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Standards, Methodology, Test System Specs, And Legend

Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup: Office Applications
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Standards

What follows is a collection of easy-to-install applications intended for those making, or even thinking about making the switch from Windows to Linux. This essentially means that these applications must fall in line with the realistic expectations of an average end-user in either a home or office desktop environment. The three main criteria for these apps are: usability, quality, and popularity.

As usual, I've opened up the test bed to include the top three distros: Ubuntu, openSUSE, and Fedora. For an app to even appear in this article, it has to be available in one of the top three Linux distros' official software repositories (repos), or as .deb or .rpm files from the software vendor's official Web site. If you need a refresher, please reference Desktop Linux for the Windows Power User for an explanation of package management.

Apps that had too many bugs, crashes, or fails were left out. The quality of an app is determined by comparing its feature set to the industry-leading title in that category (whenever one exists). In the event that there are no clear industry-leading apps to compare against, don't worry. Anything that looks like it came out of a Win9x time capsule doesn't pass. Since Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is in a constant state of bug-reporting and fixing, the most popular apps will have the most complete sampling of users, in turn producing an even better title. Also, because support is mainly handled by the community of users, popular software naturally has more documentation and fewer compatibility issues. Therefore, popularity greatly influences the order in which equally-usable apps of comparable quality are listed. This includes extra weight given to multi-platform applications. For a more comprehensive explanation of the standards applied, please reference the Standards and Methodology page from Internet Apps.

Exclusion #1: Web Apps & Online Services.

Almost every article showcasing Web apps and online services is applicable to Linux as well as Windows, even if not specifically stated.

Exclusion #2: Windows Apps

Though I include a page on virtualization and emulation, it is to showcase the actual virtualization/emulation software. I do not delve into the details of getting any specific Windows app running in Linux. For a guide on setting up VirtualBox (a popular VM application) in Ubuntu, see How To: Windows XP Mode In... Ubuntu Linux?

Exclusion #3: Preferences

User preferences like the alluring 3D desktop effects, screen savers, and panels/launchers are not covered in this series. There is an upcoming how-to piece for the different preference options.

Exclusion #4: Games

Native casual games, free games, indie games, retail games as well as virtualized platforms and emulation will be covered in a future rundown of Linux gaming.

Exclusion #5: Servers

This is a follow-up to the first article and therefore concentrates on Linux as being an alternative OS for consumers. Nothing server-side, only client-side.

Methodology

This article is the third of five (or so) in Tom's Definitive Linux Software Roundup, and my production machine has undergone a few upgrades since the series began. The new hardware configuration is in the table below. However, the software has changed as well. I started out with Ubuntu 9.04, but switched to Kubuntu 9.10 over the holidays. Therefore, some of the versions may have been from Jaunty and not the newer Karmic repos. Also, some screenshots are GNOME and others KDE.

Test System specs:

Host OS 1

Ubuntu 9.04 Jaunty Jackalope (64-bit)

Host OS 2

Kubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala (64-bit)

CPU

AMD Athlon 64 X2 3800+ @ 2.0 GHz (dual core)

Motherboard

Biostar NF61S-M2 TE

Memory

4GB DDR2 @ 800MHz (2 x 2GB)

Graphics

EVGA GeForce GTX 260 (896MB GDDR3)

Storage

Western Digital WD2500KS 250GB SATA 3 Gb/s, 7,200 RPM, 16MB Cache

Optical

Asus DVD-RW 1814-BLT-BULK-BG

Power Supply

Corsair TX750W (750W max)


In order to determine Ubuntu compatibility, I used a fresh and updated virtual machine (VM) installation of Ubuntu 9.10 (32-bit), with the default GNOME graphical user interface (GUI). To check openSUSE and Fedora compatibility I used openSUSE 11.2 (32-bit) with the KDE GUI, and Fedora 12 (32-bit) with GNOME.

