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Freeware, ver 5.2


Bill Klutz does consulting work, primarily in the areas of Management and Computer Applications/Hardware/Software.

From the July, 2002 issue of PC Alamode Magazine

Most people when asked would probably agree that among office suites, Microsoft Office rules the roost. (No wonder since it is on about every computer in the universe!). But, Sun Microsystems' StarOffice could be a sleeper package. Not just because it is free, but because it will do most of the things Office does. (Office XP Pro full version is about $579; upgrades for the standard suite run about $239.)

The upcoming upgrade to the free suite packs Writer (a word processor), Calc (a spreadsheet program), Impress (presentation software), and Draw (for basic graphics creation) into a 95MB download. (At this writing, version 5.2 is the latest; expect version 6.0 by the end of June.)

Although StarOffice doesn't handle Office files perfectly, it's a legitimate alternative if you have basic needs and XP gives you sticker shock. But Office's superior ease of use and graphics tools, plus its inclusion of Outlook, make it the better overall suite at this time.

For example, StarOffice does include most of Office's core features, such as a spelling checker, auto-sum and graphing compatibilities in the spreadsheet, and wizards for assembling slide shows. I believe it actually outperforms Office XP in integration: You can hop between Writer, Calc, Draw, and Impress documents via a menu of all open files.

But in a world dominated by Office users, you have to be able to play nicely with Microsoft's file formats. And here, StarOffice offers mixed results. You can open and read Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents with most of their formatting and functions intact, but you can lose Word macros. StarOffice can also export to Office formats (the conversion works well enough for casual use, but some elements, such as columns, can get jumbled.)

Office XP outshines StarOffice in the graphics area. StarOffice's Draw creates somewhat flat-looking images, and Calc provides only 2D charts instead of the more attractive 3D charts that are available in Excel. And StarOffice's online help needs just that, HELP! Its advice is most often incomplete or lacking in context. Office XP will lead you through functions step-by-step, and its Task Panes make common tasks simple. And, if StarOffice had Office's Document Recovery feature you would not have to do a major rewrite (unless you save often) if the application should cease working. StarOffice also does not offer an E-Mail or a calendar application to compete with Office's Outlook (A major omission, in my opinion, when most folks consider e-mail as important as a word processor). Outlook handles all the necessary e-mail tasks (filtering e-mail or sending messages to multiple addresses, for example), and it has well-integrated calendar and PIM functions. And even though Office's collaborative tools are imperfect, at least they are present. StarOffice has few features for workgroups that need to share files and information.

Choose StarOffice if you need a solid word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation package, but not a calendar or E-Mail, and you can deal with some file-format peculiarities. Choose Office XP If you can't risk suffering file-format glitches, need high-quality graphics, want an integrated E-Mail, information manager, and/or you are willing to pay "big bucks" to get the best overall product.

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