April 18, 2014

The StartX Files: Between the Sheets Roundup - page 7

The Desktop Application Balancing Act

  • March 1, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt
Available from: http://www.openoffice.org
Version reviewed: OpenOffice 641b, Calc component
Version currently available: OpenOffice 641c, Calc component
License: LGPL, SISSL
Cost: Free

This decision was easy to make on some levels, but not on others. While OpenOffice Calc certainly leads the field in robustness, it was very hard to ignore the leaps recently made by the Gnumeric team. I am a confirmed desktop agnostic, but it was hard not to be impressed with the latest version of the GNOME-based spreadsheet application. In the end, though, I had to come down on what was the best application now. With that criteria, then the award has to go to Calc for OpenOffice.

The version of Calc I reviewed was from OpenOffice 641b, one version back from 641c, which is available now. Newcomers to OpenOffice should be made aware that the application is available not only for x86/Linux, but also PPC/Linux as well. It also is available in Solaris (Intel and Sparc) and even Win32, making it a great candidate for business organizations that have not let go of other platforms.

When they first open Calc, new users have got to impressed by the depth of the toolset provided by this spreadsheet. Most of the rest of us, though, know full well that Calc has an impressive lineage of StarOffice versions behind it, so there's been more than enough time to build a very full-featured application.

This application is full of the little touches that make using Calc a pleasure. Right-click on any cell and you can access a selection list that lets you choose from all the other values in that column.

Importing data is straightforward, too. Just select the data source, which can be an Adabas, JDBC, ODBC, or dBase; or a text-delimited file or spreadsheet. Then pick the tables and/or ranges you want to use, and you're all set.

Formatting within Calc features a whole host of options, from simple cell highlights to degree-by-degree text rotation. Though it won't look good on screen, if you have a printer set up correctly within your environment and with spadmin, the hardcopy results will look pretty good.

If there is one thing lacking in Calc that a user sees a lot of in Excel, it's wizards. But I don't say this like it's a bad thing. For mid-range and experienced users, too often Microsoft-type wizards just slow them down. Such users just want the tool to manipulate their data and get on with life.

If you fall into this particular mindset, then Calc is certainly going to make you happy. Function for function, tool for tool, Calc is easily a match for the prolific Excel. But the implementation of those tools is not as "dumbed-down" as Excel's tools can be, especially in the later versions of Excel, where Microsoft's approach to every problem seems to make treat users as if they're ignorant four-year-olds.

In terms of sheer file compatibility, OpenOffice seems to have stepped back from the old StarOffice approach of throwing in every single filter they could find. Besides the database formats mentioned above, OpenCalc can only open Excel (5.0 - XP) workbooks and StarCalc (3.0 - 5.0) spreadsheets. This is a far cry from the days when its predecessor StarCalc could open Lotus and Quattro Pro files.

The good news is all of the features and formatting that were in place within my Excel workbooks came over without a hitch in Calc. At least as far as styles and sizes were assigned to the cells. How they actually looked was another matter.

While I would contend that there are quality areas where Microsoft products can outdo Linux applications (for now), Calc would certainly not be one of those times. This is a fast, stable, and very powerful spreadsheet application that could hold its own in any corporate office.

If only it didn't look so bad on screen. In every mode but the online preview view, the fonts are very aliased within Calc documents.

If the printer is configured correctly, then this problem is not a factor on hard copy. But getting a WYSIWYG version of exactly what the printout will look like is impossible. Nor is it a big problem if the document is shared with Office users. They will see the fonts exactly as they should.

So, in the grand scheme of things, this font issue is nothing more than an annoyance for the person actually working with the workbook in Calc, right?

Yes, but you and I know that the average user is going to take a look at that on-screen display and thing there's something wrong with Calc. Yes, this is a superficial aesthetic issue, but it is one that is hampering OpenOffice.

If there is a fix to this that I missed or if there's one coming, I welcome the addendum from the OpenOffice team. Calc should not be held back by something like this. This component of OpenOffice, even more than its Writer counterpart, has a definite place on the corporate desktop.

All it needs is a better look.

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