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StarOffice 5.0

by Jocelyn Doire

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 use! 

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 learning easier. 

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 drives. 

Major applications

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 version]. 

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." 

Internet ready

The web browser is complete; it provides support for all the expected features, including frames and JavaScript. Similarly, the news and mail clients are very 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 subscribe. 

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

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