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Review: Contenders Challenge The Microsoft Office MonopolyReview: Contenders Challenge The Microsoft Office Monopoly

CRN's Test Center reviews EIOffice 2004, Sun StarOffice 8, and Corel Word Perfect Office 12.

October 12, 2005

7 Min Read

Sun StarOffice 8:
With the September release of Sun StarOffice 8, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems hopes to bring a viable alternative to MS Office to the table. Sun has taken a new approach to bringing an office suite to customers. The company studied the feature set offered by MS Office and came up with what is called an 80-20 rule; translated, that means 80 percent of users employ only 20 percent of the features offered. That assessment fueled Sun to focus on perfecting the major features, or 20 percent, of an office suite. There is no doubt that Sun has clearly set its sights on competing with Microsoft in the office suite market by offering 80 percent of users the features they need at a fraction of the cost of MS Office. A five-user version of StarOffice 8 retails for $99.95.

With its eye on Microsoft, Sun has built impressive compatibility into StarOffice 8 for working with MS Office-generated files. StarOffice also can import 80 percent of MS Office’s macros, making the transition even easier. StarOffice includes the requisite word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications; a database is included as well. The look and feel of StarOffice is similar to MS Office, with menus and terminology that reflect what users have come to expect from MS Office. StarOffice also bundles in an extensive set of wizards that further ease the transition over to the Sun product. Included is the capability to directly create PDF files, normally an add-on when it comes to MS Office. One important feature found in StarOffice is support for the Open Artwork System Interchange Standard (OASIS), a new file format. It builds on XML technology to create an open-standards-based file format that allows documents to move seamlessly between various office applications. OASIS will become more valuable as software vendors adopt the standard. The standard promises to allow users to open documents, spreadsheets and presentations in the office suite of their choice and not be tied to a proprietary file format. Adding to that cross-vendor compatibility is the fact that StarOffice is available for Windows, Linux and Solaris, which, when combined with the OASIS standard, makes the product operating-system agnostic. Users will find StarOffice quite straightforward to use. The interface proves to be intuitive and offers wizards for creating letters, documents, agendas, spreadsheets, presentations and several other types of content. Moving documents between StarOffice and MS Office is eased by a document analysis tool, a professional analysis wizard and a macro migration tool. Sun’s StarOffice 8 does a good job of covering the basics and includes enough features to meet the needs of all but the most advanced users. Although StarOffice is available at an attractive price, it may not meet the needs of the seasoned MS Office user; the lack of an integrated e-mail client and the limited nature of the bundle may put off some users. That said, StarOffice 8 still is an excellent alternative to Microsoft’s lower-end products, such as Microsoft Works, and may very well be the ideal suite for white-box builders to bundle on custom systems. Sun’s Star Office shows additional promise, due to the recent announcement that Sun and Google will be working together to cross develop software. The immediate benefit will be the inclusion of Google’s advance search technology into Star Office, which should help to speed up data searches and help to better organize unruly data directories. STAROFFICE ENTRPRISE 8
Price: $25; $99.95 for fiver-user version
Warranty/support: Premium support
Distributors: GE Access Distribution, MOCA
Company: Sun Microsystems
Santa Clara, Calif.
(800) 555-9786
www.staroffice.com Corel WordPerfect Office 12
In the days of DOS, WordPerfect ruled supreme and enjoyed a commanding market share. As the product changed owners—from WordPerfect Corp. to Novell to Corel—WordPerfect lost market share to Microsoft Word. The emergence of Windows as the operating system of choice put the final nail into WordPerfect’s coffin. Or did it? When Corel took ownership of WordPerfect, it revitalized the product and bundled other acquisitions (Borland’s Quattro Pro spreadsheet and a presentation program) to build an office suite. While the first iterations of Corel’s office product showed a lack of cross-program integration and inconsistent interfaces, subsequent releases improved upon those limitations. Now referred to as Corel WordPerfect Office 12, the product’s ease of use and integration capabilities are nothing less than impressive. But the question remains: Can WordPerfect Office 12 replace MS Office? The short answer is yes, but with several reservations. While the product offers a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation package, which covers the major bases of an office suite, WordPerfect Office 12 still lacks some of the integration and look-and-feel pieces found in MS Office. With that in mind, Corel has put extensive work into guiding potential users through the transition from MS Office over to WordPerfect Office. Most notable is Corel’s workspace manager, a front end that allows the various applications to mimic Microsoft’s interfaces, giving an MS Office look and feel to the Corel product by populating the interface with MS Office toolbars. While that may help to speed the transition, most MS Office users will leave this feature enabled, instead of choosing to learn the Corel native interface. This will help them get their basic tasks done, but will also “hide” many of the advanced native features found in Corel’s suite. Users can choose to forgo the workspace manager’s alternate interfaces and just go native to ease that transition; a user can create additional toolbars that mimic some of the basic functions found in MS Office. Corel also offers an innovative file-translation tool, which allows easy importing and exporting of MS Office format files. The import and export capabilities work well enough to allow users to interact across platforms. Despite the differences between Corel’s WordPerfect Office 12 and MS Office, users will find the Corel applications intuitive and easy to adapt to. Corel’s toolset allows users to completely customize the interface to work most efficiently for a given individual. In other words, users can group their interface preferences into custom toolbars and menus to improve efficiency. Furthering universal appeal is a native PDF driver, so all documents can be published to an Acrobat PDF format to create Web-portable, high-quality images. This capability is an add-on, extra-cost option for MS Office. Simply put, Corel WordPerfect Office 12 can meet MS Office feature for feature when it comes to word-processing, spreadsheet and presentation capabilities. Corel’s office suite proves to be quite robust, even though it is significantly different when used in native mode. Corel should also be commended for providing extensive documentation and tools to help ease the transition from MS Office. That said, if from the outset Corel had designed WordPerfect Office as an MS Office clone, that documentation and toolset would not be necessary. Corel’s place in the market seems to be ideal for new users and those transitioning from previous versions of office suites other than MS Office. Those finally making the leap from a DOS version of WordPerfect should find this Corel office suite offering quite satisfying. Corel WordPerfect Office 12 retails for $349, but upgraders can get it for $149. WORDPERFECT OFFICE 12, SMALL BUSINESS EDITION
Price: $149 for update; $349 for full version
Warranty/support: Unlimited online and e-mail support
Distributors: Ingram Micro, Synnex, Tech Data, D&H
Company: Corel
Ottawa, Ontario
(800) 772-6735

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