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Where 3 times 3 is 8.

Date: 2011-01-31 00:00:00 -0400

This is a guest post written by DarkDuck. He is author and owner of blog Linux Notes from DarkDuck, dedicated to Linux operating systems and everything around it.

Open Source Office applications comparison.

Do you use Linux? Have you ever heard of OpenOffice.org? If you answered “yes” to first question and “no” to second, you are really rare individual! That is because OpenOffice.org (OOo) is one of the first software packages installed in Linux. Many Linux distributions include OOo into their standard installation. When I ran my tests with different distributives, I was very much surprised that some of them (Fedora), do not have any office software installed and some (PC Linux OS) only have installer included. That means that user expects Linux distributive to have office application included, and most likely it to be OOo.

But is OOo the only office package available for Linux. Anybody who knows a little bit about Linux will definitely tell “no”, even if he does not know names of the programs. Because Linux is built about freedom and variety. And of course there is variety of office applications available.

This my post will be about comparison of features of some of them. For my tests I will take OOo, KOffice and Gnome Office. What? You have never heard about GNOME Office? Fine, but did you hear anything about Gnumeric, Abiword? Yes, they are part of GNOME Office.

As long as I have Ubuntu and Kubuntu installed on my PC, I have ability to test KOffice and GNOME Office in their natural environments. Of course, OOo is installed in both, so I can compare “on the fly”.

All three packages have many components. I will not compare all of them. That will be too overwhelming. I will take onyl those which are most used in office applications: text processor (Abiword, KWord, OO Writer), spreadsheet processor (Gnumeric, KSpread, OO Calc) and presentation program (KPresenter and OO Impress).

Text processor

Let’s start with document processing software. I believe everyone needs to open some kind of text documents. Of course, usage of Office applications for plain text documents is like to break a butterfly on a wheel. But as soon as we start opening some formatted documents, we need something powerful. Each office package has text processor included. This is Open Office Writer, KOffice Word and Abiword.

In terms of document opening, all the text processing applications can open multilpe formats, either open or proprietary (MS Word). Though KWord had some problems with formatting of complex MS Word file.

When you open an application, first thing which you see (apart from the document itself) is layout and panels. Visually OOo Writer has biggest choice of instruments under your fingertips - right on the panel. KWord panels are organised differently. I finally managed to organize them into the some kind of MS Office 2007 menu, but that left my working area very small.

“Save as often as you can” is a rule of a thumb when working on important (or not very) documents. So, save function is very important. For some strange reasons, file can only be saved in ODT format in KWord, which is frustrating.

Spell checking is important nowadays. Nobody wants to read documnts with lotz of typas. As soon as I am Russian, I would like spellcheck to be available not only in English (it is obvious), but in Russian too. Both OOo and Abiword can do Russian spellcheck. KOffice does not have this option by default.

When you create large document with multiple pages, it is always nice to have pages numbered. The most easy way to put page numbers into document is in Abiword. I could not find this function in OOo Writer at all. KWord has some variables for page numbering, but I could not manage to make it correct. Obviously, some proficiency is required here.

Tables are often used to organise data in the document layout. Table formatting in KWord is not obvious thing. OOo Writer has whole panel dedicated to table formatting, similar to MS Word. Abiword does not have pop-up window, but there is a lot of menu (top and context) options available to format the table.

If you want to have some liveliness in your document, images can definitely help. Of course, you can use your own images in all the text processors. But standard cliparts are useful if you don’t want to search for a particular picture. OOo has bigger clipart out of those three packages. Abiword’s clipart is too small. KWord does not have clipart at all.

When document is ready, you may wish to publish it. PDF is very convenient format for document distribution. Open Office Writer has specially dedicated button to save into PDF right on the panel. KWord has “Export to PDF” option in menu, but not on the panel. Abiword has little bit more complicated approach. There is no such button, instead you can sue standard function to print into file which has PDF option. If you like this approach, then KWord can print into PDF file too. OOo Writer for some reasons does not have PDF in Print options.

Abiword

OOo Writer

KWord

Spreadsheet processor

Not sure about you, but spreadsheets are second, if not the first, in the importance list for my everyday work. Spreadsheet processors are included in all three office packages which I review here. They are Open Office Calc, KSpread and Gnumeric.

First impression is very important for all of us. That’s why you can be shocked when you first run KSpread (or any other KOffice application actually). KSpread has same panel organisation principle as KWord. This is unusual and requires some time to get used to. OOo Calc and Gnumeric has more “standard” screen layout.