Virtual Machine specs:

Version

Oracle VirtualBox 3.0 OSE

Guest OS 1

Ubuntu 9.10 Karmic Koala (32-bit)

Guest OS 2

openSUSE 11.2 (32-bit)

Guest OS 3

Fedora 12 Unite (32-bit)

CPU

2 CPUs - AMD-V and Nested Paging enabled

Base Memory

2,048MB

Video Memory

128MB - 3D Acceleration enabled

Storage

10GB - Dynamically Expanding

Audio

ALSA Audio Driver


In order to test drive the feature sets of these applications (and to determine 64-bit friendliness), I fell back on my host OS, a native (non-VM) and fully-updated installation of 64-bit Kubuntu 9.10. When an application was not available for the 64-bit architecture, I used the 32-bit VM installation of Ubuntu. The version number that I evaluated appears in parenthesis next to each application's name. This may not necessarily be the latest version or the same version available via your distribution's software repository.

Legend:


   An application's logo links to its home page (for example, Firefox = mozilla.com/firefox).

indicates availability in the default Ubuntu repos (via Synaptic).

indicates availability in the Ubuntu repos if KDE is installed (still runs in GNOME).

indicates availability in the default openSUSE repos (via YaST2).

indicates availability in the default Fedora repos (via YUM).

links to an available .deb package download.

links to an available .rpm package download.

indicates that the app has no official 64-bit binary (though source/shell may work).

links to an available Windows download.

links to an available Mac download.

indicates that the application is a retail product.

Note: The icons used in this article were borrowed from the hydroxygen icon set by deviantdark and hosted on GNOME-look.org along with a host of other high quality theming elements.

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  • -5 Hide
    ksa-_-jed , April 29, 2010 6:38 AM
    And don't bother looking for any anti-virus becuase you don't need it or cracks for your software becuase almost all app are free !!!!!!!
  • 5 Hide
    DjEaZy , April 29, 2010 6:53 AM
    ... for my laptop @ work the only licensed thing are win7hp and KAV... all other apps are free... infrerecorder, inkskape, OOo and so on...
  • 0 Hide
    bloody llama , April 29, 2010 7:34 AM
    Open Office and the other open source software are great for what they are, but try replacing Access 2007 or 2010 with something open source, and you'll be tearing your hair out.
  • 1 Hide
    jsowoc , April 29, 2010 7:36 AM
    I assume that OO 3.0.1 is what you have in the repositories - was that the reason for testing the older version (version 3.2 came out two months ago)?
  • 1 Hide
    JonathanDeane , April 29, 2010 7:38 AM
    bloody llamaOpen Office and the other open source software are great for what they are, but try replacing Access 2007 or 2010 with something open source, and you'll be tearing your hair out.


    This is very true, I love Open Office and for my home use it does 100% of what I would use MS Office for, that being said if I had to run a business on it I am afraid it would be worth it to pony up the dough for an MS product.
  • -3 Hide
    ejmarkow , April 29, 2010 7:54 AM
    Tom's Hardware omitted the best performing, most comprehensive, free and Open Source Accounting ERP software available for download. It's called "xTuple ERP PostBooks Edition" and utilizes PostgreSQL. This software is capable of running anything from a small to large business. Link: http://www.xtuple.org
  • -3 Hide
    killerclick , April 29, 2010 8:08 AM
    We installed Linux and OOo into one of our offices (sort of an experiment to cut costs) and it was a riot. Not that Linux and OOo are bad, it's just that the power of habit is too strong to break when Windows and Linux are concerned. Windows and OS/X... not so much apparently.
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , April 29, 2010 10:09 AM
    Open Source is the future. ...... companies that profit millions or billions off of proprietary software. They are what hold us back.
  • 2 Hide
    randomizer , April 29, 2010 10:29 AM
    killerclickWindows and OS/X... not so much apparently.

    Well it's not like Office on Windows and Mac are vastly different, I'd hope that users would feel comfortable using the exact same software...

    I must attest to the uselessness of OOo Calc though. It needs a ground-up rewrite. It's slow to load and process even a small to moderately sized amount of data and charts are slow to redraw when altered. I have not tested GNUMeric enough to comment on that but it's supposedly alot faster.

