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    features archive
    GNOME Office GNOME Office, how far along are we?

    by John Gowin, Editor-in-chief, Linux Orbit

    Like many (or few, depending on who you ask) I believe that Linux can compete in the desktop computing marketplace. To see how far the Linux community has come in this space over the past 12 months is truly remarkable. As both GNOME and KDE move toward their version 2 releases, the importance of an office-like suite of applications can't be over emphasized.

    For good or ill, Microsoft has influenced the desktop market in such a way that without an office-suite, your desktop is perceived as incomplete. Both KDE and GNOME are working hard to bring their own office suites together and deliver them with their version 2 releases later this year.

    Having recently installed Helix GNOME 1.2 Preview 2 , I decided to look at the state of the GNOME Office suite of applications and check to see if they measure up to their MS Office competition, sort of a "state of the office address" if you will.

    GNOME Office applications

    Here's a quick list of the applications that are currently associated with GNOME Office:

    • AbiWord -- word processor
    • Gnumeric -- spreadsheet application
    • the GIMP -- image editing program
    • Dia -- diagram drawing application
    • Eye Of GNOME -- image viewer
    • GNOME-PIM -- personal information manager
    • GNOME-DB -- database connectivity
    Each application is in different stages of development, and as such, you'll see gaps in functionality for each depending upon the age of the project. It's interesting to note that the GNOME Office suite and K Office don't list a mail client as one of the applications in their respective suites. Though I think this is a problem that should be addressed, I also realize that there is a philosophical can of worms behind it that I don't want to open at this time. The GUI vs. text mail client argument will not take place here.

    (Editor's Note: Helix Code is working on Evolution, a combined calendar, email and address book/contact manager. It is currently in preview release 3, but according to the Helix Code site "Even though this is a non-zero version number, this is not a "stable" release. You will not be able to use it as your real mail client, calendar, or contact manager." We'll check it out when it gets stable.)


    The foundation upon which any office suite is based is the word processor. Long considered a "killer app", word processing is about as fundamental as any piece of software can be. We create documents in the workplace and lots of them. GNOME Office offers AbiSource's AbiWord as their word processor.

    To compare Microsoft Word to Abiword is a little like comparing David to Goliath in a pre-fight analysis. Sure, you have to pick Goliath, he's just so big. Which really is a good analogy. Word has become a monster on the the Windows platform. The proverbial 400 lb gorilla. But like some people, I'm not always fond of the "bigger is better" philosophy.

    Feature for feature, Word is light years ahead of AbiWord as a word processor, and rightfully so. Word is a very mature piece of software (well over 10 years old). That doesn't mean that AbiWord should be disregarded outright however.

    AbiWord is less than two years old (version 0.1.0 first appeared in August, 1998) and for a two year old, they've done a lot of things right. For starters, they have working versions for almost every platform, including Windows 9x and NT, BeOS(PPC and Intel), Linux (Intel, PPC and Alpha), FreeBSD, Solaris, AIX, SGI Irix, NetBSD and several others (A MacOS version is in the works).

    Another area that AbiWord has done a good job with is the user interface. Anyone trying AbiWord for the first time should take little or no time to be productive. As you can see in Figure A, you'll find nothing out of the ordinary in the interface, other than perhaps slightly larger buttons on the toolbars in comparison to MS Word.

    Figure A: AbiWord looks familiar
    AbiWord looks familiar

    Features on the other hand are where AbiWord is sorely lagging. High powered editing and formatting simply isn't possible yet with this word processor. Some features that aren't available yet for AbiWord include grammar checking, table formatting, multiple language support, macros, document merge, mail merge, drag and drop text, embedded graphics (other than PNG), envelopes and labels to name a few (these are all available in MS Word).

    On the positive side, even though power features are lacking, AbiWord is fast and light and all the basics are there. For article writing such as this, it's more than adequate, and on Windows, I actually use AbiWord more often than Word. The main reason for this is because of its relatively low memory requirements in comparison to Word. I don't have to worry about other programs I'm running to start AbiWord, unlike MS Word, which is a memory glutton and doesn't always play nice with non-MS software. I only open Word these days for large projects such as business plans and longer writing projects that need several types of formatting.

    Additionally, it should be noted that AbiWord will open Word 97 and Word 2000 documents, although it won't save them as Word docs. It also supports RTF, LaTeX, and html exporting. It does not read StarOffice or Corel Office documents however.

    To pick Microsoft Word over AbiWord is no real surprise. But AbiWord has made an impressive start and their multi-platform support is outstanding. As with many Open Source projects, AbiWord is a work in progress, and what's been done so far makes us look forward to what it will become.

