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Is StarOffice Ready To Take On Office? 439

A reader writes "CNET has an article about: Is StarOffice ready to take on MS Office? A quote: "Bottom line for Sun and StarOffice: If you keep aiming where Microsoft has already been, then your opportunities will be in China. A better tactic is to take aim at where the IT market is going to be and your opportunities will be much wider.""
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Is StarOffice Ready To Take On Office?

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  • China (Score:4, Funny)

    by szcx ( 81006 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @03:56PM (#2256973)
    Bottom line for Sun and StarOffice: If you keep aiming where Microsoft has already been, then your opportunities will be in China.
    Is that a Bad Thing? China is a pretty big market.
    • China is a potentially large market that has become accustomed to getting software for free and won't pay for applications. Just like Linux users, really.

    • China is a pretty big market.

      Yeah, but you can only sell *one* copy of any given program there...


  • by zpengo ( 99887 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @03:57PM (#2256985) Homepage
    StarOffice never even *had* a paperclip. How's that for innovation and wisdom?
  • First off, is being behind in feature creep really that bad of a thing?

    The ace in the hole for StarOffice is that it is free. Who cares if it lacks some whiz-bang feature that most people hardly use, if it costs nothing?

    That in itself makes it competitive.
    • So what if it costs nothing? If it doesn't help me get my work done, its worth nothing.
    • Who cares if it lacks some whiz-bang feature that most people hardly use, if it costs nothing?

      Where does this myth come from that Office is loaded with features no one uses? Please name me some features that "no one" uses.

      Guess what? Almost every feature in Office was created from actual needs within companies.

      • It's not that "no one" uses these features. It just that most people don't. The features have been added over the years to wean people off of other high-end applications in their toolset, and into MS-only-ness. Not that it's bad, per se, it's darn efficient. The ony problem is that we are left without serious options because it gets harder and harder everyday to break into that market-- and because MS has shown that they are willing to use unethical and even illegal tactics to preserve their advantages (so that even they aren't the best tool for the job, they end up being the most likely tool for the job).

        And even if they were perfect angels, a biological model of computing supports the notion that evolution (that is, "progress") can only happen within a diverse environment-- something that doesn't occur when one company owns the OS and the seven most popular applications. The main problem with this is that their flaws are readily replicated from spot to spot and like all complex systems they have plenty of those. Diversity makes the flaws different from point to point, which increases the strength of the system (fault tolerance) by localizing errors.

        Just so you don't think I'm a zealot, this is same issue affects Linux and Unix with the overdependence on the C language and the C shared libraries. This is why format string attacks, stack smashing, and the like are so common on that platform. The same basic fault is repeated over and over.
    • "Who cares if it lacks some whiz-bang feature that most people hardly use, if it costs nothing?"

      Are we talking about the same StarOffice here? The copy I've had the gross misfortune of using (version 5.2 -- the latest version, AFAIK) possess such useless features as:

      • A help-agent window that will not close when I click its little 'X' -- the best I can do is minimize it and shove the title-bar mostly off-screen.
      • A user-interface that duplicates the Windows desktop for no good reason
      • A built-in web browser -- at least MS has the excuse that all they're doing is providing a few hooks to IE

      But wait! That's not all. You also get:

      • A level of stability that makes Microsoft Office look damn good in comparison
      • Mediocre support for Office document formats (admittedly, this is a tricky proposition, but it's also the one reason I actually use StarOffice)
      • Random interface bugs that'll make you yell, scream, and curse

      • Must apologize for drifting away from the topic, but speaking of features that "no one" uses, I'd like to vote for a new feature for StarOffice that, to my limited knowledge, MS Office lacks:

        User defined mappings between keys and functions.

        You can not imagine the horrors of being forced to use MS Office for some administrivial task but having the emacs default key mapping hardwired into the brain/hand circuit!

        Control F to quickly move forward? No! You get some silly font changing window! You can imagine the process of discovery on my part when Control K and Control D and Control E do not function like I am accustomed to. Every application should allow the user to choose whatever mapping makes them happiest.

        Sorry to vent, but it was a nightmarish experience for me!

    • I agree. Word 95 does everything 98 percent of users need (except perhaps its being outdated in inport/export filters). Most business people only need basic word processing and that can be served by much less powerful suites than StarOffice.
    • I like the fact that OpenOffice Writer uses all the truetype fonts on my system (700+) and prints correctly. Unlike Abiword.
    • StarOffice definitely has an in-your-face kind of design. It just wants to be your everything, including your browser, mailer and desktop. It is awkward if you aren't working exclusively within its confines and doesn't offer any particularly wonderful benefits if you do.

      I suspect that's why people who've tried it don't like it, it's too restrictive. If I offered you free shoes which hurt, would that be a good bargain? I know I prefer simpler, less "integrated" and more deferential kinds of programs like Abiword. I've used the OpenOffice versions of the StarOffice programs and liked them much better for being shorn of the irritating attempt to take over your screen with a duplicate desktop. It isn't very polished yet, but I could very well live with it. In fact, I've stopped using Office except when I need to exchange files or use MS Access.

      There's lots of good stuff in there, it just needs time and reorganization.

      • I own my own business and can use anything I want. So when I came time to buy general office software I tried everything I could get my hands on to see what felt right, looked good on the screen, seemed reasonably bug free and was easy to use.

        I think I'm pretty typical in that features I don't use every day were still important because having a feature I never use costs me nothing but not having a feature that I might need once in a blue moon is a PITA.

        I happened to try Star Office first but it was anything but intuitive. It also seemed too much like a commercial for itself. Then I tried MS Office and it was clear that Star Office was a knock-off. I decided that if the best Sun could do was copy something in a sort of bizarre way, that was good reason to buy the original.

