April 25, 2019

The StartX Files: Between the Sheets With Star Calc - page 2

Digressing Into Font Land

  • December 14, 2001
  • By Brian Proffitt

The version of Calc I looked at was from OpenOffice 641b, which at the time of this review was the latest and greatest binary version available for Linux. Since downloading and installing OpenOffice is basically identical to the StarOffice procedure, I won't say much about this process, save to say that like all of the other recent versions of this office suite, you need either a darn big pipe or a lot of free time to download the 76.4 Mb file.

Newcomers to OpenOffice should be made aware that the application is available not only for x86/Linux, but also PPC/Linux as well. It also is available in Solaris (Intel and Sparc) and even Win32, so you get that wonderful cozy feeling of cross-platform availability.

When they first open Calc, new users have got to impressed by the depth of the toolset provided by this spreadsheet. Most of the rest of us, though, know full well that Calc has an impressive lineage of StarOffice versions behind it, so there's been more than enough time to build a very full-featured application.

Calc has it all, too. Everything from row and column controls that have their own context menus quickly manipulate formatting, to sophisticated data management tools that enable you to create pivot tables and other data-enhancing objects.

This application is full of the little touches that make using Calc a pleasure. Right-click on any cell and you can access a selection list that lets you choose from all the other values in that column.

Importing data is straightforward, too. Just select the data source, which can be an Adabas, JDBC, ODBC, or dBase; or a text-delimited file or spreadsheet. Then pick the tables and/or ranges you want to use, and you're all set.

Formatting within Calc features a whole host of options, from simple cell highlights to degree-by-degree text rotation. Though it won't look good on screen, if you have a printer set up correctly within your environment and with spadmin, the hardcopy results will look pretty good.

If there is one thing lacking in Calc that a user sees a lot of in Excel, it's wizards. But I don't say this like it's a bad thing. For mid-range and experienced users, too often Microsoft-type wizards just slow them down. Such users just want the tool to manipulate their data and get on with life.

If you fall into this particular mindset, then Calc is certainly going to make you happy. Function for function, tool for tool, Calc is easily a match for the feature-laden Excel. But the implementation of those tools is not as "dumbed-down" as Excel's tools can be, especially in the later versions of Excel, where Microsoft's approach to every problem seems to make treat users as if they're ignorant four-year-olds.

In terms of sheer file compatibility, OpenOffice seems to have stepped back from the old StarOffice approach of throwing in every single filter they could find. Besides the database formats mentioned above, OpenCalc can only open Excel (5.0 - XP) workbooks and StarCalc (3.0 - 5.0) spreadsheets. This is a far cry from the days when its predecessor StarCalc could open Lotus and Quattro Pro files.

The good news is all of the features and formatting that were in place within my Excel workbooks came over without a hitch in Calc. At least as far as styles and sizes were assigned to the cells. How they actually looked was another matter.

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