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Wish on a star come true

Wish on a star come true

When you think of office productivity suites, the word "choice" probably does not spring to mind. For years, Microsoft Office has had the upper hand and majority market share when it comes to creating and supporting business documents.

StarOffice 6.0, the latest release of Sun Microsystems' office productivity suite, promises to give Microsoft a healthy dose of competition while supplying enterprise customers with a real choice in office suites. We found StarOffice to be a stellar solution that is well worth deploying in the enterprise.

This latest release boasts a newly refined set of user interfaces that are marvellously easy to learn and use. In addition, Version 6.0 includes solid interoperability with Microsoft Office formats, such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint, whether you are sharing documents with users of Office 97, Office 2000 or Office XP.

Perhaps most important to business and IT executives, with a price tag of $US75.95 StarOffice 6.0 costs considerably less than Office, which is priced at $579. With comparable functionality, StarOffice 6.0 helps reduce the cost of licensing corporate office productivity software while also supporting more platforms, including multiple flavours of Windows, Solaris and Linux.

The only downside is that StarOffice is not yet available for Mac OS X. By contrast, rival Office does support Mac OS X, but not Solaris nor Linux. Customers who do need an office suite choice for Mac OS X can find a porting project to bring StarOffice to the platform at www.openoffice.org.

StarOffice installed easily on Windows, Solaris and Linux and it inserted itself into various GUIs, including Windows, CDE, GNOME and KDE without incident.

The StarOffice suite includes five neatly integrated modules that support word-processing (Writer module), spreadsheet (Calc module) and presentation (Impress module) creation, in addition to drawing, database and HTML editing capabilities. These modules compare favourably with Microsoft's business productivity suite.

For example, users who use document versioning support will find the same type of tracking features offered by the competition. StarOffice also includes features not found in other office suites. The Writer module offers a built-in bibliography database that simplifies the inclusion of source referencing in business documents.

Users will require little or no training to be effective with the suite because the redesigned interfaces are reminiscent of desktop software they are likely already using.

Fans of keyboard shortcuts will find that the StarOffice interfaces support the same keyboard sequences as other software. For example, using Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V enables copy and paste support as it does in other software products.

StarOffice menus are laid out similarly to those of Office, so users can easily use various features. Moreover, StarOffice has toolbars that contain frequently used functions, such as a spelling checker, so users can quickly access frequently used features.

We had no trouble including external data in our test documents. We used the product's database support to include data points from a variety of sources, among them several JDBC and ODBC compliant databases.

Like Microsoft's office suite, StarOffice has an API that lets developers incorporate StarOffice components in business applications. The API is straightforward, and we built several business forms and dialogs in short order.

New in this release is default support for XML-based file formats and included document conversion tools to translate binary office document formats into XML. This support allows users to read office documents on any platform that supports a browser while also increasing cross-platform compatibility and reducing file sizes. StarOffice also supports conversion to Adobe PDF.

We were able to work on documents, spreadsheets and presentations using StarOffice and then access the same documents using various versions of Office, including 97, 2000 and XP, without a problem.

This interoperability with Office is a real plus for enterprise customers with large numbers of documents. StarOffice does not require you to convert existing documents or switch document formats unless you want to.

Equally impressive is StarOffice's integration with existing address books, such as those from Netscape and Outlook, as well as LDAP or Windows-based contact sources.

Rounding out this release is new support for Asian languages and newly designed online help. The latter together with available hard copy documentation will meet almost all users' needs.

This solid, easy-to-use office productivity suite has all the features you could want at a price that will help reduce corporate software licensing costs significantly. StarOffice 6.0 is well worth deploying.


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