April 19, 2001

Web review: Star Office support portal

Author: JT Smith

- by Tina Gasperson -
The Star.Linux section at the StarOffice portal would be a good thing if it weren't so clunky. Funny, that's that same thing I say to myself everytime I decide to give StarOffice another try. I say, "Self, this StarOffice sure takes a long time to open. And self, why is there a split-second hesitation on everything when I'm working in StarOffice?" Self usually just tells me to shut up and get back to work. I installed Star Office again recently, on a foolish whim, I'm sure -- after all, the basic text editor that comes with KDE suits my needs 99.9% of the time. I guess Jupiter aligned with Mars last week and that .01% window of opportunity (or imagined need) popped up. It was the perfect excuse to waste some time downloading and installing the 90-odd MB file, and to investigate the special portal set up by a group unaffiliated with Sun, the company that owns StarOffice.

The portal is a kind of Open Source project in itself. It is staffed by volunteers from the community who commit to answering user questions, writing documentation, and doing general maintenance on the site. The StarOffice.com community also accepts monetary donations, as well as offers for free advertising space.

But back to the Linux section. Specifically, I'm referring to the discussion forum where users can post and get answers to their burning installation and usage questions. There are good things and no so good things about the forum.

Good: every question posted has at least one reply, and most have more. It looks like you will find the solution to your problems here, either by searching the existing threads or posting your own query. Not so good: clumsy interface. I spent some time rummaging through the posts and found that browsing threads is time-consuming and frustrating because for each post viewed it is necessary to back out of the thread, find the next post on the subject, and click back into the thread. Why isn't there a function that allows logical thread browsing?

And maybe I just had a bad connection to staroffice.com on the day I was reviewing it, because it certainly loads slowly, adding to the frustration I felt trying to get at any useful information the site holds. However, I pressed on in my investigation for your benefit, gentle reader.

Another particularly irritating phenomenon is the one I'll call "login syndrome." Every time I went to a new section on the site, I had to login again. I thought perhaps I had cookies turned off (the default setting in Konqueror), but I didn't. In fact, at first I blamed the slowness and other problems on poor Konqueror, and switched to Netscape. It didn't help. Konqi accepted my apology and we're moving forward in our relationship.

At this point I'm sure you're wondering, "Is there any other useful information at the StarOffice portal?" Here's a quick rundown of features at the site:

  • StarDesk -- allows you to upload and share documents with other users; manage your desktop online, and store/publish HTML documents. I'm not sure why this is a "good thing," after all, if I want to share documents there are certainly many ways to do that; and as far as managing my desktop online, I can't think of one reason why I'd want to do that.

  • StarOffice news -- latest press releases and information about what is going on in development.

  • User support -- this is where the forums are for installation and general help.

  • Developer support -- forums for developers.

  • Other resources -- this section could be great, but it is only a few links to books at Amazon.com.

  • StarOffice tutorials -- this made me mad! You don't get free tutorials, they're for pay only at Fatbrain.com.

  • StarOffice CDs -- if you don't want to take the time to download StarOffice, you can send for a CD, for $34.99 plus shipping.

StarOffice is a good thing because many more computer retailers are bundling it with the hardware instead of MS products. Whether that's lowering the price you and I pay for computers is debateable -- but the fact remains that we can download it ourselves for free and it is a full-fledged, professional product that provides a full suite of applications for business use. The portal needs some work, though. If you have some ideas to make the StarOffice portal a better place to visit, contact webmaster@staroffice.com with your offer of assistance.

Let me know what you thought of the StarOffice support portal. And if you know of a site our readers should visit (or avoid), let me know.

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