The KDE office application suite, KOffice is getting closer to its 2.0
release. Beta 3 was announced
November 19, with another beta due any day. The final release is expected
early next year, so it seems like a good time to take it for a spin.
The beta releases are available for Kubuntu
Intrepid Ibex (8.10), making it relatively easy to try out. There are
also openSUSE and Debian packages available as well as source code (of
course). The author didn't look forward to trying to build KOffice on his
normal Fedora 9 desktop, so borrowing an Intrepid laptop from the wife was in
order; after that enabling the "Unsupported Updates" and installing the
koffice-kde4 package (which didn't seem to work through the GUI, but
apt-get worked just fine) is all that it took.
The initial impression was a bit rocky as most of the small handful of ODF
files that were
opened caused KOffice to crash. It is a beta, though, so some of that is
to be expected. Trying again with the imminent Beta 4 and filing bugs for
failures should be high on the author's list. The one presentation file
that successfully opened in KPresenter seemed to have lost much of the
formatting that was present in the original, which was also disheartening.
It should be noted that the author is hardly an office suite "power user".
Normally, OpenOffice.org is used for minimal business documents (invoices
mainly), simple spreadsheets (expense reports, football pools), and boring,
bullet-list slides for
presentations (as anyone who has been to one will attest). By and large,
these simple needs are met by OpenOffice, with the added bonus of being
mostly able to open the various Microsoft-format documents that
unfortunately cross the desktop. Any other office suite with similar
capabilities would serve just as well.
Opening spreadsheets in KSpread provided the most reliable experience when
opening existing documents, but there were still a number of problems.
Formulas did not calculate automatically regardless of the auto-recalculate
setting, but the data was there, unlike some of the other document types.
KWord seemed to be unable to open any of the ODF documents tried, crashing
in all cases. One "handy" .doc file opened, but the formatting and
contents were mangled; OpenOffice can reproduce the formatting of that
document pretty well. KWord also crashed on exit from that
document. Perhaps betas are not the place to try opening
There clearly are many new features
in KOffice 2.0, but the major ones, porting to KDE4/Qt4 and using the Flake object
library throughout, are infrastructural in nature—they aren't
obvious to users. Much like KDE 4.0, it would appear that KOffice 2.0 is a
launching pad for subsequent releases.
There is an emphasis on a consistent user interface between the various
applications which does stand out when using KOffice. For better or worse,
the OpenOffice interface is fairly consistent between applications as well,
but seems more cluttered, or more poorly organized somehow. Using Flake
everywhere will be a boon to those who are power users as it treats
everything as a "shape" that can be transformed (via scale, rotate, skew) and
moved between any of the separate applications. Vector graphics can
cohabitate with raster graphics and text easily.
Using KOffice 2.0 is fairly straightforward for simple tasks. It is
noticeably slower than OpenOffice on the same hardware. Opening files,
even empty documents seems to take an inordinate amount of time. Even
moving around within KSpread or KWord seemed sluggish.
Presumably these are things that will be fixed, whether that will be in the
next few months or for KOffice 2.1 remains to be seen. This beta gives the
impression of great promise, but not yet a very usable tool.
Of course, there is more to KOffice than just the three applications
mentioned. The database application Kexi is not yet part of the KOffice
2.0 release, nor is the Visio-like flowchart program Kivio. Two drawing
applications, Karbon14 for vectors and Krita for raster graphics have been
released with the beta. Other than a quick startup to see if the interface
was consistent with the rest of the suite—it was—the author
didn't try them. The same goes for KPlato, the project management and
planning application, though it has a rather different look—no
toolboxes on the right hand side—likely because of its very different
Perhaps unfairly, the author expected a bit more from this beta release.
It would seem there is still a fair amount of work to do before the final
2.0 version, but there are still a few months left. For whatever reason,
previous attempts to use KOffice had always caused the author to quickly
switch back to OpenOffice. Even though there were so many problems, this
KOffice—or more likely 2.1—somehow seems more plausible to
switch to. Another look in a few more months is likely called for.
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