Welcome to the inaugural issue of The Linux
Letter. This is a column designed for people who are considering
Linux as their every-day operating system, but aren't computer
experts. If you've been using Windows for a while and you wished
that there was something better, cheaper or maybe just
different, but you didn't know where to turn, this column is for
you. I'll discuss topics that novice Linux users may find
interesting and answer your questions. So let's get started!
You're indecisive...you'd like to use Linux
as your main operating system, but you also realize that you are
dependent on certain things that only appear to be supported by
Windows. Or are you?
There seem to be three main areas that
everyday people like you and me use our computers for. The first
is broadly called document processing. Things like writing
letters, making flyers, maybe tracking the family budget fit
into this category. You probably use a program like Microsoft
Works or perhaps Office 95 or 97, along with Quicken or Money to
take care of these tasks.
The second area is games. From Putt Putt to
Quake, the array of games that you run under Windows seems
Finally, area number three is the Internet.
Email, web browsing and chatting are probably handled on your
computer with some combination of Netscape Communicator and
Microsoft Internet Explorer, with a dose of America Online
thrown in for good measure.
This week, let's look at the first
category, document processing. Until last year, the best reason
to not use Linux was the dearth of document processing
applications. After all, Microsoft holds the lion's share of the
market with its Office suite and they certainly don't seem
poised to release a Linux version. But they may not have to for
you to do your work. A small company in Germany called Star
Division has released an Office 97-compatible suite that
includes word processing, spreadsheets, presentation graphics,
web editing and email. StarOffice 5.1 even provides a very
familiar Office 97-like interface.
Even better, the software really works. I
gave it a test drive on my relatively under powered Pentium 166
computer. Loading time was a little slow, but once the program
started up, it responded very nicely, almost in the same way
that I would have expected from a much faster system. As a test,
I imported and exported several different file formats,
including Office 95, 97 and Word 6.0. Every document appeared
perfectly on the screen, both in StarOffice and in Microsoft
The software includes a list of features
that matches competitive offerings from Microsoft, but it has
one significant advantage: Star Division offers StarOffice free
of charge for non-commercial and student use. Even if that
doesn't fit your needs, the commercial versions of the software
are priced much less than any other competitive package.
Do I sound enthusiastic about StarOffice?
Absolutely. Do I use it? Yes, every day, at home and at work.
And I recommend that you use it, too. The software is
downloadable from the Star Division homepage at http://www.stardivision.com,
however you'll probably find yourself howling in frustration
because of the enormous size of the file. You can order a CD
from Star Division that includes a manual and some extra
features not found on the download. More information is
available on the web site. StarOffice also ships with the newest
version of Caldera OpenLinux.
I tested and use StarOffice on RedHat Linux
6.0. It requires X, works reasonably well on a Pentium 166 and
48MB of RAM. It performed very well with 96MB of RAM on the same
machine. On a Pentium II 450 with 256MB of RAM, the program was
noticeably faster than its Microsoft cousin.
StarOffice 5.1 is also available for
Windows, OS/2, Solaris and Java.
Next week, we'll take on the action packed
world of games on Linux! Remember, if you have questions, send
them to me at LinuxLetter@nospin.org.
Look for answers in future columns!