    I'm interested in looking at those project management programs. There's also OpenProj to add to the list.
  • 0 Hide
    haplo602 , April 29, 2010 12:23 PM
    hmm ... not my area of software, I try to avoid office apps as much as I can, but last time I worked in Writer/Calc it was slow and unresponsive. The best thing in Writer was the TeX like equation editor, way better than what MS had to offer. I think they made some progress on OOo since that time, so I'd have to test.
  • 3 Hide
    Tjik , April 29, 2010 12:24 PM
    Adding Inkscape to the productivity set and you've got a really strong offer.

    A note about Scribus: I don't how rich set of PDF tools MS Publisher has, but with Scribus you're able to create active PDF elements, optional JavaScript control of these elements, without having to buy Adobe editing software. In contrast to Adobe's software (I think this still applies) you can create whatever you want from a clean sheet. It looks simpler but when you start to dig deeper there are tons of options and possibilities.

    When it comes to productivity it's hard to beat LaTeX. Word processors are clumsy beasts, not automatically producing good documents. Linux is a better platform for LaTeX.
  • 4 Hide
    mitch074 , April 29, 2010 1:09 PM
    Scribus almost as good as MS Publisher? What are you smoking?!

    OK, to be fair, quality-wise there are three products at the top: Quark Xpress, MS Publisher and Scribus. However...
    - MS Publisher sucks when you send the file to a print shop: they don't like it. They scoff at it. It sucks for professional jobs. I cite my print agent here.
    - the Postscript and colour management code in MS Publisher is so far from the two others that, if you want reliable results, ... you simply won't use it. Scribus allows you to manually set the colour space of each and every element on your document, which is a MUST for professional printing, and has so many PDF export options (including a debugger, a MUST to ensure no transparency elements remain on the document and that all glyphs in custom fonts are exported with it).

    Scribus is bare when you open it: that's NORMAL. You want to see the documents, not the template collections MS Publisher feeds you.

    Next, Koffice and its document explorer: that's what Navigator in OOo is for. It used to be open by default in OOo, but MS Word users got so distracted by it they asked OOo to have it closed by default in version 2.0. Koffice didn't get the message.

    Font rendering in OOo: A complete rewrite happened between versions 2.4 and 3.1. 3.0 had most of the code in place, but it was deactivated. Versions 3.1.1 and 3.2 have nicely hinted, antialiased output.

    Database front-ends: OOo base has one very nice feature, in that it can draw interfaces on top of external databases. While Access allows you to create all-in-one files (forms and data in the same package), Base allows you to create forms that are actually Writer documents hitting on, say, a MySQL DB.

    Spreadsheet: Calc is the part that got the most work in version 3.2. You may actually forget about older versions, OOo Calc 3.2 is a different app altogether.

    Grisbi has one nice thing going for it: it's developed in cooperation with the French Ministry of Finance (through APRIL). GNU Cash is more US-based. If you're not French, Grisbi has no advantage over GNU Cash. If you are, though, Grisbi is damn cool.
  • 0 Hide
    adamovera , April 29, 2010 1:45 PM
    randomizerWell it's not like Office on Windows and Mac are vastly different, I'd hope that users would feel comfortable using the exact same software...I must attest to the uselessness of OOo Calc though. It needs a ground-up rewrite. It's slow to load and process even a small to moderately sized amount of data and charts are slow to redraw when altered. I have not tested GNUMeric enough to comment on that but it's supposedly alot faster.I'm interested in looking at those project management programs. There's also OpenProj to add to the list.

    Doh! Good catch, yeah it looks like OpenProj should have been here. This story has been in the system so long I forgot to give you a heads up that it came out today. Next time I'll be sure to link you to the preview before it hits.
  • 0 Hide
    adamovera , April 29, 2010 1:47 PM
    jsowocI assume that OO 3.0.1 is what you have in the repositories - was that the reason for testing the older version (version 3.2 came out two months ago)?

