Originally Published: Sunday, 20 February 2000 Author: Lin Chear
Published to: corp_features/General Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Productivity under Linux: Word Processors

Written communication is important in the corporate environment, be it a memo for your staff, a business plan for the banks or a resume for prospective employers. These suites have become very important to a computing platform, especially one that sits on the desktop.

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Written communication is important in the corporate environment, be it a memo for your staff, a business plan for the banks or a resume for prospective employers. Tasks with a word processor can be as simple as the aforementioned or as complex as filing out thousands of letters to customers with custom addresses, graphics...everything short of moving video and dancing girls. These suites have become very important to a computing platform, especially one that sits on the desktop.

With Linux's recent mass movement onto the desktop, these office suites will determine Linux's overall success. Why? Compatibility. As Linux becomes more viable on the desktop as cost-effective alternative to existing commercial products, the forward looking managers will attempt to deploy them in their office. As this happens, their employees will look into Linux for the home because they want to keep compatible with the systems at work. As this happens, education systems themselves will look towards the corporations and provide training on systems that are compatible to ease entry into the workforce. This also means the students themselves will look towards Linux systems to keep compatible with the schools, who are in turn keeping compatible with the corporations, who are in turn trying to keep total cost of operation low while keeping employee productivity stable. I call this, "trickle-down computing" which is the very reason why "IBM-PC Compatible" computers rule the desktop and not Apple Macintoshes. This is the reason my old high school taught with PC's and the reason I own several PC's.

These products have matured and are nicely wedged in the office environment. It would be suicide to attempt to remove that wedge which is so tightly planted that who knows what will break down. Imagery aside, the common theme here is compatibility and integration. With this in mind, I will take a look at several word processing and office suites for Linux and see how easily they integrate with the rest of the office.

Criteria: Compatibility (with respect to Windows products), Availability, Installation, UnInstallation, Price, Performance, Printing.

Test-System: Linux kernel 2.2.13 running on a Highly Modified Redhat 5.2 base. Printers: HP DeskJet 520 (B&W), Epson Stylus Colour II AMDK6-200Mhz, 40Megs RAM, 7GIGs HD

Corel WordPerfect Before Corel released their version of Linux, they were supporting it with a Linux version of WordPerfect 8. It comes in two flavours: a consumer version which is available for free of their site, and a more advanced corporate version which comes with more bells-and-whistles. I was only able to work with the free-consumer version, but found that it was very pleasant.

Installing To start off, you simply visit Corel's webpage (http://www.corel.com), fill in some information and download. The package was roughly 20 megs in size, which didn't take long to download with a cable connection. Once the package is downloaded, there's the usual compressed "tar" file. One word of warning though: You should create a separate directory for it, as it seems to clutter up whatever directory you're uncompressing it to. From there, you simply run a script that takes care of much of the installation. This truly was a no-brainer installation. The installation took no more than 10 minutes.

Importing The first thing I set about to doing was to import my resume and coverletter from a Word97 document. WordPerfect 8 had a hefty list of compatible document types. Among the list of supported formats was MSWord97. I simply chose that, and opened my file. It took roughly a second for WordPerfect to convert it and open it. After which, I was left with my Word97 documents on my page. There were some minor errors though. The spacing between tabs was slightly off on a few paragraphs. It took about a few keystrokes to get everything to look perfect.

I attempted the import features with more complicated tables and graphics. Surprisingly, it handled those almost flawlessly. The only exceptions were that WordPerfect does not have the exact same fonts as Windows does, therefore some of the alignment was slightly off. Again, those were fixed with a few keystrokes.

Printing After being satisfied with the import feature, I set about to print the documents. I hit the little familiar printer-icon on the tool bar, and I was left with a printer setup screen. I simply selected my printer out of the list of compatible printers. I have not have word from Corel about printers not listed there though, your mileage may vary. I also had to select where my printer was attached. In this case, it was attached to "lp". After appeasing Corel's printer setup routine, I hit the print button again, and my printer was set into motion. What came out was a perfect rendition of my document. I expected this to be the hard part, but it came out quite flawlessly.

Printing in a networked environment is also very important. I have two machines set up for Printing. One running a flavour of Windows NT and the other running Linux. Printing over the network was the same as printing locally. I suggest you read the Samba-HOWTO in the support section for more details. Again, printing was flawless.

