: Word to the Wise: Wrapping Up and Picking a Winner - page 8

None Dare Call it Settling

  • November 30, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

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

With the release of the new 6.0 beta, it appears that Sun as removed one of more contentious features in StarOffice: the StarDesktop. Also gone is the ubiquitous "Star" label in front of every component, so instead of StarWriter, it's now called just Writer.

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-ass binary that is 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.

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 StarOffice's Writer has one feature that makes it shine above almost all of the others. 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 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 there is one other word processor in this series that I think surpasses even this.

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