Linux is practically useless in clinical computing without a usable office suite. A viable candidate for day-to-day office tasks is Sun’s StarOffice with a just-released new version 5.2 with a lot of improvements. Although not open source, Sun promises ‘The software and any future upgrades are free…’ Highlights: much better importing and exporting of MS Office documents, better online help and more languages supported. In addition, many annoying bugs are fixed that made installation out of reach of users with a low frustration tolerance. Download it here and let’s see how it did when put through its paces. We’ll end with the verdict on whether it is a viable candidate to MS Office.
Performance: Was tested on my daily use AMD K6 2 400Mhz with 128Mb RAM, adequate disk space, running RedHat 6.2 with Gnome and Enlightenment. Like in StarOffice 5.1, the time necessary to bring the application up was lengthy. Once it was up, performance was fine. It is likely that another window manager and tweaking could improve this, but the out-of-box loading speed experience
could be improved.
Download: Sun’s server required many screens to get to the version that you wanted but many more languages are supported this time, as well as a ‘Deluxe’ version $39.95 that gives you a boxed set with printed documentation. $9.95 gives you a CD only version which you can order from the site. The English download was about 75Mb.
Installation: The English Linux x86 version download was approximately 100Mb and came in a single file that needed to be changed to an executable file via the chmod +x command to install as well as run with the /net option to enable multiple users. I had one strange problem in that the userid that I downloaded the binary file to wouldn’t be accepted as a regular user until I deleted a .sversionrc file. The only other problem was the StarOffice icon to put on menus which couldn’t be found. I’m sure it is there, but it isn’t obvious where it has been moved to. Also the annoying variance of capital Office5x and lowercase office5x has been standardized on lowercase.
Printers: One of the biggest areas of difficulty with 5.1 was configuring the printer. Previously, it had a terrible design in which one just had to ‘know’ that pressing the ‘Test Page’ button would save your printer settings. Until you reached that realization, it was an incredible struggle to get printing working. It remains clumsy with the ‘Connect’ button poorly named since this is what needs to be pressed to configure the print queue. However, it worked fine with the lp0 print queue I had configured through RedHat’s printer configuring tool. Printer configuration could be improved however, and still will be a source of problems for novice users.
MS Office interoperabilty: seems vastly improved. I was able to import a large academic article I’m working on and it looked just like it did on Windows without the strange grey areas
that Office 5.1 had. In addition, my graphs and
tables imported perfectly. It had an inexplicable crash of my X windows session the first time importing a PowerPoint presentation, but it never occurred again after the first time.
Online Help: Also seems vastly improved, but a random check of ‘Printer Setup’ yielded the topic ‘File’ which referred to the main file pull down menu.
Verdict: It is ready for prime-time. With the fix of the printer configuration problem which I believed was the major barrier to entry with 5.1, the addition of many more languages, this StarOffice could conquer the world.