    The office suites and the word procs, spreadsheets, and presentation apps were done first - like several months ago before Communications Apps published - Ubuntu 9.04 repos. Good news is that the links are to the latest stable versions, so ya'll might not have the issues I did with the older versions.
  • -1 Hide
    Bolbi , April 29, 2010 1:48 PM
    "But what value has MS Office really added in the past decade?"
    As opposed to OpenOffice.org (which I really HAVE used extensively), MS Office loads much quicker. But the main plus that OpenOffice.org just can't overcome is the huge MS collection of clipart, photos, etc. I tried importing OpenClipart into OpenOffice, but there's no way to search it, and so you have to scroll through thousands of images to find the one you're looking for. Not fun. Creating cards with Word? Developing a website with Expression Web? I need that clipart!
  • -1 Hide
    randomizer , April 29, 2010 1:50 PM
    mitch074Spreadsheet: Calc is the part that got the most work in version 3.2. You may actually forget about older versions, OOo Calc 3.2 is a different app altogether.

    And it's still horribly slow. For production environments you'd spend more time waiting for it to redraw a chart than you would actually getting work done. I have little or no problem with other OOo components (bar subjective preferences) but Calc just isn't up to par performance-wise. The addition of antialiasing was a much-needed feature so it's good that they added that. Charts (particularly line graphs) without AA are hideous to say the least.

    adamoveraDoh! Good catch, yeah it looks like OpenProj should have been here. This story has been in the system so long I forgot to give you a heads up that it came out today. Next time I'll be sure to link you to the preview before it hits.

    Haha, no problem. I'll just bug you more often to see if there's anything in the pipe :D 
  • -1 Hide
    mayne92 , April 29, 2010 1:50 PM
    I love Linux articles! However, besides that...nice article Adam and the references to the others. I will have to read them later :D 
  • 0 Hide
    adamovera , April 29, 2010 2:02 PM
    TjikAdding Inkscape to the productivity set and you've got a really strong offer.A note about Scribus: I don't how rich set of PDF tools MS Publisher has, but with Scribus you're able to create active PDF elements, optional JavaScript control of these elements, without having to buy Adobe editing software. In contrast to Adobe's software (I think this still applies) you can create whatever you want from a clean sheet. It looks simpler but when you start to dig deeper there are tons of options and possibilities.When it comes to productivity it's hard to beat LaTeX. Word processors are clumsy beasts, not automatically producing good documents. Linux is a better platform for LaTeX.

    Inkscape is in the next segment - Multimedia Apps (Video/Audio/Images). I'm sure if I used Scribus more that I would find more positives to it, but ease-of-use is a big issue for people coming from the MS sandbox, and the thing about publisher was "Oh snap, it's who's birthday today?!?" and within five minutes you've made a card. But hey, Scribus is the only game in town and not bad at all considering the price tag, especially since Publisher is now $170 (considerably more than it was when I used it - like double!).
  • 0 Hide
    Miharu , April 29, 2010 2:47 PM
    For normal user, perhaps OpenOffice is a good alternative.
    But I feel MS Office product have more stuff and you really appreciate it when you know how to use it.

    I have tried OpenOffice since everyone said is a good alternative.
    After few tests, I perfer paid for something good than a open source.
    -Things like Access turn very badly. (weird format understand by OpenOffice only. You can't do multi-platform db.)
    -MS Doc have some notable differency. Just open the same .doc in MS Office and OpenOffice, you'll find many differency. This could be really trouble some when you want the same thing everywhere.

    But my point is just on "most valuable MS Office Product" (Word, Excel and Access). You can use alternative like OpenOffice for others products.
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , April 29, 2010 3:00 PM
    MiharuJust open the same .doc in MS Office and OpenOffice, you'll find many differency.

    Unfortunately that's because the developers have to reverse engineer the format due to its proprietary nature. If something like OpenDocument Format was used there would be no such cross-compatibility issues because the standard is there to read by anyone, including Microsoft. But so far MS have refused to implement OpenDocument properly.
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