        My choices came down to MS Office on Windows or MS Office on MacOS. I chose the latter mostly because documents are easier to read on screen. These were by far the most expensive packages but that's not a big consideration when you think about how much time you spend using them.
  • by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @03:59PM (#2257002) Homepage Journal
    Do you see a parallel to windows vs. linux?

    The biggest point he's made is the user familiarity. Something difficult to overcome. Something that Linux has been working on to try and grab the Windows population.

    Say what you must, but everytime I show KDE to Windows only users, they look puzzled. The minute I pop up a terminal, they're gone. Its the familiarity that's the hardest wall to scale. People don't like change.
    • "People don't like change."

      Very true. At my high school, the teachers scream if someone changes the layout of their desktop. We recently upgraded to win2k - they still haven't stopped sending angry emails.
    • by Platinum Dragon ( 34829 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:55PM (#2257300) Journal
      The biggest point he's made is the user familiarity. Something difficult to overcome. Something that Linux has been working on to try and grab the Windows population.

      I've had some personal experience with newbies either considering Linux, or trying to use a Linux GUI (GNOME, in my case). Specifically, my extremely non-geek girlfriend, who still uses MS Bob at home to write letters, who was blown away by the extra speed that came from adding some RAM to her old, crufty machine.

      For about a year, I've been moving her to a Linux-based Ximian GNOME desktop when she visits here. Windows now just exists for playing DVDs. I held her hand through the early stages of figuring out where her programs are, warning her when I broke something (software upgrade addict), and calmly answering questions that are blindingly obvious to me. She has her own desktop, icons and panels for the programs she needs, and even a direct link to her Hotmail account.

      One day, about a week after I installed Ximian 1.4, she was stuck here, alone, for a couple hours while I ran out to get something. I'd planned to walk her through the Doorman sequence later, but by the time I came back, she'd walked herself through it. I felt rather proud of her:)

      The lesson? Hand-holding early on can overcome a lack of familiarity with an interface. It's much easier to do when dealing with only one person, as opposed to thousands of employees, but good, clear, simple documentation and setting up a clean, obvious desktop/interface/whateva for the poor users can go a long way in alleviating peoples' fears of "breaking" the computer, or not knowing how to fix something.

      That's not to say certain geniuses won't still find ways to break stuff and not notice the blindingly obvious, but enough forethought and help can prevent a lot of trouble and backsliding later.
    • True, people like familier setups. I setup an account for my near computer illiterate roommate last year with a gnome desktop that looked very similar to that of Windows. Corel WordPerfect 2000 for Linux and Netscape 4.7* on the desktop, gmc for the graphical shell. He had no problems picking it up, he was sort of confused at first because the desktop looked slightly different. As soon as he started to try to find things he reallized that there was nothing to be afraid of.

      It really isn't that hard anymore. Debian on a CD, StarOffice on another, and a fast internet connection. It has become very easy to install systems that people are very comfortable with.
  • Ready or Not (Score:4, Informative)

    by geomon ( 78680 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @03:59PM (#2257004) Homepage Journal
    Star Office is positioned to move forward, but they have not released anything for quite awhile. I have been waiting for something beyond the 5.2 release so that I can show our management that we can duplicate the current office app for less money.

    StarOffice needs to get something out quick to keep the off-line (not .NET) crowd from finding another alternative.
  • Is StarOffice still a full suite only or can I download and use individual components?

    Internet Radio!!!!

    UltraRadio []
    • The latest OpenOffice, based on the StarOffice codebase, is downloaded in one big chunk but then you can select which components to install. Rather than firing up the StarOffice "desktop" MDI, OpenOffice (as well as the next release of StarOffice) will be going to a more Unix-like single-window-per-document arrangement.

      • by jhittner ( 66567 )
        I dont think thats true from what I have read. StarOffice 6(not released yet) will be based on the openoffice code. Staroffice 5.2 is a totally different code base. Ive been using openoffice builds and they are far better then staroffice 5.2, and they also open microsoft word docs perfectly.

  • Correctness first. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by davec ( 11882 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:02PM (#2257020)
    Before Star Office talks about taking on Microsoft Office, they should get the spreadsheet to give correct results. As it is now, I'd rather use Visicalc with an Apple ][ emulator.
    • IIRC in the past two times that we have visited this topic (in the past week or two) we have already decided that the only way that SO can compete would be to have PERFECT conversion to/from MS. Problem is that they don't and by the time that they do MS will already have another Office Suite that will have to be supported...

      It does not include NEARLY as many features necessary for GENERAL use..

      Until SO gets these things they are toast.
      • Nah, Star Office doesn't have to be perfect, it simply has to be "good enough" and less expensive. In the past the fact that Star Office was less expensive wasn't hardly a factor because it wasn't anywhere near "good enough" and most people could get a copy of Microsoft Office for free (by borrowing it from work or from a friend).

        In the future, when small businesses and home users realize that a copy of MS Office costs more than a brand new computer preloaded with StarOffice they will see the light and StarOffice will start to get used. Once enough people are using StarOffice it won't matter that the MS Office import filters aren't perfect (they are pretty darn good), because chances will be good that the person that you are corresponding with will have StarOffice. After all, it's free!

        Sure, some large corporations will stick with MS Office; heck, some large corporations are still using Lotus SmartSuite. But the corporate desktop is a very small piece of the pie. For home users and small businesspeople Star Office is good enough, it runs on the computer that they already have, and the price is definitely right. And now that people aren't simply going to be able to pass around a copy of MS Office, cheapskates are going to have to find a new office suite.

    • Prove it (Score:4, Interesting)

      by koekepeer ( 197127 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:23PM (#2257138)
      Show me some real life expamples where starcalc fails to give a correct answer when calculating. I mean real life.Show me a link to a site that shows the failure of starcalc and then I'll accept your argument.

