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  Linux Letter 01

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 staggering.

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 Office.

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!

Happy computing!

Drew Dunn


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