So how well do export filters work? How much is lost and translation? Are there Microsoft files and Microsoft “compatible” files? We conducted a little experiment to find out.
We imported a test file — produced by Microsoft Word and containing a variety of text formats, fonts and column formats — into each competitors’ application. The file was converted to native format and then reconverted to “Microsoft format”. We then evaluated how well each application does at reading such files.
proved the most reliable and Corel was the worst. DOC files produced by
are uniformly mangled upon export. It also refused to read files similarly produced by
(it tried to read the file from Lotus Word Pro, but locked up during conversion). Evermore refused to read the export from Lotus.
Apart from formatting troubles associated with Corel WordPerfect and Evermore, StarOffice could read all other MS Word files and its own version was read by all other entrants.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that data produced in native format may be less reliable during conversion than in original Microsoft files. This seems to be the case with
— in particular I have had formatting difficulties with spreadsheet and text files converted to Microsoft format and then opened using Lotus SmartSuite. There seems to be is no guaranteed reliable method of exporting from one package to another without losing at least some of the formatting.
All of this suggests that probably nobody is interpreting the XML standards correctly, whether they are the international XML standards or Microsoft’s XML standards. I am not certain whether that is by accident or design. It is also a concern that conversion of large data files can take large amounts of time — such that you may be concerned that the program has crashed. And that might also be true!
A second file was produced using Microsoft Word and opened in each word processor. Evermore made a hash of it, but at least it opened the file which is more than can be said for Corel’s WordPerfect. SmartSuite, OpenOffice and StarOffice got most of the formatting correct.
Training and support
If you are considering a software change, it is always important to note that your staff might need to be re-trained to use the new product.
Most of the applications reviewed have menu and toolbar layouts quite similar to MS Office; the most dissimilar is
, which doesn’t show much desire to bend to Microsoft’s will. By default, font controls lie at the bottom of the screen in Lotus Word Pro, where they can be easily missed by those of us more familiar with its competitors. Fortunately the tool bar can be moved to the top if you prefer.
This is the new kid on the block — hailing from China. On opening the application you might wonder whether you have opened
by mistake. Apart from a different logo and a recycled Microsoft “binder” on the left-hand side, it’s not easy to tell the difference at first glance. The icons on the toolbars are all very nice Microsoft replicas.
Toolbars for word-processing, spreadsheets, and presentations all appear at once, with the outline of those buttons not relevant to the current document appearing in grey.
All document types are naturally saved together in a large binder file format — keeping an entire project together in one file. A feature Microsoft abandoned. Files can be saved to Microsoft formats. Evermore includes a large selection of scientific-symbol auto-shapes and mathematical formula templates, and also a thesaurus.
Although similar to Microsoft Office superficially, it will still take some getting used to by Office users. It has its quirks, as all software does!
On a negative note, the program was inclined to fall over and refuse to start again until I rebooted the computer. Unfortunately, more than one column format cannot be supported on a single page. Being a new product we must make allowances, but it may well be better to wait before taking Wuxi-Evermore on board.
Evermore can be run under Windows or Linux, with more platforms in development. Three language versions, English, Chinese, and Japanese are available (a German version is now in development). Time will tell how well this new product competes with the market.
Lotus SmartSuite continues to do its own thing with little concern for the rest of the industry. SmartSuite does not try to appear like the opposition and seems to be making little effort to even promote the product. I found the Web site, for example, particularly uninformative. One link offering more product details resulted in a message explaining that access was restricted to the requested page!
On the other hand it does have a good range of features, including database and organiser features. It doesn’t include an e-mail client, but this is easily added and integrated with the organiser. Access to programs and files is via a toolbar at the top of the screen. Buttons also appear in the Windows system tray, but this can result in a lot of clutter.
The software is of average size, but it is only supported by the Windows operating system. It is able to export to
formats. Twelve language localisations are available. In many ways SmartSuite deserves to score better than it does in this review, but universal usability and compatibility is everything in today’s market: SmartSuite is only supported by Microsoft Windows and it is simply too different to the competition.
With over 90 percent market share (in monetary terms), comparisons are always going to be made with MS Office. With its impressive array of tools and huge market share, MS Office is the natural benchmark application. Thus, it is also essential for competitors to be able to deal with MS files — and they do with more or less success. As long as this situation remains, Microsoft sees little reason to support filters for export to other brands, but there is a limited capacity to export to some
Microsoft Office is also the most expensive at AU$899 for the professional version. But it is not all that more expensive than
or Corel when the extra features are considered. Microsoft includes Outlook (organiser and e-mail client) in the package, which makes it almost unique in terms of package breadth of use. Lotus is closest in this regard.
These two packages can be easily discussed together. In some ways it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that OpenOffice is to StarOffice as MS Office (Educational) is to
(Professional). OpenOffice has no free incident support and no built-in database. It comes with a slightly limited version of Software AG’s database, Adabas. What’s more, basic database functions can be applied to data in spreadsheets.
OpenOffice.org is a somewhat experimental application (note that v.1.1.4 is the latest stable version of OpenOffice) and has certain features not present in StarOffice — such as more languages/localisations (45 languages, compared with 35 for MS Office and 11 for StarOffice). T he inclusion of a fairly powerful drawing application makes these products very worthy of consideration — as does the low price.