      Please, I'm not trying to start a war here, but I hear this kind of thing all the time "we tried this and that and application xyz didn't do it correctly". When these kind of things are stated by M$, we call that FUD, when Slashdot users post them we think it's a valid argument.

      Sorry about the rant but it's the lack of nuance that drives me further and further away from the comments on /. , I just read the headlines now and follow the links, since discussions seemingly lead to nowhere nowadays. And it didn't get beter with the moderation system, but I won't start on that since my adrenalin is already at an all time high now.

      Can you tell? ;)

      (relax now, ease back, easy... easy... phew that was close)

      mod me down i don't care, just had a BAD day
      • catch 22

        you're just the sort that needs to post on /. , but get driven away by people who can't form a cognitive arguement.
  • Not really (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ryn ( 9728 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:02PM (#2257022)
    A group of developers at my company has tried converting to StarOffice. That attempt has lasted for a couple of weeks, when people were trying to get the needed functionality out of the SO (something to do with spreadsheets). Bottom line is: we are still using MS Office, and no matter which way you look at it, it's simply allowing better functionality. Office 2000 may not be the best app bundle in the world, but it certainly does the job better than SO.
    • I think the problem with StarOffice is that they don't have their business apps well-designed like you get with Microsoft Office apps. Now you know why Microsoft spends a fortune on their Usability Lab, which has almost no competition from other companies.
  • by NutscrapeSucks ( 446616 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:02PM (#2257023)
    My feeling is that Sun StarOffice exists because Microsoft is poking a stick in Sun's eye (big servers), so Sun is poking them back (office suites). If big name vendors such as IBM/Lotus and Corel/WordPerfect could field full featured suites and utterly fail to compete on price with Microsoft, it won't be any different with Sun.

    That, and as an eat-your-own-dogfood shop, Sun probably felt having a piece of essential internal infrastructure under the control of a small company teetering on the edge of existence was probably a bad idea.

    Now, when Microsoft's OEM licence practices are altered by the courts, StarOffice may well become a standard OEM freebie. However, that doesn't mean that many corporate users will or could switch.
    • ...StarOffice may well become a standard OEM freebie.
      Actually, I've seen StarOffice OEM installed on some eMachines, not that that's a ringing endorsement...


    • Sun can do what IBM and Corel cannot for several reasons.
      • It's free. MS Office is $400+ per license. MS is also removing the roaming license, therefore if a machine might use MS Office then it needs its own license. That gets really expensive really quickly, especially in companies with several thousand employees.
      • It runs everywhere. If the OS has a JRE then StarOffice works. No more need for WinFrame, VMWare, Wine, etc... Slow, yes, but it WORKS.
      • It has been open sourced. Other people can now work on it, innovate, etc... As everyone has seen, open sourced projects have the ability to evolve very quickly.
      • Scary thought but it takes no extra work to have StarOffice run over the net because it is Java. So while MS is busy trying to make MS Office ready for their .Net scheme, creating new bugs and problems, StarOffice has time to make up any differences.

      This may seem like just small pickings, but it is starting to have an effect. Corel and IBM tried to fight fair and on Microsofts turf. Sun is throwing low blows and invading Microsofts turf while not giving theirs up.

      Is it up to par right now? Of course not. Was MS Office up to par with WordPerfect Suite until MS Office 95? Not even close. These things take time.

      Microsoft is being attacked by three directions by threats that could could topple them. The Justice Department, Linux, and Sun. This could get really bloody.
  • by fobbman ( 131816 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:04PM (#2257035) Homepage

    "A better tactic is to take aim at where the IT market is going to be and your opportunities will be much wider."

    Considering much of the IT market has been laid off in the last 12 months I'd say that giving it away is keeping pace with that. The only way they could do it any better would be to provide CD's of StarOffice at the local soup kitchens.

  • Does StarOffice have tracking of revisions yet? That was one of the features that I noticed it lacked last time I looked at it (a while ago, admittedly). Without that feature, they might as well well forget any serious usage.

    • If their native document format is XML based, why not just use CVS?

      • Business users...CVS?? *bwaaaaahahahahahahaha*

        Anyway, the reason is because in .doc format the revision history goes with the file - so I mail it to my editor, who makes some changes and mails it back. I can see what they changed, when and the comments they attached.
  • Funny (Score:3, Insightful)

    by l33t j03 ( 222209 ) <> on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:09PM (#2257063) Homepage Journal
    The funny part is that you state:

    Is StatOffice Ready To Take On Office?

    Note that you don't have to state MS Office, because everyone already knows what you mean. No, StarOffice is not ready to take on Office.

  • Ask the plebs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nagora ( 177841 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:10PM (#2257069)
    We've had a new office assistant (human, not software) working for us for the last week and I don't think he actually knows that I've put him on SO instead of MSO. For a lot of tasks at the lower-end day-to-day market SO is already more than many people need. It seems too limited for accountants but at a price of £30 as opposed to £511, it's pretty damn good.


  • What it really needs to make it is perfect file compatibility with Office. When you multiply the cost of Office by thousands of employees it's a serious chunk of change, and in a recession some smaller companies might finally be willing to try it.
  • It needs (Score:2, Interesting)

    by NitsujTPU ( 19263 )
    1) Better word filters, it's beaten up a couple of my .docs
    2) Better gui integration, I don't need it to take over my desktop, it should just sit in there like every other program. I HATE primadonna projects that add self importance by taking up desktop real estate (what the hell do I want some video game adding hundreds of desk icons and taskbar AND everything else it can under windows).
    3) Drop in support. You gotta add this to your path and add this and add this, for functionality that is ALREADY in your directory hierarchy. Why can't they just use the same directories everyone else does? I have a /home, a /usr/bin, and all that already, I don't need /usr/share/local/staroffice/home & bin & multiple layers of symbolic links
    • Re:It needs (Score:2, Insightful)

      by shinji ( 34318 )
      I hate the fact that people say it needs to have better this filters and importers. (My documents can't be imported well.) Microsoft is to blame for this. They have closed file formats and filters have to be reversed engineered. If they used a nice open format converting could be a snap. Of course then they would have to compete on the level is my (spreadsheet|editor|etc) better and easier to use than anyone elses. Its high time users demanded interoperiablity and the way you do this is you don't pony up the bucks until a company adds the features you want.

