Sun Microsystems StarOffice 7, released November 12, offers significant advantages in performance, usability, and stability over rival commercial office suites, including Microsoft Office. However, when the comparison is to OpenOffice.org version 1.1, the open source project from which StarOffice takes its code, its harder to say where the advantage lies.
StarOffice 7s new features extend its usability in several directions. Its improved Microsoft Office filters, while still far from perfect, are an advance on those in StarOffice 6. Their results are certainly no worse than the formatting nightmares that occur between different installations of Microsoft Office because of the risky combination of a flaky template system and ignorant users. (No matter the office suite, to be sure of preserving formatting, send your documents in PDF or PostScript format.)
Some new features, such as export filters for Flash and Palm formats and an editor for XML export, acknowledge the rise of technologies newer than the office suite. Others, such as support for bi-directional and vertical writing, make Asian and Hebrew versions possible — a possibility that is already being realized in OpenOffice.org localizations. Support for MySQL as a data source and for Python scripting, accessibility options, expanded Help sections — all of these new features show StarOffice/OpenOffice.org developers listening to users.
These features are built on a dependable core. Although it is possible to crash StarOffice, the breaking point is higher than with most office suites. When a document exceeds 30 megabytes in Microsoft Office, a crash and, often, file corruption, is imminent. By contrast, in my experience, StarOffice remains stable to the limits of a computers virtual memory and RAM — and then rarely corrupts files. On the rare occasions when files are corrupted, the fact that the native format for documents is zipped XML files means that the content, at least, can often be retrieved.
Other performance advantages include greater connectivity between applications in the office suite — due, no doubt, to the fact that they were designed together, rather than being separate programs originally — and the ability to work with a variety of databases, including dBase, MySQL, Postgres, and even Access. However, StarOffices advantages are especially obvious in two main areas: the interface and the use of styles.
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