On the Desktop
Linux in the news
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See also: last week's On the Desktop page.
Office solutions. Many Linux followers know well the triumvirate of office suites most commonly associated with the their favored desktop - KOffice, GNOME Office, and OpenOffice. But office solutions for Linux exist in many forms and provide many features, and those solutions extend to offerings far beyond this well-known trio.
Before stalking the wilds of the 'Net to find alternative office tools, it would be wise to define what we mean by "office suite". Linux Journal carried a review of available tools back in April 2000. In that article, they defined an office suite this way:
Generally speaking, office suites include word processing, spreadsheet and database software for use on a personal computer. However, of late, presentation software, e-mail and even Internet browsers have been considered to be parts of a full office suite.
To be certain, an office suite can be many things to different people. Many Linux users also throw in graphics applications as a required part of their suite, while some users are now expecting more financial-based applications in order to handle real world business accounting.
For this study we'll consider any package containing three or more of the following tools in its set, with a word processor and a spreadsheet required, to be an office suite. The usefulness of that set is left as an exercise for the reader, but we will examine which packages contain which tools.
Native applications A native application is one that was compiled on a Linux system and directly accesses system libraries designed for use on Linux. This generally means real GUI programs (not Web based tools) that make use of Qt/KDE, GTK+/GNOME or Motif. These are the Holy Grails of office applications - the tools naysayers say don't exist yet and are expected to be the most efficient and well integrated into the desktop environment. Unfortunately, the maturity of some of the more favored options in this category still leaves something to be desired.
But all this is a little deceptive at this point. The GNOME Office web
site lists all these programs as part of the complete office package but
there is no GNOME Office package to download. So essentially, you
have to download a bunch of packages that are all GNOME compliant.
Integration is at the API level, but not at the distribution level. At
least not yet. Of course, Ximian will probably address that issue at some
point. They'll have to wait for most of these applications to mature
So while GNOME Office lists many programs, it has no integrated package. On
the other hand, KOffice actually includes a set of programs but not a
complete set for an office even though KDE actually has a number of those
missing tools. Once again, it
comes down to what individual users need from an office suite and whether
they want to retrieve missing pieces from alternative sources.
OpenOffice, and its predecessor StarOffice, are integrated office packages and include a word processor, web browser, and spreadsheet tools. In fact, StarOffice 5.2 contained just about everything a desktop user could need, including an integrated desktop. But with the adoption of desktop environments such as GNOME and KDE, future releases of StarOffice and OpenOffice will no longer carry the integrated desktop. Additionally, OpenOffice will not offer all the features of StarOffice 6.0, including (but not limited to) some international language support, some font support, spell checking and the integrated database. These features are proprietary add-ons which Sun has licensed for its 6.0 version alone. Both the email and scheduling software from 5.2 are being dropped from both StarOffice 6.0 and OpenOffice according to the FAQ on the OpenOffice web site.
This past week Sun announced that the U.S. Defense Information Systems
replacing ApplixWare with StarOffice on up to 10,000
The main advantage Applix has (or at least had) over other office solutions
was stability. Their package has been a native Unix application for many
years and their recent port to GTK+ went fairly smoothly.
While the graphics tool in Siag, Egon Animator, can be used for creating
images it is better used as a means to generate animations from
existing images. It will import Magic Point and Power Point presentations
The office suite is Qt/KDE-based and offers a word processor, spreadsheet,
presentation manager and graphics application. The graphics tool,
HancomPainter, is a raster tool similar to GIMP or
The English version appears to be a couple minor revisions behind the
multiple Asian versions.
StarOffice, GNOME and KDE all offer support for PDAs to one extent or another though only StarOffice has integrated that support directly into the office package. The OpenOffice version will likely, as with most tools from its parent project, become componentized with its initial public release.
What limits the native office suites the most is that - except for StarOffice 5.2 - they aren't integrated packages. They are collections of separate tools that can be distributed as GNOME or KDE (or whatever) packages, much like Ximian does for GNOME. But the complete set of tools are seldom found in a single distribution of Linux. It will more than likely be left to either companies like Ximian or distributors like Red Hat, SuSE or perhaps even Debian to package the complete set and distribute them as an office solution. Some of these tools are already distributed by Linux vendors but are not presented specifically as an office suite. Expect changes to vendor distributions (and even the GNOME and KDE packages themselves) to make the tools more recognizable as complete office suites over the next 6-12 months.
Windows on Linux: WINE based solutions. While the native packages are still evolving, many Linux desktop users are resorting to using existing Windows and NT based offerings. These tools can be run in one of two ways: either under an operating system emulator such as VMWare or as packages ported to Linux using the WINE environment. WINE (which stands for Wine is not an emulator) allows Windows and NT applications to run directly on Linux by using a special library that converts Windows calls to their Linux counterparts. That's the good news. The bad news is this doesn't always work as advertised.