  • I would think that with the coming economic downturn, being able to offer an alternative to Microsoft's draconian (not to mention expensive) licensing scheme would be attractive, particularily to the bean-counters who are likely going to be calling the shots. I just installed Mandrake 8 and it was pretty much painless and as far as what the average user does...clicks on their e-mail, clicks on their word processor, and browses the net, there isn't a whole hell of a lot of difference.

    The clincher for many businesses however, will be not so much (Lin)ux/ Star office's functionality or having to accustom users to a different way of doing things, but rather the must-have app that only runs on Windows. THATS why Microsoft has the lion's share of the desktop market.
  • by WhiteWolf666 ( 145211 ) <> on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:13PM (#2257088) Homepage Journal
    I have been using Star Office for awhile, after I dumped Office 2000.

    I'm sorry to say, I actually like it. I have even encouraged people to install it.

    Yes, it may not have all of Office 2000's functionality, but it is close, and there are several benefits.

    1. It's free(as in beer, but not as in speech (read on, however).
    2. It's cross-platform. There are linux binaries (and solaris, I believe) on sun's website. This may just be the office suite of choice for linux (at least beginning linux users) users, as it does not require much to get it working.
    3. 6.0 looks really sweet.
    Plus, come one, people. It has 98% the functionality of office 2000. That is good enough for at least 75% of people out there, because most people don't use the bloated features avaliable in office. Yes, you have to do things slightly differently. But generally, whatever you wanted to do in office, can be done in staroffice.
    While my third point is kind of irrelevant (it makes me hopeful, though), I think the first two are serious advantages that IBM/Lotus/Corel don't have. Sure, you could get Corel's Java Wordperfect, but it kind of sucked, and it didn't have all the features of star office, and the full version cost money.

    Finally, StarOffice is forming the core of OpenOffice, which has (IMHO) the potential to become fantastic. In fact, the first full featured beta is avaliable, I may just switch.

    As it is, however, even if StarOffice falls off the face of the earth, methink the project is a success. There are a substantial number of users (maybe not compared to Office 2000, but a fair number nevertheless), it's free as in beer, it forms the core of an office suite that is free as in speech, and is cross-platform.

    • I first tried SO 5.2 as an alternative to MS Office shortly before Sun bought it. I fired it up, started writing, wanted to do some simple, repetitive task (I forget exactly what). Since SO looked very similar to MSO I tried the same simple feature that would do it for me there. It didn't work. After fifteen minutes of digging through the documentation I discovered that there was no automation for that feature in SO. I quickly nuked it, booted up Windows, and used the Microsoft product instead.

      Since time is money I just found Star Office to be more expensive, even though technically it could do everything I wanted it to do. As long as Microsoft keeps improving the user experience it will have the better product. The product should be an enabler for the functionality it contains, and Microsoft did a much better job of that than Star Division did, even though both had all of the needed functionality.

    • Plus, come one, people. It has 98% the functionality of office 2000. That is good enough for at least 75% of people out there, because most people don't use the bloated features avaliable in office. Yes, you have to do things slightly differently. But generally, whatever you wanted to do in office, can be done in staroffice.

      I use windows and I really tried to start using StarOffice on my home computer. I use MS Office at work daily, and while it certainly is not a perfect piece of software, after using it StarOffice just felt hopelessly slow and annoying to use. I tried to get used to StarOffice for several months (partly because I hadn't found any better free alternative for Windows), but in the end I decided that it doesn't justify it's huge harddisk footprint. The problem certainly was not lack of functionality, but the user interface and the performance. All the time I was noticing small things that didn't work the way I would like them to work.

      I am now using 602Pro PC SUITE 2000 [] on my home computer, and while it only has a fraction of StarOffice's features, I like it a lot more.

  • by Junks Jerzey ( 54586 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:16PM (#2257109)
    As much as I hate to admit it, StarOffice is a classic example of the schism between commercial software developers and open source advocates. The latter love to tout free alternatives to commercial software: "Star office!" "The Gimp!" But then realistically, when you try to use the free clone in an real environment, it quickly becomes obvious that it is not nearly as ready for prime time as its proponents claim it to be. This is not to put down all open source development, but it is a small cry for realism and restraint among zealots. Look a it this way: who knows more about office suites, college students who write two papers a year, or people who work 40 hours a week in a business?

    It is also regrettable that Star Office tried so hard to be like Microsoft Office. It would have been better to develop a simpler, more rock solid, legitimate _alternative_, rather than what comes across as a wannabe clone that misses the mark.
    • It would have been better to develop a simpler, more rock solid, legitimate _alternative_, rather than what comes across as a wannabe clone that misses the mark.

      I agree with the basic premise here, but it simply can't be done. In order to be able to import Office documents the application has to be able to support the features and functions of Office applications. Just the nature of the beast. Sure, they could write a word processor that looked more like Wordpad than Word, but then it wouldn't be able to display a .doc file at all from Office 2000.

      At the moment it seems that the word processor you're looking for is in work now under KOffice. Heck, KWord is actually usable these days!
    • The Gimp ain't perfect, but it doesn't deserve to be lumped with Star Office. It can't really be used for print work, but for other graphics work it is quite capable and pretty stable.

      The Gimp is a real piece of Free Software. It was built as such, with the more modest goals that go with it. Star Office is very commercial, even as it's been freed. Hobby programmers don't like making something that does everything, but does everything poorly. Commercial programmers are forced to make that sort of thing.

