Sun Star Office Suite 6.0

The StarOffice integrated suite has been quietly growing in popularity since Sun Microsystems bought Star Division, its original German authors, a few years back. The latest version, StarOffice 6, is now one of the best software bargains in the western world. The single CD in the StarOffice box installs on Windows, Solaris, and Unix/Linux. Also […]

The StarOffice integrated suite has been quietly growing in popularity since Sun Microsystems bought Star Division, its original German authors, a few years back. The latest version, StarOffice 6, is now one of the best software bargains in the western world. The single CD in the StarOffice box installs on Windows, Solaris, and Unix/Linux. Also in there is a good, fat manual, which goes a long way toward explaining StarOffice functions. Each StarOffice 6 program launches in a standalone window; gone is the StarOffice Desktop, a separate, Works-like interface on which earlier versions used to run. The word processor in StarOffice, Writer, looks much like its main rivals, Word, WordPerfect, and Word Pro. It supports most of the same heavyweight functions, too, such as outlining, frames, columns, and tables. Table functions include merge, split, and distribution, and cells can be made to expand as you type or stay fixed. Writer’s tools include a spell checker, thesaurus, and auto correction of common typing errors. Longer document functions are also supported, with footnotes and endnotes, cross-referencing, indexing, and table of contents. Writer defaults to a print-layout view of the page, so you can see all elements as you create them, which provides a lot of scope for desktop publishing and even Web page design. All StarOffice programs now use XML as their default file format, so most documents will display directly in Web browsers. Sun realizes it must maintain compatibility with Microsoft, though, and Writer, like the other modules, opens documents from its Office equivalents. Writer is fully graphical and includes image import and integrated graphics and charting. One of the key ways of adding images to your Writer documents is from the Gallery, a suite-wide clipboard that comes with masses of clip art. You can drag and drop any item from the gallery to a Writer page and, just as easily, drag items from your page to store in the Gallery for use in other documents or modules. The StarOffice spreadsheet, Calc, is a capable program, though not quite on par with Excel, 1-2-3, or Quattro Pro. As you would expect, you can enter numbers, text, and formulas into the cells and set up relationships between them to conduct all kinds of calculations. Calc supports over 350 different functions, including esoteric ones like number base conversion and complex numbers. The program follows the industry conventions for entering and manipulating numbers, which makes it very easy to use. The charting feature is well-engineered, with a selection of color schemes that can be applied with minimum effort. A basic chart can be constructed with just a couple of mouse clicks, once you’ve selected your target cells. Of all the graphics programs in the major integrated suites, StarOffice Draw is far and away the most impressive. As well as being a useful addition to other programs, it can be opened as a separate application in its own right. The core tools for drawing lines, rectangles, and ellipses are there as you’d expect, but more unusual are those for bezier curves, polygons, connectors, arrows, and 3-D objects. Draw is just as capable with photo images as it is at constructing drawings. Import an image and you can adjust its brightness, transparency, and gamma level, as well as apply a range of different filters. While not as comprehensive as a dedicated graphics package, it’s exceptionally well-equipped for part of an integrated suite. Draw’s functions are also available in StarOffice Impress, the presentation graphics program. Although this means you can easily incorporate graphic elements into your slides, the program itself is comparatively basic. You’re offered the key slide, outline, notes, and handout views for putting together an electronic slide show, but the lackluster designs and lack of coordinated color schemes mean eye-catching presentations are harder to achieve. The database section of StarOffice 6, Adabas, differs from the other programs in that it is integrated into several programs and is not a standalone application. Pick Tools or Data Sources in Writer or Calc and you can import a data file, such as an address list, into the database program and access it from the other applications. This is ideal for mail shots and makes viewing and manipulating addresses very easy. With different data, this program can be used for many other lists of information. Overall, StarOffice 6 is a versatile, well-equipped, integrated suite, a rival for the other main players but at an exceptionally attractive price. –Simon Williams.

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