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Open Source Office Suites Are Few, But Filled with Applications

Appearances to the contrary, OpenOffice.org and its various offshoots aren't the only choices available to you in terms of full-scale, cross-platform open source office suites. Although alternatives in this space are few, the KDE Project's KOffice is now coming on quite strong, while GNOME Office and Siag Office keep attracting fans, too.

As an overall software category, office suites are really on a roll. Who can argue with their convenience? Commercially oriented office suites like StarOffice and IBM Lotus Symphony are gaining momentum these days, as are Web-based offerings like Google Docs and Zoho Office.

OpenOffice is also growing increasingly visible, helped in large measure by its pre-installation on Linux netbooks from the likes of Dell. And as we saw last week, OpenOffice.org offshoots such as Go-oo, OxygenOffice Professional, and OpenOffice.org Portable are taking hold, as well.

Yet maybe it's because of OpenOffice.org's very domination, or perhaps it's due to the ambitious nature of building a suite, but challenges in the open source office suite space are surprisingly scarce. Action seems brisker in open source development of individual applications like word processors and spreadsheets. Meanwhile, other developers have been creating open source suites outside the office productivity realm, including suites specific to customer relationship management (CRM), content management (CM), and classroom education.

But the open source office suites that do exist are all definitely worth a look. Like OpenOffice.org, open office offerings such as GNOME Office, KOffice, and Siag Office are built and maintained by enthusiastic development communities who firmly believe in open source benefits such as code reusability, collaboration, and customizability.

Check out these alternatives. They're free. And you just might find that another open source suite does a better job of meeting your needs than OpenOffice.org--whether that's because it requires fewer PC resources or because it offers applications unavailable in OpenOffice.

GNOME Office

Runs on Linux, Windows, and (through the OpenOSX Office port) Mac OS X

Some folks prefer AbiWord to OpenOffice Writer, due to AbiWord's relative lightness and quickness. AbiWord is a central component in the GNOME Project's GNOME Office. So, too, is the Gnumeric spreadsheet. The Evince document viewer and Evolution groupware and e-mail application are also official parts of GNOME.

Other office-oriented GNOME/Gnu office applications include Glom, a database program a little along the lines of Apple's FileMaker; GnuCash, a financial application; and the gLabels label designer. A presentation package named Agnubis has been under development, as well.

The Debian Project has added other applications to the list, including the Dia diagram editor, GIMP raster graphics editor, InkScape vector graphics editor, Planner project management tool, and XSane, a graphical front-end for scanner access.

In quantity, GNOME applications rival and even exceed those of OpenOffice.org, a suite that includes only a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation package, database management program, and tools for drawing and mathematical equations.

On the other hand, while individual GNOME applications might stand alone well on their own, the components are so loosely integrated that some people don't think of GNOME Office as a suite at all.

Yet all GNOME Office applications run on both Linux and Windows, an important consideration if you (or your company) has a collection of PCs running different OS. A port for Mac OS X, known as OpenOSX Office, is also available.

KOffice

Runs on Linux and (in version 2.0 and up) Windows and Mac OS X

Until version 2.0, the current stable release, the KDE Project's KOffice was available only for Linux. Beyond the addition of Windows and Mac OS X operability in version 2.0, support is planned for Solaris and other Unix platforms down the road.

Three years in the making, KOffice 2.0 also brings the kind of application integration that's still lacking in GNOME Office. KDE developers have produced a unified look and feel, based on a new GUI layout aimed at being better geared to today's wider screens. The GUI revolves around a workspace and a sidebar where tools can be docked. Any of the tools can be ripped off to create its own window, and then later redocked.

The KDE Project has also added native support for ODF, promoting interoperability with OpenOffice.org and MS Office.

However, KDE regards 2.0 mainly as a release for developers, testers, and early adopters. The project has been advising other users to stick with KOffice 1.6x until the completion of version 2.1 or 2.2.

Like GNOME Office, KOffice offers certain functionality not present in the OpenOffice.org suite. KOffice 2.0 incorporates only some of the applications in the full suite, however. Applications in 2.0 include the KWord word processor, KSpread spreadsheet calculator, KPresenter presentation package, Karbon vector graphics editor, Krita raster graphics editor, and KPlato project manager application.

Later on, 2.x is expected to bring back the the Kugar and KChart report and chart generators, Kexi data management application, and KFormula mathematical equations editor. KOffice 2.1 is now in beta 2.

Siag Office

Runs on Linux, Mac OS X, and Unix

Siag Office harkens back to the days before the development of OpenOffice.org. The tightly integrated suite, which uses a plug-in architecture, consists of these components: the Pathetic Writer (PW) word processor, System in a Grid (Siag) spreadsheet, Egon animation program, XedPlus text editor, Xfiler file manager, and Gvu previewer. 

Since it's smaller and lighter than other open source suites, you might want to run Siag Office on a legacy PC, or even possibly on a netbook. Its word editor and spreadsheet aren't as full-featured as their open source competitors, but they do offer a lot of functionality.

Siag Office comes bundled as the default suite in Damned Small Linux (DSL), a Linux distribution targeted at legacy computers. The suite can also be separately downloaded.

Siag Office's user interface seems a bit antiquated these days, though, and installation can pose challenges on contemporary systems. The suite is only available for Linux, Mac OS X, and Unix. Moreover, its interoperability with Microsoft Office is minimal.

However Siag Office has long supported export to MS Word in .rtf format. Also, in the current release, AntiWord – a program that allows Word .doc programs to be converted for import – has been unbundled.

The Andrew User Interface System (AUIS), another old-time suite, includes the EZ word processor, Figure graphics editor, and Fad animation editor, along with mail, news, and other programs. AUIS is rooted in the Andrew Project, a distributed computing environment initially launched in 1985. Unlike Siag Office, though, AUIS hasn't seen that much use in recent years.

Next Up

 

In a future article, we'll delve into the commercially oriented office suites for Linux and other operating system, including IBM Lotus Symphony, StarOffice, and OpenOffice.org Novell Edition.

 

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