VMWare offers a virtual environment that simulates one operating system on another, such as Windows on Linux. While we could list a whole slew of solutions that might run under VMWare and similar environments, we'll skip those for now. VMWare and its brethren require rather fast and powerful computing systems to run well. Desktop users may not have the power to make applications behave in a reasonable manner on their more meager systems using these virtual systems. For that reason, we'll consider only WINE-based offerings.
Corel has invested quite an effort into making their Windows versions of applications work on Linux using WINE.
Reports of this suite having problems with RH7.1 are not distribution
related but have to do with Corel's package having insufficient startup
scripts. Currently, the most stable way to start WordPerfect Office 2000
on Linux is to download and compile Corel's latest version of WINE and
to modify the startup scripts appropriately for your specific needs.
Ability's PhotoPaint is modeled after Photoshop but doesn't appear to
provide plugin support. The office package does seem to include a
primitive vector drawing tool as well. The office package provides a
MS Access compatible SQL relational database.
Other Tools. One office package that sits outside the lines in all of this is ThinkFree Office. This is a Java based package that requires the IBM Java Runtime Environment. It includes a word processor, a spreadsheet and a presentation graphics tool. Other tools that individually provide office-style features but that are independent of any package suites include:
Office and Word Processor reviews. SoftLandIndia posted a review on May 26, 2001 for quite a number of the office suites listed here. They gave all but one of them their highest rating though the reviews sound more like press clippings from the respective companies or development groups.
LinuxPlanet recently announced their intentions to review a wide selection of word processors available for Linux. Their reviews will be posted in the coming weeks.
Finding more tools. Tucows list of Linux Office tools offers a wide range of tools not found in packaged sets.
KOffice 1.1 Beta 3. A new beta release of the KOffice 1.1 package has been announced by the KDE project.
Bonobo 1.0.6. A bug fix and UI update release of Bonobo, the GNOME component object model, was made this week.
Gnome-- 1.2.0. A new version of the C++ wrappers, known as Gnome--, for the GNOME library widget set was also released this past week.
gnome-utils 184.108.40.206. A new release of the gnome-utils package is now available. This release includes a few new tools, including a backported gcalc from the GTK 2.0 version and a new program to make archives called the meat-grinder.
GNOME Summary 17 June to 23 June. This week's GNOME Summary includes news on Ximian Setup Tools 0.6, a review of Galeon and the next generation of Glade.
Ximian Setup Tools 0.6 have been released.. A new release of the Ximian Setup Tools is now available. This release fixes a number of major bugs but has no new features.
AbiWord Weekly News #49. AbiWord moves toward 0.9.0. Read about it in the AbiWord Weekly News.
Gnumeric 0.66. This latest developer release of Gnumeric now defaults to a GNOME build with associated dependency on Bonobo 1.0.x. Building without GNOME/Bonobo is still possible with --without-bonobo, but this is not the default.
Moneydance Personal Finance Manager (Linux Journal). Linux Journal reviews Appgen's Java-based Moneydance Personal Finance Manager. "If you are already using Quicken, Moneydance lets you import Quicken data as a QIF file. I tried this with the version of Pocket Quicken I've been using for years on my HP100LX, and it worked fine, bringing in all my accounts, balances and transactions."
GIMP 1.2.2-pre2. A new developers release of GIMP has been announced. This new version is still not intended for end users, but according to reports if this release yields little bug reporting then the official 1.2.2 should follow shortly.
Chess Interfaces (FirstLinux). FirstLinux looks at a few graphical interfaces for playing chess over the Internet. "To play chess over the Internet you need to obtain a chess client which logs you into a chess server. There are a wide range of servers on the net, ranging from the commercial Internet Chess Club, to numerous free chess servers. The focus of this review is to compare and contrast the four main Linux chess interfaces on the Free Internet Chess Server."
Kohan for Linux Now in Beta. Loki Software, Inc. released a beta version of the game Kohan from TimeGate Studios this week.
No One Lives Forever goes open source (ZDNet). According to a Gamespot report, the popular first person shooter code has been released in an effort to help build the game's online community.
And in other news...
A very apt app (ZDNet). Conectiva's port of Debian's apt-get to manage RPM formatted packages gets a "thumbs up" in this ZDNet article. "But apt-get's capabilities go far beyond simplifying installation. Most notable is an option that updates your system by comparing the release levels of the software on your system to those of a remote benchmark site."
People Behind KDE. The ongoing series of interviews with KDE developers offered two new interviews this past week: Martin James, author of many KDE screensavers, and Michael Goffioul, author of the printing system for KDE 2.2.
Intel: Linux has 'no place' on desktop (ZDNet). Intel Chief Executive Officer Craig Barrett thinks the OS has a place in the computing world, but Linux wasn't designed for the desktop. "...the crucial thing is for Linux to come up with a body of applications to compare with the tens of thousands available for Windows; until then it will have "no appreciable place on the desktop."
Section Editor: Michael J. Hammel
June 28, 2001