Compatibility is very important nowadays, when same documents can be worked on by different teams on different continents. Unfortunately for KSpread, it is far beyond other spreadsheet processors here. Basically, it has problems opening MS Excel files. I tried several. None of them could be open. They all worked fine in OOo Calc though. KSpread could open same file if saved in .ods format by OOo Calc. Gnumeric takes much more time to open same MS Excel spreadsheet. But once loaded, it works fine.

Naturally, you expect same file to look very similar in different applications. But it is not true for KSpread. Once .ods file was open, it was closed very soon. Simply because fonts look ugly in KSpread. Don’t know the reason for that.

Spreadsheets were created for quick and user-friendly way to make calculations. Functions make these calculations powerful. All three programs have significant number of functions available. Gnumeric should be noticed separately though. Usually you can find it next to the formula line of the cell. Gnumeric has it placed in the top panel as a standard.

Spreadsheets represent data. And these data are to be represented. That’s why formatting is very important for spreadsheets. Cell formatting options are very similar for all three spreadsheet processor. But OOo Calc has a bonus. It has shadowing function which can make spreadsheets look more effective. KSpread and Gnumeric do not have this option.

Another way to represent big array of data is to create a chart. OOo Calc and Gnumeric have good tools for charts creation. I would even say that these tools are better than MS Excel ones! Creating charts in KSpread is not an obvious thing.

Gnumeric

Open Office Calc

KSpread

Presentation program

Presentations are very important in different aspects of office life. Not talking about obvious thing like public performances. Be honest, which application do you think of when you need to create some simple diagram and add some comments to it? Or when you need to share your knowledge with colleagues in the way when some graphics, order and structure is required? Or if you want to add some animation in your “knowledge sharing” exercise. All these are examples when presentation software is helpful.

Unfortunately, there is no presentation program in GNOME. That is where 3 times 3 (three different application types from three different office packages) is equal to 8. There is older version of Gnome-native presentation program called Agnubis, and new project Ease. Both do not have binaries distributed at this time. Agnubis project looks abandoned at the moment, while Ease project is in too early stage.

KPresenter has same approach to tools and panels as other components of KOffice. I could not manage to create my presentation there. Too complicated for old guy like me who get spoiled by MS PowerPoint. On other hand, working in OOo Impress is very similar to Microsoft product.

I do not want to advocate Microsoft products in any way. It is just a question of migration for people who used these products all their life and have never seen anything different.

Both KPresenter and OOo Impress have some templates. But while Kpresenter’s choice is rather limiter, OOo Impress has impressive choice of templates for either presentation or slide. Like it was for OOo Writer, OOo Impress has ability to export to PDF right from the standard panel. KPresenter has similar function in menu. Again, same approach to word processing application.

If we return to the topic of compatibility, KPresenter again has some fallbacks. I had had significant issues opening PPT files in KPresenter. Layout gets corrupted, text goes bananas when used in labels with non-standard direction, images are not shown at all.OOo Impress shows them absolutely same manner as MS PowerPoint.

Open Office Impress

KPresenter

Overall impression

OOo is truly the most powerful and user-friendly office application suite out of those three tested in this overview: OpenOffice.org, KOffice and GNOME Office. It has all-round functionality which can be used by everyone who is comfortable with Microsoft Office products. Migration from MS office to OOo is not an issue at all.

GNOME office is also powerful tool, with little bit less?eye candy?. It still preforms the same functions, but maybe with less nice user experience. The biggest problem of GNOME office is lack of presentation software.

KOffice has nice looking applications, which have confusing user interface. This might be OK for those who has never tried any Office products before. If you are just learning - you can learn anything. If you have learnt something, it is so difficult to learn again. Also, KOffice has less functionality out of those three. In terms of compatibility, KOffice has problems with opening MS Office documents.

What is next?

Open source software world never sleeps. Things which seemed to be solid as a rock may change in a moment. That’s it.

If you think that OpenOffice is the best Office software for now, and will stay there forever, you are not exactly right. Simply because same software will not be Open office any more. Since Sun was acquired by Oracle, OpenOffice development moved aside. Now they are LibreOffice. First release of LibreOffice happened on the 25.01.2011

Same story, but due to different reasons happens with KOffice. Now it is named Calligra Suite, while parts of it keep the same names: still KWord, KSpread etc.

And, finally, I would expect you to ask which of those packages I have used during preparation of this post? Guess! None! This post was written in Google Docs. That’s because of:

  1. This is guest post, and I knew I had to send it to blog owner. Otherwise I would write it directly in Blogger.
  2. I had to switch between Ubuntu and Kubuntu as I wrote. Cloud computing is the most helpful in this case!

If you like this post, you can read more from its author DarkDuck. His blog’s address is http://linuxblog.darkduck.com

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