April 18, 2014

The StartX Files: Between the Sheets Roundup - page 4

The Desktop Application Balancing Act

  • March 1, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

Looking at KSpread

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

First and foremost, KSpread 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 sluggardness 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 high 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 spreadsheet 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.

NExS Personal Edition 1.4.6

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

If I were to look at NExS from a strictly spreadsheet point of view, I would probably wave you off and urge you to try other application. There simply is not a lot here to recommend.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 by 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 well-sized: 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.

Is NExS really the right application for the average corporate 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 I'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 power users that try to write scripts.

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.

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 to deliver data to corporate users quickly and succinctly.

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 corporate programmers might want to take a look at.

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