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, 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, 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).
Spreadsheet'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.
Presentation'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) 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), not 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. 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. 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
Drawing QCad
Database None available
Web Browser Opera or Netscape
Resources fvwm2
Overall Independent programs; if you want a desktop suite, pick Gnome.