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The Start X Files: Between the Sheets with KSpread - page 2

Old Chinese Curses

  • January 18, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

Obtaining KSpread

The KOffice team has done an excellent job in organizing the source code and binaries by distribution and by KDE version. The current version of KSpread (and the rest of KOffice) is 1.1.1, and is designed to run with KDE 2.2.1 or 2.2.2.

DEB, RPM, and source tarballs were easy to find and download for this GPL'd software. My test machine (a Pentium III at 450 MHz) is running Mandrake Linux 8.1 and KDE 2.2.2, and I was pleased to find an RPM tailored exactly for this combination of platform and environment. Downloading and installing was as simple as breathing.

Looking at KSpread

If you use KDE like I do, it is hard not to be impressed with the way KSpread and the rest of the KOffice suite integrates so smoothly with the desktop environment. This, for me, has always been one of the selling points of KDE, as some applications in GNOME have interfaces that stick out from the rest of the pack.

On the other hand, looking at the chart tools led me to find a more pleasant discovery. Charting is done modularly with the KChart tool, which integrated seamlessly into the KDE interface. The fact that charting was included by default with KSpread gives it a leg up on Gnumeric, where you have to perform some extra steps to get it installed. The variety of charts and the ease of configuration was not as good as Calc or HancomSheet, but it was enough to get by.

But you can't go by looks alone, and there are a few areas where I think KSpread could stand some improvement if it is destined to compete with more robust applications like OpenOffice's Calc.

First and foremost, this is not a quick application to run. Opening up even modest sized files was slow, even when the application was already up and running. This is my biggest beef with KSpread, because even native format files just did not open with a lot of pep. Lack of speed was less than a factor when the application was performing operations, but the opening and saving sluggishness really threw me.

As far as the interface goes, everything was simple and clean. There is a function drop-down menu if you want it, or you can use a Formula Editor to build your functions. Using the Formula Editor gave you the distinct advantage of receiving an explanation of what each function was and also brought up ways to further modify the function at hand. (I could enter floating point values directly in the Formula Editor for the SUM function, for example.)

KSpread did rank the highest thus far in terms of individual sheet size with 676 columns and 32767 rows producing a potential of over 22.1 million cells. It also did well in the formatting category, since the tools are easy to find.

Interoperability was well covered, as import filters are available for Applix Sheet, Excel, Gnumeric, and Quattro Pro. Files can be saved out to HTML, text, Gnumeric, and (of course) KSpread's own native format. I tried a number of different formats conversions and everything always came through fine--provided there was an equivalent function available in KSpread.

It was here that I found another big concern: one of my Excel test file's cells blanked out upon opening in KSpread. I checked, and the cell originally had a PRODUCT function, which is not available in KSpread. This struck me as really strange, until I discovered that KSpread only includes 140 functions in its toolchest--the lowest amount I have seen to date.

Now, things like the PRODUCT or DIV functions can easily be replaced with arithmetic operators, but with other spreadsheets coming in at plus-200 and even plus-300 available functions, this is a huge gap.

On the other hand, looking at the chart tools led me to find a more pleasant discovery. Charting is done modularly with the KChart tool, which integrated seamlessly into the KDE interface. The fact that charting was included by default with KSpread gives it a leg up on Gnumeric, where you have to perform some extra steps to get it installed. The variety of charts and the ease of configuration was not as good as Calc or HancomSheet, but it was enough to get by.

But as good as KSpread works with KChart to embed chart objects, KSpread really shined where any embedded objects were used. Embedding word processor files from KWord and slides from KPresenter was a snap and the objects were easily positioned and manipulated. KSpread, it seems, really does well at playing with others.

What struck me about this spreadshneet application was that I was not sure what audience it was being targeted for. With only a handful functions included and almost no data management tools, I cannot imagine this spreadsheet as being useful for anyone but the home user who just needs to pull some data together and maybe run a chart or two.

KSpread really belongs within KOffice, because the interoperability of it and the other KOffice applications is something that really makes this application better as a team player than a stand-alone spreadsheet. The ability to embed objects fairly indiscriminately between the KOffice applications is a real plus.

If the KSpread developers, who have done a good job coming this far, could work on the speed issue and then just load up KSpread with as many functions as they could squeeze into the toolkit, then I think KSpread would become a serious contender in the business environment.

Available from: http://www.koffice.org/kspread/
Version reviewed: KSpread 1.1.1
License: GPL
Cost: Free

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