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Review: Open-Source Office Suites Compared

In search of an alternative to Microsoft Office, we test, StarOffice from Sun, IBM's Lotus Symphony, KOffice for Linux, and AbiWord.

KOffice 2.0 Beta 3
KDE e.V.

Developed for use with the KDE desktop environment in Linux, KOffice sports the broadest and richest range of apps of the suites here. The Beta 3 edition of KOffice 2 turned out to be more than stable enough to look at for this review, although the single biggest caveat is that it's only available for Linux. There is an unofficial Macintosh edition, and an ongoing project to port KDE and KDE-compatible apps to Windows, but the only KOffice application that currently exists in a Windows incarnation is the database app Kexi.

The single biggest caveat about KOffice 2 Beta 3 is that it's only available for Linux.
(click for image gallery)

For the sake of maximum compatibility, I tried out KOffice under Kubuntu, which includes KOffice in its repositories. Not all distributions feature it there. Note that KOffice can run under GNOME or KDE, although for the best possible appearance you'll want to use the latter. Each of the individual KOffice applications can be run on their own, or within the framework of the KOffice Workspace where the various applications can be run under a tabbed interface. The Workspace interface needs as big a screen as you can throw at it to be useful, but anything 1024x768 or larger should be fine.

Aside from the usual mix of word processor, spreadsheet, presentation application and database system, KOffice also includes three graphics tools -- a flowcharting app, a vector-drawing program and a raster-design program -- a project-management system, a report creator, a charting/graphing utility and a math formula editor. This makes it a slightly better choice for those who want or need such tools, provided they have the platform to run it.

The breadth of tools isn't the only good thing. A fair amount of thought has been put into the presentation and layout of the applications themselves -- they're not difficult to navigate, and the panels available in things like Krita, the graphics-editing app, are coherently laid out. One thing that bothered me about Krita: there's CMYK colorspace support but no actual CMYK-model color picker. It's possible to take an existing image and break it into CMYK separations, though, which makes it relatively easy to do things like process black printing with it.

There are also some potential cross-format gotchas, which I admit may well be beta issues. A document I'd created in Word 2003 and re-saved to ODF through OpenOffice opened in KOffice with some of its formatting mangled. When I re-opened the same Word 2003 file directly in KOffice, it appeared (and re-saved) correctly. Documents newly created in KOffice or OpenOffice, though, worked fine.

3 of 5
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