Software Review - StarOffice 5.2


The StarOffice 5.2 office suite from Sun Microsystems is a multi-platform program with 200 new and enhanced features. Designed as a complete solution for office productivity needs, the software can be used as a desktop, an Internet browser, a presentation tool, a database manager, and for a number of other applications. Its single desktop environment provides a base for office productivity tools, with easy access to built-in programs such as spreadsheets, e-mail, scheduling and a word processor.

The suite runs on major operating systems and platforms, including Solaris Operating Environment, Microsoft Windows NT/95/98/2000 and Linux, and it supports a flexible development environment. For programmers and developers, StarOffice's application program interfaces are well documented and accessible from various programming languages. Sun plans to make StarOffice's source code available to the open source community.

In addition, Sun Educational Services provides a customizable program to help organizations plan and implement a transition to StarOffice software. Such services range from free Web-based training to instructor-led programs that train administrators, end users and help desk personnel. A downloadable version of the software is available free of charge, while the retail version costs $39.95.

In our use of StarOffice 5.2, we were first struck by the program's seamless interoperability with similar Microsoft Office programs. Word documents, spreadsheets and graphics could be imported and exported easily. However, Microsoft Outlook Express was not compatible with StarOffice, and when we tried to access e-mail while StarOffice was open, Outlook Express failed to function properly. Of course, StarOffice has its own integrated e-mail program, and we could still access Outlook Express when StarOffice wasn't open.

The StarOffice desktop makes a convenient starting point for a wide variety of computer tasks, with an organizational bar (the Explorer) on the side, a content preview bar (the Beamer) on the top, and an optional window for hints and tips. A function toolbar takes care of basic tasks such as bookmarking, locating, opening, saving and printing files. The Help Agent provides assistance with the interface, and an almost overwhelming array of context menus and options are available within every application. Each time a file or document is opened, a new task window appears on the desktop, with drag-and-drop capabilities that make it easy to organize projects.

Within each program is a wealth of templates, as well as an AutoPilot for easy creation of new templates. In addition, most programs' toolbars are expandable, opening up a wide variety of options for fine-tuning presentations, documents, Web pages, and spreadsheets. Most of StarOffice's functions should be intuitive to users who have a moderate familiarity with Microsoft Office. Seasoned users will be happy to find several utilities that surpass Microsoft Office's options. For example, its graphics capabilities include specialized tools such as a 3-D engine, special effects features, photo-realistic texture rendering, and vector tools for animations. The software would be a practical and affordable acquisition for administrators or teachers looking for features that both interface with and complement Microsoft Office.


-Elizabeth Amberg

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.

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