Overall these two products have a richness and depth of features which make them quite comparable with their costly competitors — the main failing here is the lack of long-term, individual customer support via e-mail or phone.
User files are compressed, and thus may be a third of the size of their Microsoft equivalents (depending on document size and content), but this does result in slight delays with loading and saving. Files can be readily converted to Microsoft formats with high compatibility between products. Both products operate under Windows, Solaris and Linux; only OpenOffice supports Mac OS X at this stage. Both products are frugal with regard to RAM usage.
Besides the usual word processing and spreadsheeting, the professional version includes the database application, Paradox. The spelling and grammar checkers are backed by a thesaurus and the Compact Oxford dictionary. E-mail support is an added extra which has the potential to raise the price to Microsoft levels. Hopefully, large-scale communications with support centres won’t be necessary. The software should be familiar to most office software users, and it comes with a very clear and concise manual.
WordPerfect Office has various modes of operation; it can be used in standard mode or Microsoft mode — there is even a Lotus 1-2-3 mode for the spreadsheet. A pleasing application was spoiled somewhat by it’s refusal to open a MS Word file with complex formatting — WordPerfect simply locked up.
In each case the arrangement of tools and default file formats are matched to the relevant application. Thus, files can be exported to both
formats. Font substitution is achieved according to similar font names. While WordPerfect is currently available for Windows only, a Linux version is apparently being trialled. Versions are available in five localisations.
|Product||Evermore Integrated Office 2004||Lotus SmartSuite 9.8.1||Microsoft Office 2003 Professional||OpenOffice 1.1.4||StarOffice 7||WordPerfect Office 12|
|Price||$530||$476||$899||Free||$142.52||$569 ($767 with database)|
|Warranty||5 year support and updates||12 months support and upgrades||5 year “LifeCycle” support and updates||Online forums, free tutorial info. etc.||Online forums + 60 day phone/e-mail support||Forums, paid e-mail support available, patches available online|
|Drawing editor||Autoshapes||Autoshapes: presentations||Autoshapes||Yes||Yes||Autoshapes|
|HTML editor||Export to||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Export to|
|Organiser/E-mail||No||Organiser integrates with existing e-mail client||Yes||No||No||No|
|Export to||PDF, HTML, MS Office||HTML, MS Office, Corel||HTML, XML, Corel||PDF, HTML, Flash, XML, StarOffice. MS Office||PDF, HTML, Flash, XML, OpenOffice. MS Office||PDF, HTML, XML, MS Office, Lotus|
|Operating system||Windows 98 & Linux/RedHat 8 (Mac OSX & Solaris to come)||Windows 95 & up||Windows 2000 (Office:Mac 2004 available)||Windows 98, Solaris, Linux, MacOSX, FreeBSB||Windows 98, Solaris OE, Linux||Windows 98 (Linux version being trialled)|
|RAM (min/recom)||128MB/ 256MB||64MB (128MB for XP)||128MB||64MB (128MB for Mac)||55MB||64MB/128MB|
|Drive space||350MB||293MB||410MB+||300MB (512 for Mac)||250MB||197MB|
In the end,
wins the match by brute force rather than finesse. This, it seems, is a recipe for short-term success. The huge Microsoft market share effectively forces competitors to aim for MS compatibility.
Office would rank a close second in my mind if not for its failure during several conversion incidents. The OpenOffice/StarOffice twins are similarly deserving of mention — particularly when you consider the price advantages. These products all have very promising futures.
has already been taken on board as the application of choice by many Indian companies (including banks) as well as government departments and military organisations. WordPerfect continues to have a devoted following amongst many members of the legal profession — a community advantage which Corel actively fosters.
OpenOffice and StarOffice are beginning to be used wholesale by governments, in Europe, Asia and even Israel and the USA. Microsoft remains king for the moment, but how long will it last?
Sample scenarioApproximate budget: Open.Requires: Office software for general word-processing and office administration, spreadsheets are essential and it should include presentation software and have the option of database capabilities.Concerns: Reliability and compatibility with other offices which may be using different software. Price is worth considering, but the bottom line is getting the job done with the minimum of hassle.
Microsoft Word continues to prove the most powerful collection of office tools on the market. In some ways it isn’t far ahead of its competitors, but does have a certain edge.
is the only product to come with a fully integrated organiser and e-mail client. People assume that others will have software capable of reading Microsoft files. I would have liked to have seen a proper dictionary included — as
has also, an integrated drawing program that goes beyond simple “autoshapes” would be handy.
‘s product proved quite reliable in file conversions to and from MS formats and are packed with features worthy of more expensive competitors. I would recommend these very highly to those on a budget. (Did I mention that I use OpenOffice all the time?)
RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs’ testing for T&B, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products and the magazine is responsible for the full cost of the testing. The findings are the Labs’ own — only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager,
This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine. Click here for subscription information.
- The best Microsoft Office deals for March 2020
- Samsung Galaxy S20 Exynos review, one month later: This is as good as it gets
- Work from home: Build a super-functional home office for $1,000
- AVADirect Avant P750DM2-G review
- Razer Mamba (2015) review
- These office-ready Apple, HP, Lenovo laptops are on sale starting at only $180
Review: Six office suites have 2259 words, post on www.zdnet.com at March 30, 2005. This is cached page on Talk Vietnam. If you want remove this page, please contact us.