Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Office Suite Dilemma on Ubuntu vs. etc.

Let's face it, the office suite options on Ubuntu aren't as good as they should be. (I'm going to talk mostly about word processing here.) has most of the features anyone needs, but it is big -- really big -- and slow. It's leaps ahead of Star Office 5.0, OO.o's predecessor when I used it years ago, but OO.o moves forward relatively slowly and is notorious for having very little community contribution. Most of the new code comes from inside Sun. It uses the ISO standard ODF file format by default.

Gnome Office

Gnome Office has some good, fast applications, but they aren't well integrated, and it doesn't sport anything for presentations. The word processor, especially needs more features to be a competitor, but that isn't likely to happen because Abiword prides itself on being small and agile with fewer features. It's also fairly stagnant, with the last major release in 2005. That's almost dead in terms of active, free software. There's a developer release which promises good stuff like collaboration, but .... Stagnant doesn't mean that it won't do what you want, but you had better not want good interoperability with MS Word. Abiword saves in its own XML format by default and doesn't include ODF format compatibility, but there is the OpenWriter plugin for that.


KOffice is a big up-and-comer and is small and light, but it doesn't fit well into straight Ubuntu. For Kubuntu fans, though, you can expect it to fill your needs once the move to KDE4 is complete. It uses the ODF file format by default. Install the koffice package to take a look at it.


The new guy on the block is IBM's . It is a fork of so it's just about as big and slow as its brother, but it has gotten some UI upgrades like a tabbed user interface (oddly reminiscent of Start Office's combine workspace). ODF and MS Word compatibility are as good as the original.

Google Apps

Then there's . What can I say about it? "I have a love/hate relationship with Google Apps." The online collaboration is great. There's nothing to configure -- nothing to set up. Features are added every month. The wiki just came on line as Google Sites, making collaborative documentation a whole lot easier. Since I live in Korea, I have unlimited access to fast, dependable Internet service: that takes away one major headache that many people have. Though the suite's online, it's not really much slower than (meaning "both could be faster and I would be much happier").

The only drawback is that the documents in Apps are really just HTML. The editor is really just a WYSIWYG HTML editor, not much different than the one I'm typing this blog into. That means everything gets confused fairly often and I find myself doing a lot of typing in straight HTML to clean it up. There's no real placement of stuff. Let's face it, HTML has a lot of drawbacks as a document format. Because the interface is in my browser, I find I can't use CTRL-b for bold. Import and export supports a lot of formats, but the exports have been of limited quality til now. Probably the best way to use something like Google Apps is to do online collaboration and take the final draft document offline for final editing to make it look pretty. There's an OO.o plugin which makes this fairly painless.

Overall, Google Apps offers a lot of core functionality: Mail, Calendar, Chat (including group chat), Word Processor, Spreadsheet (though limited), Online Presentations (viewable in real-time over the Internet), and now collaborative wikis. If your organization needs real collaboration and has a substance-over-form kind of atmosphere, Google Apps may be a road to bliss for you. Just make sure to keep a couple of licenses for full-featured office suites to handle spreadsheets, flashy presentations, and documents which need real formatting.

Within two years, I expect Apps to make great leaps forward and fill most of its current holes. I'm betting on it as my default office suite (though I still do most of my lengthy writing in Lyx and Latex).

What's your preferred office suite on Ubuntu? Why? Did I leave anything out?



Nice roundup of all the office suite available on linux.

For the moment, OO is a good choice because it is cross platform and has more features than the other office suites.

Try LaTeX for typesetting. It has some advantages and some disadvantages too, its only a matter of choice. For spreadsheets, I feel Gnumeric is better. For drawing, OO draw is excellent. For presentation you can use Beamer or OO presenter.

Too many options is not a good thing!


Yeah, as I said toward the end there, I still use Lyx for my longer stuff. I also concentrated on word processing since it's what I use most.

OO.o has good compatability with Power Point on most stuff except the themes and embedded video, etc. I use it for my class presentations. I've tried Beamer because it make beautiful presentations, but it's a little painful to write the latex for it.

I don't do a lot with spreadsheets, though I've used both Gnumeric and Calc. They both work for my minimal needs.

I'm still pretty jazzed up about the group presentation across the Internet. If they add voice into that, you're talking about something really cool -- almost a replacement for curriculum delivery.

paul21 said...

Gnome Office is not an office suite, they are only single apps thats try to live together, can't be an option for Ubuntu.

Google apps are great but since they are web-based and closed-source apps can't be an option either.

Symphony is way to slow, even more than oo.

So I would say the fight is between OpenOffice and Koffice2 (a great office suite), but since OpenOffice 3 is coming up and it is not QT dependent (Ubuntu uses Gnome as default desktop) I would say that we have a clear winner for now.

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