Exporting Now that the hard part was taken care of, I set my sights on exporting a complicated document I created with tables, drawings, and fancy formatting. I saved my WordPerfect 8 document as a Word97 file and went on the perilous trek to my Win98 machine. I opened the document in MS Word 97 and what I saw was the exact same thing I saw on my Linux machine. It was a perfect export, with no need to alter anything. I printed it off to my Linux Print server, which gave me a perfect copy.

Verdict If you need an MS Word compatible wordprocessor, then this is the product for you. It's fast, it's easy to install and it works. It also takes up a very little disk space in comparison to other products. Corel has really done their homework and I am pleased with WordPerfect 8. For people who want a more advanced version, they may also purchase WordPerfect Office from Corel.

Sun StarOffice

During the "Great Linux Application Drought", people wanted anything that would let them leave the shackles of their previous Operating System Masters. Unfortunately there was very little available for Linux. Then a small sprout appeared from the hard soil promising hope. That sprout was StarOffice. Later that sprout was acquired and nurtured by Sun Microsystems in hopes that it would provide growth to their product line. The latest release that is available is StarOffice 5.1.

Installing StarOffice is an Oak in terms of size. It is freely available on Sun's site (http://www.sun.com), weighing in a hefty 70megs. This took about 10 minutes to download off a cable connection. It is also available on CD (for a fee) if you are on a puny 56k connection and don't want to dedicate eight hours to download. Once the file was sitting comfortably on my hard drive, I decompressed it with the "tar" command. There is "setup" routine which I promptly ran. Within seconds an installation screen came up. My first reaction was "Who installed Windows on my machine? Who dat?" The installation screen looked almost identical to a Windows install routine. The buttons looked identical, down to the colour scheme. I followed the onscreen prompts and in 5 minutes, it had installed the whole 150 megs onto my drive. One note though, StarOffice only allows one user to operate it per installation (without getting a separate license). The install went off without a hitch.

Upon running the program, I realized this was more than a word-processor. It looked eerily like Windows complete with Start button. This was a full suite of products though. Inside there was a spreadsheet, word-processor, web-browser, draw program, presentation program, email and news. Playing around with StarOffice revealed that this was in fact a complete Microsoft Office replacement. Star Writer is the name of the word-processor imbedded in Star Office. The "look and feel" made me forget that this was running on Linux.

Importing The first task was to import my resume. I opened my Word 97 formatted document. StarOffice didn't ask what type of file it was, in fact, it just opened it. It was absolutely flawless. The document did not need a single bit of formatting. The fonts were even the same ones I used (Times New Roman), which was missing from WordPerfect 8. I set to importing more complex documents as well. The results were the same; there was absolute compatibility. I was left wondering whether there was some kind of spy sneaking around Microsoft's headquarters. There were subtle differences between Word and Star Writer, but otherwise, they both could have been the same program for all I knew. Compatibility wise, this is great.

Printing Now that I had my document in front of me, I wanted to print it out. Unfortunately, this is one big blemish that I could not remove. The printer setup was very nice though, complete with a list of compatible printers. My printer was not in the list unfortunately, so I tried the "Generic" printer. I set out to print, but what came out was garbage. I tweaked some more, tried various printers that might have been compatible, played around with my Linux printer settings, but to no avail. I was sorely disappointed. I hopped onto Sun's site and found that there was a host of people having the same problems. I searched for drivers for my printer but could not come up with anything. I eventually gave up and called in my losses. Printing was non-existent, but if there are suggestions, I'd be more than happy to hear them.

Exporting Printing may be non-existent, but there are still ways to get your document printed. I created a fancy document containing some fancy tables, and weird formatting. It was saved to disk and exported to a Windows machine. Again, the export was flawless. I was happy with that since I couldn't natively print from StarOffice.

Verdict I would have given this a enthusiastic three thumbs up but there were some factors. I don't have three thumbs and I couldn't get my documents to print properly. The performance was fairly good though. It had an attractive desktop and the compatibility gives it a strong plus. I would recommend this whole heartily to students though. It's easy enough to get a document printed by exporting it, and zipping it off to a friends or copy shop. Unfortunately that would be a big inconvenience in an office environment. I've been informed that the printing does work though, the only problem, is it doesn't work for ME. There are probably countless others out there that might potentially have the same problem. I've seen it printed, and when it does, it's beautiful. If you have a printer that is listed, then by all means, this product is definitely for you.

Conclusion By no means was this an exhaustive test, but what it did reveal was that there ARE viable Office products for Linux. I've seen these products mature over the past two years, and am very excited about other new products arriving.





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