Introducing a new office suite to the
market could be considered heresy given the dominance of
the Microsoft Office suite. StarDivision, a German
company and long-time producer of OS/2 software, has
recently released version 5.0 of its office suite,
StarOffice. StarDivision goes beyond its OS/2 roots with
this release and has simultaneously released versions for
OS/2, Linux, Windows 95/98/NT, Java and Macintosh. Why
would anybody be interested in yet another office suite?
Well, one possible reason is that StarDivision has
released StarOffice 5.0 completely free for non-commercial
What you get
Now free software is nothing new on the Internet but
I'm not aware of anything that includes so much in a
single package - free or not. It includes everything most
users will need to create documents, spreadsheets,
databases, presentations, graphics, and more. Add to the
package an Internet program group that includes a
browser, e-mail client, news reader, http editor, and
more. Then add a scheduler, a task manager, programming
language, macros, equation editor - the list continues.
This large collection of modules is made possible by
re- using extensively the components of the suite: making
the integration between the modules very thorough. For
example, in the same document you can include: text, web
links, graphics and tables. Edit any one by simply
clicking on it. Having a single engine helps to create a
similar look and feel throughout the programs, making the
The user interface
The interface is extremely configurable: for example,
all the menus, keyboard, toolbars, events and colour
schemes can be configured. You can even change the
overall look and feel to mimic, for example, OS/2, X
Windows or Macintosh.
When the program starts, after suggesting user
registration (free and can be done online), you get a
desktop similar to Windows 95. At the bottom left you
have the "start" button which launches most of
the modules. The desktop has objects to create new
documents or graphics, to start the mail client or the
web browser and to perform other tasks. Also present are
multiple tool bars that update as the modules change. The
"explorer" can also be opened to show a multi-
level list of samples, galleries, an address book and
The word processor, the database and the spreadsheet
are very similar to Microsoft Office products; learning
is easier for those familiar with MS Office. I have found
all the major applications to be very complete and to
work well. The suite includes numerous filters making the
transfer between StarOffice and software from the other
companies painless: the surprising missing filter is for
WordPerfect. AutoCorrect will check spelling as text is
entered; it also corrects errors such as "themself"
instead of "themselves". AutoFormat is also
available to capitalize the first word in a sentence or
replace 1/2 with 1/2 [editor's note: one character
The drawing module is vector based like CorelDraw. I
was not able to do everything I wanted - such as a
dimensioned line - but it could be my lack of experience.
Some neat features I found were the 3D tools and the
textures that you can apply to objects. Based on the
little I did, it felt quite powerful.
Also included is a pixel editor (like Corel's
PhotoPaint or Adobe's Photoshop) with many tools and
effects like "charcoal" or "relief."
The web browser is complete; it provides support for
all the expected features, including frames and
complete. I had trouble finding the "outbox,"
that is needed to start the mail client for the first
time (right-click inside the "explorer" window
- on the left, select new, then "outbox.")
Here, the help was useless: just saying that I needed to
"create an outbox." To select a newsgroup:
choose new from the right-mouse menu, then news, then
There are many more modules, but to cover each one
properly I would need a lot more space than this article
allows. Instead, new users should explore for themselves.
I was pleasantly surprised: almost everything worked as
advertised; the only "bugs" I found were minor:
for example, the use of a French word (annulé) instead
of the English one (cancel) during the installation, and
a video problem while editing a bit map image.
The package provides help in many ways. For example,
moving the cursor over a button could: pop-up a short
description, enable a context-sensitive floating help
window or search the content (either in the index or in
the full text) of all the help modules. The help text is
clear and uses links for extra details; however, the
latter were cursory in many areas. To obtain a users'
manual you must purchase the commercial edition but it
costs $169 US.
With such a large number of features, I have only
explored a portion but, overall, I'm quite impressed with
this software. Given the current offer to download it
free, it could gather momentum: the most serious
impediment for many would be the file size of 60-70 MB (platform
dependent). To get more information or download it, go to:
Originally published: November, 1999