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The StartX Files: Between the Sheets With NExS - page 3

The New Hoosier Workshop

  • January 25, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

I am going to be upfront with you right now and tell you that this application was a little hard to review. That's because NExS is being positioned as much more than "just" a spreadsheet app. If I were to look at NExS from a strictly spreadsheet point of view, there is not a lot here and I would probably wave you off and urge you to try other application.

But there is a lot more functionality associated with NExS, enough to give it a unique place among Linux spreadsheet programs.

Starting with the basics, the NExS interface is put together with Motif, and it is very simple. Almost too simple. Right away, you are going to notice a lack of multi-sheet capability, something which every other Linux spreadsheet application provides. Basic formatting tools, also present in the other apps in this series of reviews, are also not present or very rudimentary. The formatting tools that were in NExS were really hard to find, buried in the Options menu.

The available cell count on NExS sheets is healthy: with 32767 rows by 4096 columns, the 134.2 million cells is the leader for individual data sheet size for this series.

The amount of included functions is not skimpy either: by my count, there are 232 functions you can use in NExS. Though not the overall leader, it's still in the middle of the pack for function availability. Availability, though, is a bit of a misnomer. There is no automated formula builder or function list to use in NExS. So formula creation has to be done manually and by remembering function names and syntax from the provided help documentation.

Interoperability is okay, though nothing very exciting. You can import delimited text files and directly open Lotus 1-2-3 and Excel spreadsheet files. You can also save to these binary formats and export to text, HTML, and LaTeX formats. Running my standard cross-format tests, I found that formulas and values came across fine, but no formatting at all was present--everything just reverted to the standard format for NExS.

Clearly, NExS is not something you would throw out to the general user population at your organization. For the average user, NExS is cumbersome and not easy to use at all.

Is NExS really the right application for the average user? Absolutely not. If it was trying to market to this audience, I would be pulling out all sorts of epithets to hurl at it and its makers at GreyTrout. But that is clearly not what NeXS is to be used for. It is aimed straight at the programmers who want a stable spreadsheet platform in Linux through which they can channel data in neatly packaged ways.

Sure, we've seen scripting before in the other spreadsheet applications in this series. OpenOffice, HancomOffice... most of the apps we've looked at have some sort of scripting functionality. I have avoided discussing these features because I have been trying to gear my reviews for people who may not be script-writing power users.

NExS, however, has forced me to grind this policy to a complete halt. That's because the only users who are going to get any real benefit from NExS are the power users and the programmers. Anyone else who tries NExS will run into a huge wall that--without programming skills--is insurmountable.

This brings an added difficulty to this review: I am no programmer. Thus, I cannot give an honest assessment of whether this all works or not. If the online documentation is correct, then I have the sense that the potential of NExS is very good. The ability to pull in and manipulate data from any source application would be a very powerful tool indeed. In short, NExS would be a chameleon, able to be used with almost any data.

It is this odd bi-polar state that I must leave this review. As just a spreadsheet, NExS is not something I would recommend. But if the API functions as well as GreyTrout claims, then this is definitely a tool programmers might want to take a look at.

Available from: http://www.greytrout.com/
Version reviewed: NExS Personal Edition 1.4.6
License: Proprietary
Cost: $49 US

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