      Something with more modest goals has a real chance to be like the Gimp -- not full-featured, not a complete replacement, but a pretty darn good piece of software in its own right, with at least some real advantages over the commercial counterpart. Maybe AbiWord can be this -- they are certainly working small to large, and paying more attention to sound design and robustness than featuritis. Gnumeric is pretty decent already. I don't know what all is going on in the KDE world, but it seems like pieces of an office suite are coming about there too. Good pieces will win out over steaming pile of integrated software that is Star Office. I think Smart Suite and the like have failed in the way SO is failing, no need to go down that path yet again.

      Hell, if just wvWare [] can be made really good you'll have half the features needed (for anyone to use) -- real Word import.

  • This whole "if it's not M$, I can't use it" mentality-- it's nuts. I have a difficult time believing that people are that rigid or unable/unwilling to think.

    How much more could StarDivision (isn't that who Sun bought it from?) have done to make it easy to use? F7 is spellcheck for both M$-office and StarOffice (or as the corporate hacks here called it, "TarOffice."). The different buttons look the same: "B" for bold, "I" for italics.

    I don't understand the trepidation and fear that people have. Can someone explain it to me? Productivity software are tools. Like hammers. Nobody shows fear at using a peening hammer when all they've seen before is a claw hammer. They're both hammers, and as such work about the same way. M$ Word and StarWord are both WYSIWYG word processors; they work very similarly.

    The car analogy works-- do people tremble in fear at the mention of driving a Honda simply because they've only ever driven Fords? Or are Pontiacs so different from Lexus that their respective owners couldn't drive the other ones?

  • I'm going to suggest some things that I don't believe Microsoft has put into office. With any luck, either KOffice or StarOffice are listening and will look at these features:

    1. Make a presentation software that's not completely limited to the slide show format. The metaphor should be a stage, and allow for notes on slides, multiple projectors, speakers, etc. Imagine a networked display system between three laptops (two for display, one to control/syncronize, an have your notes on it).

    2. Combine word with CVS and give complete modification histories, and keep all undos in files. Sure, they grow large, but you could also show precise branches and replay changes done by one person on another file.

    3. A Spreadsheet program that has HUGE libraries of functions, and allows other functions to be written in any language under the sun, compiled, and then used nicely. Also, allowing spreadsheets to use scripts from the command line would be nice.

    4. Speaking about the command line, how about a nifty little piping interface that allows for a tool setup with all sorts of little switches on each icon (representing the different switches on the command line) and then drag pipes from one command to another, then let the data flow in.

    Just my 2 cents.

    • 1. Make a presentation software that's not completely limited to the slide show format. The metaphor should be a stage, and allow for notes on slides, multiple projectors, speakers, etc. Imagine a networked display system between three laptops (two for display, one to control/syncronize, an have your notes on it).

      While we are at this, I'd love to have a presentation software that shows only the current slide on the projector, but also the next and maybe the previous slide on the laptop's screen. Personally I don't use any presentation software (maybe the feature even exists already, but I doubt that), but I'm really sick of listening to all those presentations where the speakers advance to the next slide and then go back when they realize it wasn't what they expected.

      But I suppose this is also a problem with laptop hardware, which will always have the same image on the screen as on the output connector.

    • 2. Combine word with CVS and give complete modification histories, and keep all undos in files. Sure, they grow large, but you could also show precise branches and replay changes done by one person on another file.
      I don't know if I think the rest of the features are so important, but CVS-like abilities would really be an incredible feature. You can track changes in Word, but it's not nearly as general and powerful as CVS.

      To a degree perhaps it could just be done with CVS and a backend ASCII-with-markup representation that worked nicely (i.e., equivalent documents would really have equivalent code).

      I do some work at a publishing company, and they (like all publishers) are incredibly tied to Word. I've never even really considered mentioning any weening off of Word (the pain has been mitigated by wvWare [], though). But with CVS-like features... well, even if I couldn't convince them, their ears would certainly perk up when I listed the possibilities.

      I mean, I've almost started thinking of getting them to use Word like an HTML editor, and actually store the HTML in CVS -- which is forgoing most of the features of Word anyway.

      The only negative -- freelancers, with their own software, have to be able to work in the system. They all have Word, and it would be twice as hard to change them over (since they work with other publishers and all that).

  • Not ready (Score:2, Insightful)

    by j7953 ( 457666 )
    Is StarOffice Ready To Take On Office?

    As long as people can say Office, and everyone knows they're referring to what is actually called Microsoft Office, no, StarOffice doesn't have a big change.

    • Re:Not ready (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jasondlee ( 70657 )
      Is that like how people don't say Microsoft Windows instead of Windows? Does that mean X Windows will never catch on until people start noticing the difference? We call X Windows 'X' for the same reason people call MS Office 'Office': we're lazy. Sure, most people don't know there are options, but, come on...

      • No, because there is no other operating system called "Windows". X is not an operating system. Also, Windows is not a generic name for an operating system, while Office is a very generic term for an office application. Even Microsoft knows this, and calls its product Micrsoft Office whenever there is a risk of confusion.

        Calling Microsoft Office "Office" is not like calling Micrsoft Windows "Windows", it's more like calling Micrsoft Windows "Operating System."

        BTW, my comment shouldn't be taken that serious. I do think that one should use the correct product name, especially if two product names are put into one sentence (or even headline), but failing to do that won't seriously keep StarOffice from succeeding is it is a much better product.

        And yes, I do say "Office" myself when talking about MS Office.

    • And that's M$'s strategy exactly: Windows, Word, Office (I didn't even know you can trademark common nouns like that, with or without the M$ prefix). Wonder why they didn't name Excel 'Spreadsheet'.

      They have succeeded in making many people honestly believe that computing == Windows. It's hard to explain that there can, even in principle, be alternatives. It would sound like a house without windows.

