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The StartX Files: Between the Sheets with Anyware - page 2

Would You Like To Play A Game, Professor Falken?

  • February 21, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

Anyware Office is the latest evolution of the Applixware Office Suite, owned by VistaSource. When I examined the word processing component of Anyware Office last summer, Anyware Office seemed to be in a strange sort of limbo state where it was not being offered outright to the public. Sort of. It was enough of a hassle that I based my review at that time on the separate copy of Applixware Words I'd acquired earlier in the year.

For this review, I would have no such convenience. To acquire the desktop version of Spreadsheets, you need to pay the $99 US price and either download the 236 Mb tarball or wait for VistaSource to mail the boxed copy of the office suite. I flexed my cable modem muscles and opted for the download. Dial-up connectors might want to get the box. But hang on, I'll let you in on a little secret in a minute that will help you make sure the investment in time and money is worth it.

Installing the desktop version is not too hard. You unzip the tarball, then tar xvf the tar file, and then run setup in the newly installed directory. One, two, three, piece of cake. The installation process went very well on my MandrakeLinux 8.1 machine. The only stall in the process was me having to figure out what the name of the executable was to start Spreadsheets. (I found out that "office" was a good place to start.)

Using the office executable will get you the Anyware Iconbar, a nice little panel that will kick-start Words, Presents, and, of course, Spreadsheets. This tool is pretty much the central locus for the Anyware Office suite. The nice thing about it is, it's not as intrusive as, say, the old StarOffice StarDesktop, which practically hijacked your computer's interface.

Now for the secret (which really isn't a secret if you've followed VistaSource at all).

Anyware Office is also a full-fledged application server that uses Java to transport itself to almost any platform. In other words, users can point their browsers to the application server and in about a minute they can have a fully functional, thin-client version of Anyware Office running on their machine. Which takes accessibility to a whole new level. With an Anyware Office application server running in an organization, it no longer matters who's running Linux or who's running Windows. Users can use the thin-client office suite to point to a common set of applications with a common file format. A multi-user filesystem is built into the server as well, so file sharing becomes that much easier across a centralized set of directories.

A big side benefit of this technology is that you can see it in action across the Internet first and get a try-before-you-buy opportunity. The Anyware Office online demo will show you a full-featured set of Anyware Office tools, all seamlessly working through your favorite Web browser. And as near as I could tell, all of the functionality of the desktop-installed version was duplicated in the online version. I concentrated on the abilities of Spreadsheets, naturally, and found that all of the features (and the foibles, too) worked identically on each platform.

I tested the online demo in KDE with Netscape and Konqueror, and in GNOME on Galeon; no problems appeared during my use of the online version of Spreadsheets. I even tested the online version using IE with Windows XP, and everything worked there as well. To round out the test, I tried running the demo with IE on Mac OS X, and there the demo applet refused to initialize, which I thought rather odd, since Java 2 is one of the main component APIs for OS X. (The demo applet also failed to run on Netscape in Mac OS 9.2.)

The only significant difference between the online version and desktop version of Spreadsheets was that with the online version, you could not store files locally, only to the 10 Mb of space provided for you on the Anyware Office demo server. If you were running the application server on your local network, however, this would not be an issue.

Despite the lack of total portability with the online version of Spreadsheets, I was particularly impressed with what portability there was. And, with a little tweaking, I think it's safe to hazard a guess and predict that OS X may someday get included in the list of available platforms. Frankly, just having Linux and Windows cross-platform ability is pretty darn good, and certainly makes this an attractive piece of software for the business user.

But, as I mentioned before, there are some foibles that did pop up with the Spreadsheets application--foibles that will need to be overcome to make this a really stellar package.

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