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The StartX Files: Between the Sheets Roundup - page 5

The Desktop Application Balancing Act

  • March 1, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

Quattro Pro 9

Available from: Various sources
Version reviewed: Quattro Pro 9 for Linux
License: Proprietary
Cost: Varies

If you can get a hold of WordPerfect Office 2000 for Linux, then you will have a working copy of Quattro Pro 9.

When Corel decided to bump up their entire office suite to the Linux platform, they sort of cheated by migrating everything over to a WINE port. They did this even with WordPerfect itself, to maintain consistency. Right away, this might raise suspicion, since WINE-based apps are notoriously unstable.

Such is not the case with Quattro Pro 9. I had no trouble running it during the tests for this review. But one thing was clear very quickly: this is not a speedster's application. Quattro Pro is slow. It was slow when I used to run it on Corel Linux 2.0 and it was slow when I ran it on Mandrake 8.1.

Quattro Pro is one of the oldest spreadsheet applications around, with a venerable history that goes almost all the way back to VisCalc and Lotus 1-2-3. Its experience seems to have served it well, because during its lifespan, Quattro Pro has picked up 525 functions in its formula library.

Formula creation was simple to do with the Formula Composer, if pointing and clicking is your cup of tea.

The data manipulation tools were top-notch, particularly the Cross Tab Reports, which are Quattro Pro's version of the pivot table. The Cross Tab Reports were easy to use, a descriptor not always associated with pivot tables.

Formatting tools were good, but Quattro Pro 9 did show its age in displaying aliased fonts both on screen and from the printer, even in KDE. The well-stocked array of charting tools, though, almost made up for this blemish. Quattro Pro's charts can be set up and looking good in a snap.

Interoperability with Quattro Pro is pretty decent, too. Besides its own file format, Quattro Pro can open Excel files (up to 97), Lotus 1-2-3 (up to v. 5), HTML, text-delimited files, and (if you actually have some lying about) Quicken (QIF) format files.

Quattro Pro can also save to these formats as well, but only the contents of the current sheet will be saved. So, multi-sheet documents are a pain to save to other formats.

In terms of spreadsheet stats, try 1,000,000 rows by 18,000 columns. This gives a spreadsheet size with a total of 18 billion cells (which is even more staggering if you consider that each Quattro Pro workbook will handle 18,000 individual worksheets).

There are some elements that can be improved, of course. The speed issue, for one, the fonts for another. I leave these thoughts as a record of posterity, in case someone ever does get the licensing from Corel and decides to pick up where Corel left its Linux users high and dry.

I hope someone does, someday. Quattro Pro was one of the best in its day, and it deserves another chance on the Linux platform.

Siag 3.5.0-2

Available from: http://siag.nu/index.html
Version reviewed/available: Siag 3.5.0-2
License: GPL
Cost: Free

Siag is another one of those applications, like NeXS, that lets you customize and manipulate data using more programming than spreadsheet functionality. To cut to the chase, how Siag works is this: you have a spreadsheet application that can use programming expressions (as opposed to scripts) to set up almost any function in a spreadsheet document that you would want.

Like NeXS, if you look at Siag at face value, you will see a simplistic little spreadsheet application that does not seem loaded down with a lot of tools and menus. I was initially not impressed.

When I review an application, I have a little "first impressions" session to get a feel for what this application will be like. In Siag's first session, I thought I had found a real clunker. Where were the functions? Why was text entry in cells so hard?

And that's where first impressions can be very misleading. After checking out the documentation, I found out I was way off-base with Siag. I found about about Scheme, and all of the ways you can use C-like expressions to build upon the 300+ function library to build something as simplistic as a custom function... or an applet as complex as a Web server (something that is included as an example with Siag).

From a user standpoint, there is not a lot to get excited about. The Xt-widget interface is simple and to the point, but cell entry is cumbersome since you have hit the Enter key every time. Formatting tools were not very sophisticated, either.

Interoperatbilty is a bit better: besides its own file format, Siag can open Lotus 1-2-3, LaTeX, HTML, or direct Scheme code. It can save out to all of these save Scheme, though it can save also save to Troff and PDF files (though I suspect you need something more to accomplish this last task; when I tried it it did not work).

From this perspective, Siag is not up to desktop standards. But with the Scheme functionality, it's better to think of Siag as a very good shell, into which a skilled programmer can pour in some very creative stuff and get some really unique output, custom made for their business.

So, slip this is in your "Check this Out" file, programmers, and see if Siag is something that can help you.

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