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:31PM (#2257172)
    1) Perfect (or nearly so) compatibility with the .doc, .xls, and .ppt formats. Too much stuff out there in these formats to not have it.

    2) Make it available everywhere. People use AOL because they made getting their software easy. They put CD's everywhere. Downloading it from the internet is not good enough. Very few people have a fast network connection at home and even if they did they wouldn't likely download it. Sun needs to provide it to all OEMs, carpet bomb the US with CD's containing StarOffice From Sun, etc. Yes this costs money but it won't hurt Office unless it is done.

    3) Make it as close to Office as possible in look and feel, at least for a while. If people feel they know how to use it already, they will be much more inclined to switch. It doesn't matter if the interface to Office stinks, it is what people are used to.

    4) Do a cost analysis and trumpet it everywhere. If StarOffice is even close in features and is highly compatible, you'll get the attention of IT managers and CFOs. Businesses only care about saving money. Make their jobs easier/cheaper and they'll migrate in droves.

    Unfortunately I think Sun doesn't want to do any of this. Unless they do, StarOffice is going to be an also-ran for at least several more years.
    • by Pengo ( 28814 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:43PM (#2257507) Journal
      You forgot

      5) Convince MS to enforce a method of stoping piracy of Office letting only people that *gasp* pay use it. Also convince MS to include advanced phone home features, complicated authentication / license rules, etc. Surely this would be the best thing for a free-beer alternative.
    • 3) Make it as close to Office as possible in look and feel, at least for a while. If people feel they know how to use it already, they will be much more inclined to switch. It doesn't matter if the interface to Office stinks, it is what people are used to.

      How I love the perpetuation of mediocrity...

  • by Wansu ( 846 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:32PM (#2257174)
    There's something else at play here. I have noticed that many secretary types, my wife included, stubbornly cling to Office. There's the perception that other software doesn't work the same and isn't fully compatible. They are afraid their work will somehow be "lost". This isn't just about Office, it applies more broadly to Windows. To sell some other kind of productivity software to my mother-in-law, you have to get past this objection. Many rank and file clerical type employees do not want to learn some new software. This goes beyond familiarity. It's irrational. But that is what Star Office is up against.
    • by bwoodring ( 101515 )

      > Many rank and file clerical type employees do > not want to learn some new software.

      Just curious, how often do you use Office applications? How advanced of a user are you? Is it possible that those "rank and file" clerical workers are actually right? That switching to a new office suite will cost them many hours of productivity?

      It is for programmers to talk about switching office suites, because most of us don't use them very often. I use office for maybe 2 or 3 hours per week. But if you spend eight hours a day in Word and Excel, those small differences matter a lot.

      Think of it this way: Say I decided to take away your vi and replace it with emacs (or vice versa). Simple enough, right? They are both text editors and you will figure out the differences, quickly enough. Besides, you're probably already marginally familiar with the other one anyway.

      The reality is, that if you're a veteran programmer, you are probably intimately familiar with your text editor, and replacing it with a new one would cost you many hours. If you are a veteran "rank and file" clerical worker, you are probably intimately familiar with Word or Excel and changing office suites would cost you a lot of lost hours.

      Switching Office suites in a corporation is an extremely expensive proposition. Even if the software is free (hell, even if Sun paid you), for most companies it is a bad deal.

    • How about "Learn this or leave"?(for the secretaries, not the wife;)

      fortunatly, my wife doesn't cling to irrationalities. Some would say that her devotion to her husband is the exception. but I digress

      of course you should do a funtionality test to ensure the new software can do what the old one did as easily, if not more easy.
      the loss in revenu from "retraining" will be made up with the money recouped from liscensing.
      "Sometime you need to push a person on there first jump" -- Master Srg. Leming.
  • by chrisserwin ( 448761 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @04:38PM (#2257200)
    The biggest Office XP competitor is Office 97. IT departments tend to take an all-or-none approach to upgrades, and the law of the convoy tends to win out - slowest ship.

    That said, Office 2000 and XP seem to offer no real advantages/features what-so-ever over good old '97.

    So, in the context of the article, I don't think Sun's competition is the current incarnation of Office or even with .NET... the competition is with Office 97. When there is a technical innovation or a IT shop just has to upgrade for the sake of upgrading, I think SO has to be a consideration. Hopefully the OS and total cost of ownership get considered at the same time.

    As far as guessing where the market is going to be, well who the hell knows that? Besides, who wants to rent software? It's sort of like leasing a car - you do it because you want the latest status symbol - the guy who paid cash for the '88 civic gets from point A to B with the lowest cost of ownership. There's so status symbol with software - some works better than others, so you go with what works best, and there we're back to Office '97. If you own it, why change?
    • Sadly there is a status symbol with software - or rather computers in general. Explain the existence of thin laptops, for instance.

    • That said, Office 2000 and XP seem to offer no real advantages/features what-so-ever over good old '97.

      Office2000 had a much improved feature that had MY lusers drooling:

      Clippy had acquired a 3D appearance!!!

      You could actually hear the exclamation points rattling in their heads.
  • Fonts (Score:2, Insightful)

    by geophile ( 16995 )
    Setting up decent-looking fonts under Linux is still difficult. I think that this is the major
    issue blocking the use of SO as a serious alternative to Office.
  • A lot of people, probably a good 33%, would rather steal a copy of Msft Office than buy an inexpensive workalike that has 95% of the features. Just like Msft turning buggy software to an upgrade incentive, they probably put up with the piracy rate to maintain a huge mindshare and user base.
  • I have been using star office and openoffice pretty intensively over the past few weeks. Here are some things I have found:

    1. star/open have lousy support for hyperlinks. It's hard to use, confusing and often produces errors (such as attaching "http://" before relative url's.

