Office Suite Evaluation
James F. Carter, UCLA-Mathnet
The UCLA Mathematics Department has had requests from faculty, graduate
students and staff to support Linux on the desktop. We have therefore
evaluated several software suites of office applications, to give guidance to
our users and to decide what we are going to support. Please follow the
links below for a detailed discussion of each kind of application.
Screenshots are included for many of them.
- Introduction and Caveats
- The suites evaluated were OpenOffice.org, KDE, Gnome, and some
independent applications. Microsoft® Office® for Windows® is implicitly
the standard of comparison, but explicit comparisons with Office are not made.
- Reasons for Linux on the Desktop
- Windows is expensive, it needs an inordinate amount of effort to support,
and when something breaks it's hard for the sysadmin to diagnose what went
wrong and fix it. Linux is much better in these areas.
- Mail Reader
- KDE's KMail and Ximian Evolution (for Gnome) both provide a competent mail
reading interface. However, Evolution was not able to open a TLS connection to
the SMTP server, whereas KMail was able to do TLS and further, to use a X.509
user certificate to authenticate. But they are both heavyweights. Pine
(text based) can do TLS but not X.509. This is the mail reader that is
recommended to UCLA-Mathnet users.
- Word Processor
- LyX, and Writer from OpenOffice.org, were able to do the full assignment.
Abiword was nice, but
full table support is planned for a future
version. KDE's KWord had an annoying bug in table processing. LyX is what
the author uses (and will continue to use).
- OpenOffice.org's Calc, KDE's KSpread and Gnumeric for Gnome were tested.
All were easy to use, and all of them could read the test spreadsheets from
Microsoft Excel. But they all had annoying quirks. Gnumeric is probably
the one the author will use in the future.
- OpenOffice.org's Impress and KDE's KPresenter were tested. (Gnome does
not have its own presenter.) The apps are different, but both are easy to
use once you read the manual a little.
- The drawing programs from all of the suites were unsatisfactory to various
degrees. The author uses QCad for architectural plans and vector-type
diagrams, and Gimp for bitmap images such as photographs and logos.
- Unfortunately none of the three office suites include a user interface
to databases, and this is a major weakness. Nor is there a good independent
app for this purpose. Microsoft Office (Professional
Edition) includes Microsoft Access, which can either use a local database
engine to work on files owned by the user, or can communicate with an
ODBC-compliant SQL server, such as Microsoft's or MySQL.
- Web Browser
- Though not part of the office suites, the web browsers were evaluated.
KDE's Konqueror was excellent, and was able to present X.509 user certificates.
Netscape is a popular choice, but the author prefers Opera.
- Suite Manager (and Interoperability)
- OpenOffice.org runs in the context of whatever window manager you have
chosen. KDE has a reasonable-looking panel, but for the author its least
favorite feature is that it can only do
click to focus (like Windows),
point to focus as is normal in older X-windows configurations.
Gnome's environment is much less obtrusive. However, the author probably
will stick with fvwm2, a window manager from the previous generation.
- Resource Usage
- Can you say
oinkware? KDE is incredibly large. Gnome is far
from svelte, but is a lot smaller than KDE. OpenOffice.org
is a bit smaller than Gnome, but it is only one application, not a whole
desktop management system. fvwm2 is a factor of 10 smaller than Gnome,
but of course it does not provide the infrastructure services that the
suite managers do.
- We should probably offer both KDE and Gnome on single-user workstations,
but we should positively discourage their use on multi-user servers, since
swap files would rapidly be depleted. We should improve our previous
generation setup to use fvwm2 and to offer user-visible services similar to
what the suites have, so as to make the conventional window manager attractive
to our users. OpenOffice.org is not attractive.
Winners by Category
|Suite Manager ||fvwm2 -- neither suite
|Mail Reader ||Pine
|Word Processor ||LyX
|Spreadsheet ||Gnumeric (but be aware of its quirks)
|Presentation ||KPresenter or Impress
|Database ||None available
|Web Browser ||Opera or Netscape
|Overall ||Independent programs; if you want a
desktop suite, pick Gnome.