Monday, March 7


I've had some reason to munge around with the mainstays of Office computing, Powerpoint and Excel recently, so I decided to test the work out on the open source competitors, OpenOffice and Gnumeric. My experiences follow, more than anything to have a point of comparison for when Open Office 2.0 is released.

The Good: The interface is uncannily similar. Other than the theme that I was using on XFCE, I couldn't notice many differences between the OpenOffice applications and MS Office on WinXP. This is useful for prospective migrating users (such as myself). Either the open source developers did this to ease the learning curve, or there is only one true way to lay out the plethora of options and icons that represent the functionality of the software.

The import functionality, particularly on OpenOffice, simply rocks. I made a presentation, complete with text appearances, textbox dissolving and a few of the standard features of PPT XP. Simply opened it in Impress and ran it. It does almost everything right. OOo Impress just fell over on some of the moving text effects (fly in a block of text in from some portion of the screen) and it also didn't handle effects on implicitly grouped objects. It preferred instead to apply the effects to just one object on import. Explicitly grouping several objects together in PPT XP and apply an effect and Impress handles that all right. But essentially, Impress 1.1.x functions better than PPT 2000.

Gnumeric was another feature complete Excel replacement. I just do babysteps Excel for number crunching. For what I needed it to do, basic number totups and charting, Gnumeric was a viable replacement. A few of the cooler "select and apply one action to ALL selected cells" style shortcuts of Excel XP weren't available, but still ... babysteps Excel works.

Both OOo and Gnumeric support a near seamless export to PDF, something that Office doesn't support out of the box. They also natively save to a compressed XML format, which (if you care about such things) should make your documents/presentations (theoretically) capable of being diff-ed and version controlled.

The Bad: OOo Writer isn't quite as neat as I thought it would be. Although the features and functionality are superficially similar, it does have enough subtle placement differences that irritated me. Two page view was missing, which I sometimes use for the big picture view of a document... and it somehow appeared a bit less polished than the other products. This might well be because I've used Word for a lot longer than I have Powerpoint or Excel and consequently appear to use more of the features. Even style support was a bit flaky, but I don't think this is a big deal, because only Office 2003 got styles done right.

OOo in particular does hog a bit of memory. I am sure that this is all relative and certainly, the other things that run on a standard Linux desktop have more bloat, but still ...

The Nitpicks: Well, there are quite a few niggles. I'd have loved Impress to have exported a complete animation enabled PDF of the presentation. It didn't, can't argue with that, but still .. it would have been cool. No more futzing around with Prosper/Slide and LaTex to get an animation enabled PDF. The biggest nitpick is one of market forces. MS Office has been in the game for ... what ? a decade and they have a huge array of features. For the most part, other office suites are still playing catchup and that is for an ever moving set of goalposts. This, unfortunately, leaves little time to innovate and thus far, I haven't seen anything in OOo that seriously convinces me to use it for any reason other than cost or platform choice. Ok, maybe the XML based file format is a nifty thing to have ... but .. but ... in the grand scheme of things, how many people care what the file format is ? They've lived with binary-only .docs and .ppts and .xls for long enough.

Away from the wordy review, it seems that Asians are a sleep deprived bunch. With 40% sleeping well past midnight (true dat. I'm a poster child for the late bed time campaign) and a surprisingly large number waking up early. In Indonesia, 91% (!) wake up at around 7 a,m. Yes, fellow late risers, such an hour exists. I've heard people speak of it (including that idiot who mumbled something about early to bed and early to rise blah blah blah). Ok. So am I half Asian ? Because darn straight the only 7 o'clock I experience is in the evening and I'd prefer to keep it that way, thanks.

And maybe this ungodly early rising business is related to the quality of the beer ? According to the beer review, no Indonesian beer rates above barely drinkable. Somewhat gratifyingly, Lion Stout gets a fairly high mark, but in an absolute travesty, the blechworthy Indian Kingfisher brand scores higher than Lion Lager. So, onto my SWAG,
The time the inhabitants of a country awaken is determined by the quality of the beer they produce.
Sounds reasonable ? It does to me.


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