    2. Starwriter has a pretty sophisticated stylist, and a good GUI for figuring out the hierarchy of styles. However, applying styles is not always easy, and often two different styles conflict with one another, causing bad results.

    3. Using starwriter as a wysiwig html editor is a real disappointment. You can't add css easily, and often the styles in the stylist don't appear in the code as a style (a la css) but rather as a inline style (with font tags and things like that). If you add custom css in html source, when you change to wysiwig mode, it demolishes the code additions.

    4. 5.2 crashes an awful lot, especially in Windows.

    5. People who use Star/Open to create documents are forced into using styles rather than doing direct formatting (which is good).

    6. The filters (MS Office, etc) work perfectly. Easiest thing to do is to save all documents in rtf format.

    7. Open Office in Linux lacks a lot of proprietary filters and spell checkers and fonts. Apparently the plan is for staroffice to incorporate them, but openoffice never to include them.

    8. I've been coming to the conclusion that for simple web page editing and creating, the Mozilla composer editor is a much better alternative. Except for the fact that Mozilla doesn't provide any ability to work with css stylesheets, its 4 different views and its ability to display css styles and make simple tables make it a clear pick for simple web pages.

    9. Star/Open haven't had good readymade web templates.

    I am a real fan of star office and open office. But these days, I find that I'm making more web pages than word processed documents. So why is openoffice focused on the traditional word processor functions?

  • I reviewed StarOffice about a year ago for my Web Site. Some of you might be interested in reading it [], since its an independent review written by someone not working for a major media Web site. Or maybe you wouldn't... Either way, here [] it is.
  • Final writer on my amiga (I know softwood published a windows version but unfortunately their page seems dead), did everything I needed for 98% of the Word processing I need.

    Star office should swallow every bit of technology it can, and be more stable, it would surely gain market share.

    I can't beleive that people drool over powerpoint, Scala does such a better job for presentation... oh well.
  • by Ungulate ( 146381 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:17PM (#2257413)
    For anyone out there reading who can't imagine StarOffice competing with much of anything, I urge you to go to and download the latest build. (The StarOffice/OpenOffice situation is much like Netscape/Mozilla)

    It really is a completely different experience. No more desktop, normal individual apps. While the the apps are rather memory hungry (so what, memory is $.15/MB), it's instantly responsive on my 700mhz machine. Everything I do with Word/Excel is there, with an interface that was quite familiar. It's more than ready for prime time.
    • I agree. There is even a big difference over the last two months (i.e., since build 628). I just downloaded Build 638 and started working, starting from a recent MS Word document. The import was clean (this time), and everything seems to be working.

      In other words, this software is now starting to become actually usable. It is loading reasonably quickly, and doesn't have the weird UI that the SO 5.2 and the earlier OpenOffice builds had.

      I am REALLY loath to shell out 500 bucks or so to "upgrade" to Windows XP and Office XP! I could actually use the money for other things!

      If I really need Windows, I can use the nice Java client of Citrix to log into my company's Citrix server. Over a cable connection, it is pretty much like being on the LAN, and offers total 100% Windows functionality with minimal computer power required on the client end (sort of like a X terminal). Of course, you can also run Citrix over the LAN and chuck Windows entirely, even at the office. Then you ARE on the LAN.

      I guess the acid test will be the filters. If my stuff turns out not to be readable by others who all use Windows, then I'll still have to use MS Office.

      Anyway, what's going to happen with the new XP "proprietary XML" formats?

  • I don't work in a role which supports Office apps (thank god) but I do know that in our firm (one of the big boys Sun would LOVE to win back from microsoft) there would be no way we could convert to SO until there was support for Excel/VBA macros in spreadsheets. It's a sad (and scary) fact that a fair chunk of our business relies on arcane and complex spreadsheets written ages ago by someone who's since left. It's bad enough when we have to upgrade MS Office and test everything, but converitng to whatever language SO uses for macros? No thankyouverymuch!

  • by anomaly ( 15035 ) <> on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:47PM (#2257529)
    I've read many comments that claim that there are too many MSWord documents to have anything less than 100% compatibility.


    MS never offered 100% compatibility between SmartSuite, WordPerfect, or anything else. The filters in MS products were about the same quality as the ones in StarOffice.

    For that matter, WordPerfect never offered serious quality import capability from WordStar, and certainly little import capability for Wang wordprocessor systems. Import/export is not the issue.

    What's missing from the Linux desktop is a clear direction from the community about a common scripting language, and object embedding.

    I'm not a zealot, but I've worked almost exclusively with Gnome for quite a while. It's getting there. If it could offer a scripting language similar to VBA, that would be helpful. Bonobo offers the possibility of object linking within applications.

    The scripting language wouldn't be that tough - Linux offers a zillion languages and realistically we're talking about GUI wrappers for some of those languages.

    SOffice is not as easy for printing, clipart, and labels as MSOffice. It doesn't have a GUI DB component, (Adabas is not included with the distributions that I've grabbed from Sun.)

    MS is opening themselves up to a real kick in the pants. They keep raising license fees for their software, and free software keeps getting better.

    It's just a matter of time before American businesses catch on. My company spends millions a year for MS products, and it looks like that number is only going to get bigger.

    In the mean time, let's figure out how to herd cats so we can get the free software geeks to converge on a standard platform. Let's pick Gnome or KDE and be done with it. American business doesn't want to be bothered with a million choices. That's why MS has done so well. Let's come together so we can offer a limited set of viable choices to the business community. MS will be hoisted on their own petard.
  • by Eloquence ( 144160 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:49PM (#2257537)
    The article misses the point. The point is not functionality. The point is


    Freedom is the reason you should check out OpenOffice [], K Office [], Evolution, Gnumeric etc. []. Remember: Sun has GPL'd Star Office's source code. That means that everyone can peek at it and change it -- that means you don't have to worry that the next version of the product will fuck with you because if it will, enough developers will be pissed off enough to fork and fix it. You don't have to worry about Passport, .NET, talking paperclips, proprietary file formats or "Smart Tags", or whatever Microsoft's current strategy of becoming Big Brother is.

