Assessment of StarOffice 5.1

Subject: Assessment of StarOffice 5.1
From: Sarah Murray <semurray -at- wenet -dot- net>
To: "'TECHWR-L digest'" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1999 13:23:13 -0700

From: Sarah Murray [SMTP:semurray -at- wenet -dot- net]
Sent: Tuesday, September 21, 1999 12:47 PM
To: 'semurray -at- wenet -dot- net'
Subject: Assessment of StarOffice 5.1

>Subject: Sun/StarDivision StarOffice software suite
> From: Michael Andrew Uhl <uhl -dot- mike -at- epa -dot- gov>
> Date: Mon, 20 Sep 1999 13:29:23 -0400
> TECHWR-Lers,

> Are any of you using the newly free-of-charge StarOffice 5.1 software
> suite?

> 'm thinking of giving it a try but would like some advice or warnings
> before I download and install it.

> Thanks.

Michael Andrew Uhl (mailto:uhl -dot- mike -at- epa -dot- gov)
Lockheed Martin - U.S. EPA Scientific Visualization Center
Ph. (office) 919.541.4283; 919.541.3716 (lab)
P.O. Box 14365 Research Triangle Park, NC 27709


I have worked with StarOffice extensively for some time, and have written a
manual on using it with a friend that is due out at the end of this month
from Macmillan in their Special Edition series.

Here's my assessment of the
program from the perspective of writing and document creation:
It accomplishes what MS Office has long promised but never delivered, that
is, total integration between different applications. The drag and drop
features are awesome. You can, for example, drag and drop a table from the
spreadsheet, StarCalc, into a text document and it appears as a beautifully
formatted table. You can also drag and drop data from the built-in data
manager, StarBase, into text documents
much more easily than you can import data from Access into MS Word
(although StarBase is
not really a fully-featured relational database).
It has a good built-in email client that, again, is nicely
integrated, making it a snap to do things like send mass emailings, send
Web pages as email, add return email addresses to its built-in address
book, and send documents as attachments or email. Its management of styles
in text documents is much more logical and consistent than in MS Word, with
page styles, paragraph styles, and character styles that have a logical
hierarchical relationship. The Navigator and
Stylist tools, unique to StarOffice, help keep track of objects and styles.
The Navigator enables you to jump from table to table, or figure to
figure, very easily, something I miss now
that I have to use Word in my current job. The Stylist makes applying and
managing styles easier than the similar tools in Word; what StarOffice
lacks is the ability to assign keyboard shortcuts to styles, a failing that
I'm not sure will be remedied in future editions because of the way the
program handles customization. (You can program it to enable this, but it's
a bit cumbersome to do so.)
Built for European markets, it handles multiple languages with ease. You
can install three language dictionaries (choosing from a larger number) and
easily check documents in any or all of these languages. You can assign
languages as part of styles.
The built-in graphics tools (StarDraw and StarImage) are far superior to
anything available in MS Office and make it easy to jazz up documents with
good quality images, although they aren't on a par with CorelDraw.
It tries to present itself as a page layout program, and offers some
features that are more PageMaker- or Quark-like, but it lacks crucial tools
to make it truly usable as a DTP application.
The built-in browser is mediocre and needs improvement, but you can use
other browsers instead easily enough. The poor quality of the browser
handicaps it as a Web publishing program, even though it has features that
enable you to do that, including a built-in FTP client.
The filters for both importing and exporting are superior, but there are
still the usual kinds of problems translation files from other formats:
some things are lost or don't translate well. The biggest problem I found
is that with Word docs, because each program treats paragraph marks
differently, I get strange spacing errors and page breaks that I have to
correct manually.

Main drawbacks, besides those mentioned above:
**It's a memory hog and doesn't manage memory well. You have to run the
entire integrated app at once. It can crash on you because of poor memory
management. Make sure you have lots of RAM to run it.
**Poor online documentation. Translated from the German, and poorly
organized for English-speaking users. You can't possibly plump the depths
of the program unless you get a good book.
**The StarOffice file formats aren't recognized by other programs in this
country. Although you can save files in Word format and the filters are
good, you still lose things in the translation. If you need to pass files
on to Word users, you'll have to save in Word format and then do some
manual checking & cleaning up of your file. Of course, the more people who
use StarOffice,
the more likely this is to change...
**StarDivision's tech support was poor; I don't know if Sun will manage
this any better. I don't know if Sun will continue StarDivision's
newsgroups, but these groups, with input from StarDivision staff and power
users, have been the best source of troubleshooting info on the program.

It does take a lot of time to download, as it's a big program. You're
usually better off buying a copy on CD, if that option is available; you
spend a little to save a lot in connect time and hassle (unless you have a
reliable high-speed connection).

Overall, I think StarOffice is a really fine program that's worth a try.
With the power of Sun
behind it, it has the corporate clout to get the attention it deserves

Hope this is helpful to you and other TECHWR-L folks.

Sarah Murray

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