Review: GNOME, KDE, ThinkFree, Corel offer low- or no-cost productivity platforms.
Microsoft Corp.s Office may dominate on corporate desktops, but enterprises looking for lower-priced (or free) alternatives dont have to look too hard. Whether its open source, Web-based or a Microsoft look-alike, the four office productivity platforms eWEEK Labs reviews belowin addition to Sun Microsystems Inc.s StarOffice 8 and the OpenOffice.org Foundations OpenOffice.org 2.0 prove there are several viable alternatives for IT managers looking to loosen Microsofts grip.
GNOME Office is a loose confederation of GNOME- or GTK (GIMP Tool Kit)-based applications that together cover most office productivity tasks.
The applications that constitute GNOME Officethe AbiWord word processor, Gnumeric spreadsheet, Dia flowchart, Planner project, Inkscape vector-based drawing, GIMP pixel-based image and Mergeant database applicationssometimes come bundled together but are more frequently used and obtained separately.
GNOME Office isnt as closely tied to the GNOME desktop environment as KOffice is to KDE (K Desktop Environment), and many GNOME-based Linux distributions favor OpenOffice.org. However, the GNOME suites principal applicationsparticularly AbiWord, Gnumeric and GIMPare solid, polished office offerings that run on both Linux and Windows.
AbiWord and Gnumeric each support both the OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office file formats, as well as a variety of other formats. All the applications that constitute GNOME Office are open-source and freely available. For more information, see www.gnome.org/gnome-office
The developers behind KDE seem to be on a quest to ensure that for every sort of application in existence, theres a KDE-native and K-named option. Office productivity applications are no exception.
KOffice 1.4.2 covers the broadest range of office-related functionality of any suite weve ever tested, beginning with the typical office suite quartet of word processing (KWord), spreadsheet (KSpread), presentation (KPresenter) and database (Kexi) software but also including flowcharting (Kivio), vector drawing (Karbon14), pixel-based image manipulation (Krita), project management (KPlato), graph and chart-drawing (KChart), and report-writing (Kugar) applications.
Despite this breadth of capability, KOffice is limited in its ability to challenge Microsoft Office because it doesnt run on Windows. This may change in time, as theres work in progress to port KDE and KOffice to Windows (kdecyg win.sourceforge.net). For now, though, KOffice ships along with most Linux distributions, and it runs on any platform that supports KDE, which covers most Unix-based systems.
The KDE suite also offers broad file-format support. KOffice does a good job of opening and creating documents in Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org formats, and, starting with the next version, KOffice will switch to OpenDocument as its default file format.
KOffice 1.4.2 is open-source, and its source code (along with more information) is available at www.koffice.org
ThinkFree Office Online and ThinkFree Office 3
The recent announcement of a partnership between Sun and Google Inc. had many users excited about the prospect of a Web-based office suite, but they need only look as far as ThinkFree Corp.s ThinkFree Office Online to realize the potential of such an application.
Comprising the Write word processor, the Cal spreadsheet and the Show presentations application, the free ThinkFree Office Online uses Microsoft Office formats as its native file formats. ThinkFree Office Online is written in Java and runs in any browser, but the downside is that it can be slow. Users can store up to 30MB of documents on ThinkFree servers, accessible from any computer with Internet connectivity.
For organizations that prefer an offline productivity solution, ThinkFree also offers a downloadable version of the suite, ThinkFree Office 3, which is available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS platforms and costs $49 per user.
Users who dont need all the bells and whistles of Microsoft Office should be satisfied with ThinkFree Office 3. The suite lets users create complex documents with hyperlinks, but it lacks automated features for more advanced options, such as macros.
Users can save ThinkFree Office documents as PDFs, and OpenDocument support is expected next year.
More information is available at www.thinkfree.com
WordPerfect Office 12
Corel Corp.s WordPerfect Office 12 costs less than Microsoft Office, but it is the most expensive of the suites eWEEK Labs tested for this report. The base version costs $299, or $150 for an upgrade. Organizations that need the Paradox database will need to purchase the Professional version, which costs $349, or $199 for an upgrade.
However, the WordPerfect suite has an interface that users will find familiar. In fact, users can make their Corel WordPerfect, Quattro Pro and Presentations programs look just like, respectively, their Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint counterparts.
WordPerfect can publish documents as PDF, HTML or XML files. Corel is a member of the OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) Technical Committee on the Open Document Format, although the company declined to comment on plans to support OpenDocument in future versions of the suite.
More information is available at www.corel.com
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