    This is relevant not only for individuals and for corporations. Choosing OpenOffice now is reasonable long term thinking, something most individuals seem incapable of. Yes, Sun would behave just as badly as Microsoft in Microsoft's shoes, but with OpenOffice under the GPL, there's not really much that can go wrong. The file format is also open, XML-based and documented and can be legally implemented by anyone.

    Freedom is not just an ideological point. If you trust all your critical documents to a closed source software corporation, you are dependent on them and on their decisions, which will hurt your bottom line -- and, in the long term, hurt you much more than training your personnel to use an alternative.

    The bottom line is that if you care about freedom, you shouldn't have to go to China -- you have to look at the alternatives. If you don't do that, you have no right whatsoever to complain that you have none later.

  • by Tassach ( 137772 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:50PM (#2257541)
    Microsoft has historically turned a blind eye to the rampant piracy of it's products, particuarly Office. They had the sense to know that foregoing short-term profit was worth the long term benefits that come from being the de-facto standard office suite. Like a street-corner drug dealer, the first hit is free -- until you are addicted.

    Now that businesses are utterly dependent on Office, Microsoft feels that they can safely tighten down the screws. They can raise the per-seat cost of Office, because people would rather pay than have to learn something new. They can crack down on illegal copies because there is less (percieved) hassle to pay them off then it is to switch office suites.

    With their profit margins sagging, MS is under pressure from investors to keep profits up at the accustomed levels. The market for office suites is saturated -- everyone who needs/wants MS office already has a copy (legal or otherwise). The only way they can continue to bring in mountains of money is to force unlicenced users to become licenced ones, and to extort more money out of their existing users. However, they are operating under the faulty assumption that every unlicenced user is willing to pay to be legal. Many people use a pirated copy of MS office because they are unable or unwilling to fork over the $$$ that MS wants. Many shops will bite the bullet and switch to a free alternative rather than risk being mauled by MS's attack dog, the BSA. As more companies switch, awareness of Free software will grow, creating momentum and giving the Free alternatives legitimacy in the eyes of the PHBs. Bean counters will see the bottom-line savings that comes from not paying Danegeld to Redmond.

    The best thing we can do for Free Software is to hype it as a management fad -- reduce your IT spending by n% in one easy step! Free software's current target market is the technical elite -- in effect, preaching to the choir. The people who the FS movement needs to seduce are the MBAs of the world -- middle managers, people who have to watch the bottom line of expense sheets.

    I've rambled enough now. Time to go home and eat dinner

  • by The Pim ( 140414 ) on Wednesday September 05, 2001 @05:53PM (#2257554)
    If you keep aiming where Microsoft has already been, then your opportunities will be in China.

    It sounds nice like a nice tack: provide minimal Microsoft compatibility, while focusing on some vaguely suggested (notice how he avoids any specific discussion of what Sun should do with StarOffice) need that Microsoft doesn't address. What he doesn't get is that there is no such thing as "minimal Microsoft compatibility". This is why the life of an alternative office suite is so miserable.

    Let's start with what most people agree on by now: you need to be able to read Office documents that people send you. (Forget for now about creating your own documents, and editing documents that people send you.) According to the article, you just say the magic words "open XML format", wave your wand, and your need for MS Office vanishes in a puff of smoke.

    People who say that seem to think you can represent a Word document in a souped-up version of DocBook. Not even close. For starters, there's OLE. This alone is an extremely complicated data model that must be entirely replicated. Not to mention that you have to support every data format that is commonly embedded into Word documents; "just a Word viewer" is an oxymoron. Next, people put formulas in their embedded Excel documents, so you have to clone the scripting language, along with all of the zillions of functions provided. People put macros in their Word documents too, which require in addition to the scripting language a document model that is exactly like Word's. Plus any feature that can be accessed by macros (which I'm guessing is most of them). Oh, these macros might alter the document, so don't think you were going to get away with a read-only model. Compared to all this, emulating the UI is child's play, so to write a Word viewer, you may as well write MS Office.

    Basically, Microsoft adds tons of features to Office, and people find the craziest ways to use them, so you have to support every damn one in order to provide "minimal Microsoft compatibility". Anyone who doesn't think it's that bad, probably hasn't worked in a typical business environment.

    The alternate notion that people can keep using MS Office for "the full range of functionality in Office", and use StarOffice for the vaguely suggested something else, is just as broken for an even simpler reason: most people don't want to learn more programs.

    So maybe China (plus some smaller markets here, like students) is the best Sun can hope for. In a few decades, that may not look like such a bad thing.

  • First of all, stating that Star Office needs better filters is an exceptionally unoriginal thought. 99% of all posters say it, and it should be moderated as "Duuuh!".

    The hypocrisy part is because lots of the people that post this, are the same that blast the Wine-project because "emulation takes away the incentive to port games or applications".

    Why isn't this used here? If absolutely everyone could read Word-files, why should anyone bother using a different format? And using a proprietary format is to be at the mercy of the maintainers of that format.

    Besides, saying that can never succeed before their import-filters are perfect, is like giving up already. The filters will NEVER be perfect. There is always quirks and added features from MS Office that breaks compatibility.

    Finally I would like people to think about the quality of Word Perfect (was market leader at this time), was when MS Word arrived. Were they perfect? Were they even perfect when MS Word took over?
    PS! I'm not against import-filters in any way, it is just focused far too much on.
    • in the final part I left out the "filters in Word".
      I was talking about the quality of import-filters in Word, not the quality of the product Word Perfect.

"Yeah, but you're taking the universe out of context."