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The StartX Files: Word to the Wise: Wrapping Up and Picking a Winner - page 9

None Dare Call it Settling

  • November 30, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

Available from: http://www.openoffice.org/
Version reviewed: OpenOffice 638C, Writer component
License: LGPL, SISSL
Cost: Free

OpenOffice was born of the source code from StarOffice 5.2 just over a year ago, on October 13, 2000, when Sun formed OpenOffice.org. The source code, written in C++, is now a part of one of the largest open source projects ever conceived. The work has been divided into several teams, with each team's manager guiding the direction of newly submitted code. Ultimately, anyone can take the open source and make anything out of it--including another office suite, if they wanted.

This is how StarOffice is the parent of OpenOffice. But StarOffice is also the child of OpenOffice as well. Since the inception of OpenOffice.org, Sun has reincorporating the efforts made by the OpenOffice teams into their own development of StarOffice 6.0. With the release of StarOffice 6.0, the first fruits of the OpenOffice project have been harvested.

Parent, then child. This is the nature of the StarOffice-OpenOffice relationship. Of course, looking at the applications together might make you think they are actually twins. But they're not

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 skinny 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.

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.

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. 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 all the other application in this series, including StarOffice.

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. 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 as 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 recommend 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.

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