February 17, 2019

The Start X Files: Between the Sheets with KSpread

Old Chinese Curses

  • January 18, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

Interesting times are about to be upon the Proffitt household.

Actually, that's a bit of a rhetorical statement; things are always interesting here. It's just that they're about to become more interesting than usual.

The start of all of this was my in-laws (always a source of chaos), who recently decided to purchase a brand-new top-of-the-line computer with many of the bells and whistles you would expect on such a device. I briefly toyed with the idea of trying to get them to put Linux on the new computer, but given that they are my in-laws, I figured that they pretty much deserved the operating system that came with the machine.

Their old machine was something my sister-in-law's ex-boyfriend had cobbled together for them in the early days of his relationship with my sister-in-law in an effort to impress them as a reasonably sturdy fellow who was also a technical wiz.

In his efforts to impress my not-very-computer-literate in-laws, he ended up building a Pentium III device from scratch, from the case on up. There is nothing wrong with this approach--when it's done correctly. But this gentleman was not that sort of person. (An example: faced with two devices that each needed the PC's one parallel port, he constructed an elaborate wood and wire double-switch device to divide the signals. I just went out and bought a cheap A/B switch and threw the thing away.)

This cobbled-together mess is about to be the source of my interesting times. Faced with an eight-year old that increasingly wants to surf for fun and use a word processor for schoolwork, I offered to take this old machine off my father-in-law's hands, which will ultimately be my child's first computer.

At least in theory. I will have to open that case up to insert a network card soon, and I am afraid I will find something like a hamster running in a wheel for a power supply.

I am excited, though, because I will have introduced a new Linux machine into our home. The current operating system is old and pirated and I want it gone. So, out with the old and in with the new.

There was a time, not so long ago, when giving anyone in my family a Linux machine might have been some cause for hesitation. For reasons I have long explained, I do not feel that a desktop-oriented Linux system is right for everyone yet. But one of the positive side-effects of performing these reviews is more and more validation that when the right products are chosen and tailored to the end user, Linux is a very good environment for someone to work.

I'm sure some troll out there is poised with some crack about "sure, he thinks Linux is only good for an eight-year-old." Which, of course, is not what I am implying at all. My thinking here is pretty straightforward: Linux has gotten to the point that a child can pretty much run it without noticeable transition problems from other operating systems. My daughter already uses OpenOffice Writer to generate her school book reports and has discovered quite well on her own where to find the games on my KDE Start Application menu.

The fact that this can be done be a kid demonstrates that a lot of progress has been made in desktop development for Linux, at least on the very superficial level. Meaning the "I just want to do my work" level, which, not coincidentally, is the same level many office workers approach their systems.

Now, would I trust my daughter to run xf86config to set up a system video card? Of course not. Nor would I let an office worker attempt such a thing. All they should be doing is generating word processor documents, entering data, making spreadsheets, and sneaking the occasional game of FreeCell now and then. In all of these reviews, I have seen very little that would not provide such a user experience.

There are flaws, here and there. Linux is playing catch-up in the desktop world, and some applications are better than others. Some classes of applications are ahead of others, too. Word processors, for instance, are typically ahead of the "desktop game" than their spreadsheet counterparts.

In the case of KSpread, however, this is not the case. This component of KOffice, it seems, has about the same going for it as KWord. But when stacked up against other Linux spreadsheets, however, it falls short.

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