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The StartX Files: Between the Sheets Roundup - page 3

The Desktop Application Balancing Act

  • March 1, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

Gnumeric 1.0.0-1

Available from: http://www.gnome.org/projects/gnumeric/
Version reviewed: Gnumeric 1.0.0-1
Version currently available: Gnumeric 1.0.4
License: GPL
Cost: Free

When you start Gnumeric up, the first thing you are going to notice is speed, and lots of it. Say what you will about Calc, but that it one darn slow application to start up. This is definitely not the case with Gnumeric, which practically leaps onto the screen.

Gnumeric's interface is not particularly cluttered with a lot of toolbars and the attendant buttons, which is good. There is such a thing as too many buttons and gimcracks. This application is clearly made for a no-frills kind of user.

The interfaces for Gnumeric are all standard stuff, with nothing that will throw a user a curve. Cells, rows, and columns are all easily configured with their respective pop-up menus. Cell formatting was robust, and I was easily able to make some sharp-looking spreadsheets.

The function library was very well-stocked, with 300+ functions made available. Manual and cursor-entered creation of formulas is allowed, a standard feature in most spreadsheet applications.

Not so standard in similar applications was the presence of some nifty little tools that lend some real power to Gnumeric, such as the goal-seeking tool that allows you to calculate break-even points on loans and revenue models. It took me a couple of false starts to get this modeling tool running right (mostly because I was confused on the problem setup in my own head) but once the lightbulb went on, it all worked well.

Also included in Gnumeric are 18 very sophisticated data modeling tools, including analysis of variance (ANOVA), histogram, and exponential smoothing--just to name a few. All of these tools used straightforward dialog boxes to allow you to configure the models as you want. I found the execution of all of these tools to be flawless and only my limited knowledge of statistics probably kept me from enjoying them more.

The only glitch I had running this application, and it was easily fixed, was that fact that you need to have GNOME's Guppi installed if you want to use the graphing tool. Once installed, it all worked like a charm, but I would hope that this is installed be default in later packages.

I have lots of positive things to say about Gnumeric. As a stand-alone application, it is an excellent program. It's not afraid of a lot of data, either. Each sheet holds 65,536 rows and 256 columns of data, which makes for 16,777,216 cells of data to manage. I created some workbooks with all of these cells full of data and there were no stability problems at all.

If you want to use Gnumeric for file sharing, Gnumeric also offers a nice array of XML, HTML, text, and even Excel import and export filters.

Curiously, the Excel formats are listed as Excel 95 on the Import and Save functions, but Gnumeric was easily able read Excel 2000 formatted workbooks. Gnumeric read my Excel files flawlessly and without a noticeable dip in speed.

And that's something I kept coming back to in this application. No matter what I threw at it, whether over-formatted Excel files or huge workbooks full of data, Gnumeric never faltered or slowed. It's stability and speed in GNOME was excellent. It even clipped right along in KDE, too.

At the very least, this spreadsheet application is equal to Calc or Excel in terms of toolsets and data management. But, frankly, I think it's better, in that this is one very fast app to run. All of the Gnumeric Project Team is to be highly commended for their work on this program, because the quality really shows.

Gnumeric makes a very fine addition to GNOME Office. Indeed, based on what I've seen thus far, it is currently the crown jewel in that suite of applications. It is certainly worth a new look if you have been away from it for a while.

HancomSheet 2.0

Available from: http://www.hancom.com/
Version reviewed/available: HancomSheet for Linux 2.0
License: Proprietary
Cost: $24.95 US (for HancomOffice 2.0)

While HancomSheet was very quick in the KDE environment (nearly as fast as Gnumeric in GNOME), speed is not enough to save this application from being rather mediocre. I was surprised at this, given the successful efforts HancomLinux has put into the other applications in the HancomOffice suite.

One glaring problem was the way HancomSheet has you enter functions. In other apps, some sort of drop-down list in the toolbar is typically used to insert a function into a cell. Then, you can usually click on individual cells or a range of cells to enter the values into the function. In HancomSheet, you have no such luxury. Instead, you have to step through a Function Wizard to accomplish function entry. You can type functions in manually and then use the mouse to click on cells for value entry, but you have to make sure you have your cursor in between the parentheses of the function in the input line and be pressing Ctrl while you click on the cells. The whole thing felt really cumbersome for me.

I found that many of the heavy-hitter tools, such as data analysis, charts, and a killer pivot table-like tool called ezTable did very well in terms of ease of use and speed. The charts were especially robust and easy to configure.

But there were only 183 functions included with HancomSheet, and each sheet only contained 16,384 rows and 512 columns. This last figure means that there are only 8,288,608 cells for an HancomSheet sheet, putting it at the lower end of the other apps' cell counts in this review.

In the interoperability arena, HancomSheet can only open Excel files. Granted, it accomplished this fairly well, but there are a lot of other apps out there Linux users could share files with besides Excel. While other spreadsheets in this review can't even accomplish this, I though the lack of filters odd for an office suite that is positioning itself for the corporate user.

Stability was not a problem for large files with lots of calculations, but there were two separate segfault incidents when I was entering function values with the mouse.

Over and over, I found examples of how HancomSheet seemed to be loaded with lots of fancy goodies, but a lack of attention was paid to the basics of the app itself.

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