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Review: StarOffice 8 Catching Up To Microsoft Office

The open-source-based Office alternative includes a tool to convert Microsoft Office macros, but the suite still has a way to travel before it catches up with Microsoft Office capabilities.

The verdict is in: StarOffice 8 is slowly, but surely, gaining steam on Microsoft Office 2003 as it climbs toward an 80 percent functionality equivalent. StarOffice’s new macro converter tool is finally solving the huge migration hurdle that customers need to transition from Office. Solution providers now will be able to convert most of Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel macros with minimal manual intervention on most deployments that require code migration.

Customers must purchase StarOffice Enterprise edition in order to get the macro converter tool, Configuration Manager and its SDK. With StarOffice Enterprise, customers receive StarOffice’s premium 24x7 support, but unfortunately, developer support isn’t as strong as the support offered to Microsoft developers. StarOffice does have a pilot support program—but only for developers outside the United States. In addition, CRN Test Center engineers did not find the same level of programming activity from third-party development sites that can typically be found for Office tools.

StarOffice’s StarBasic is strikingly similar to Visual Basic for Microsoft Office, therefore, Office developers should quickly learn the API and convert Office macros that were not transformed by the macro converter.

StarOffice Base, which is the Microsoft Access equivalent, arrives with JDBC and ODBC drivers, so it can connect with higher-end database servers and can even access remote tables to expand its capacity.

Both products, however, are not functionally equivalent at the API level, so in some cases, programmers will have to use their ingenuity, especially when converting Access macros that do not follow the VBA API strictly.

When filing an RFP with customers that use Access, solution providers should plan for full manual conversions, even if the macro converter tool is capable of handling many VBA routines. Again, because both products are not fully functionally equivalent, expect many instances where the converted code will not work. Test Center engineers note that some Access functionality on macro code can not be translated at all. StarOffice is inching toward Microsoft’s capabilities and is even surpassing with some of its features. StarOffice improved its round-trip conversions, especially its export capability. For instance, StarOffice users can receive a Word document, convert it, modify it and export it directly back to Word. The round-trip process allows StarOffice users to maintain workflows across departments that use Office and with external partners as well.

StarOffice works on the same PC and the same workgroup as Office, so newcomers can double-check their exported files until they feel comfortable with StarOffice. And with one click, users now can export documents to PDF format. StarOffice Writer, the equivalent to Word, can work with long files without choking up.

Also, Word users have to use high-end programming editors such as Visual SlickEdit to work with large files. This feature is a nuisance that has plagued Word since its inception. The “tables” feature in Writer has a simple spreadsheet functionality built-in, allowing users to quickly place as many as 25 functions, such as sums and averages, in columns and rows. Also, StarOffice only uses file formats that follow open standards such as OpenDocument and Xforms.

StarOffice 8 supports Office formats from Office 97 to 2003, including some Office 95 formats. Enterprise Edition costs $25 to $90 per user and up to 70 percent of full price for upgrades. Forced upgrades are not imposed by StarOffice.



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