    (Editor's Note: Thanks go out to TechRepublic's Dominic Bosco for his help in sending Office 2000 documents for us to test with GNOME Office.)


    Before I start talking about spreadsheets, I'd like to state for the record that I am NOT a power spreadsheet user. For some, spreadsheets are an absolute necessity, for me, they are simply a necessary evil. I know that a spreadsheet program is an invaluable tool, I just don't have to use them much. Now that I've got my disclaimer out of the way, let's look at Gnumeric, the GNOME Office spreadsheet.

    Gnumeric is a powerful Excel-compatible spreadsheet. The current version on my system (0.56) imported an Excel 2000 spreadsheet with no problems at all, and all the calculations in the spreadsheet worked fine (See Figure B). The interface is similar to MS Excel and most buttons on the toolbars have reciprocal functions for both Excel and Gnumeric.

    Figure B: Gnumeric can handle almost any Excel spreadsheet
    Gnumeric can handle almost any Excel spreadsheet

    An Excel user might take a little time to get familiar with the slight differences in the approach, but with a long list of import and export filters including Excel, Lotus 1-2-3, Quattro Pro, html and Sylk, Gnumeric can handle most of what you throw at it. And the core functionality for a powerful spreadsheet is there.

    Excel does have features that Gnumeric does not, such as the chart wizard, a mapping feature, and also lots of chances to bring up the good old Office Assistant Paper Clip (woohoo). Of course, it also integrates with other MS Office software and that's more a result of the overall Microsoft philosophy that eventually, you'll have one huge program that does everything. But I'll talk about integration later in this article.

    Gnumeric measures up pretty well to its Microsoft counterpart. As the Helix Code team continues its work (they now fund Gnumeric development), the versions to come should solidify Gnumeric as a very strong part of the GNOME Office suite.

    The other stuff

    Ok, it's probably unfair to lump together the rest of the software in GNOME Office and call it the "other stuff". But this is my article, so tough.

    Here's a quick run down of what is in this category:

    Microsoft Office (Small Business Edition) GNOME Office
    Outlook the GIMP
    Small Business Financial Manager Dia
    Publisher Eye Of GNOME
    Expedia Streets GNOME-PIM

    Of "the other stuff" in Microsoft Office Small Business Edition, the truly outstanding piece of software is Outlook. Say what you will about how bad it is, but corporate America loves it, and shared scheduling with Exchange server makes it powerful. Not to mention that it manages a lot of personal information for you, including your contacts.

    Publisher is fine for Mom and Pop publishing. However, I've worked for Ziff-Davis and Tech Republic in the publishing industry, and neither used Microsoft Publisher for anything. Expedia Streets and Small Business Financial Manager (an Excel plug-in) are really throw-aways for Microsoft (sort of "we can't sell it, so we'll throw it in").

    If Outlook is the exceptional piece of "the other stuff" for MS Office, the GIMP is the real standout in this category for GNOME Office. The GIMP has been compared favorably to Adobe Photoshop as the ultimate image editing and graphics creation tool. I can't disagree with that assessment either. The GIMP is a wonderful piece of software, and one of the best examples of open source successes.

    Dia, is a diagram and flow chart program and is patterned after the Window's program Visio. Although I didn't get a chance to use it much, Dia would be a great selling point for a lot of managers I know who love to chart processes.

    It's interesting to note that Helix GNOME Preview 2 does not install GNOME PIM or GNOME DB. I'm assuming that's due to their development of other software. Helix Code is currently working on a new piece of software called Evolution that will be a combination scheduler, e-mail client, and contact manager all rolled into one. Unfortunately, we have to wait a while to see the first working version. But the promise of a competitor to Outlook shows that Helix Code is thinking ahead.

    Office Integration, the Microsoft philosophy

    In comparing GNOME Office to Microsoft Office, it is worth pointing out a philosophical difference between the two. That difference is the concept of integration. Where documents, worksheets, virtually anything, created by the Office suite is recognized automatically by other pieces of software in the suite.

    Microsoft's empire is built on this concept, both financially and philosophically. From building the software with reusable components to product functionality, Microsoft has imprinted on the consumer and big business that "Office" means integrated software. And the Linux and GNOME communities are beginning to listen.

    Recently, Miguel de Icaza, CTO for Helix Code, addressed the Ottowa Linux Symposium. In his keynote message, Miguel commented on the lack of reusable components within Linux applications. He also said that "the mission of the GNOME project, at this point, is to change that situation."

    The bottom line

    GNOME Office is a good collection of business productivity tools. But like many software products in the open source community, it is still a work in progress. AbiWord is ready to use, so long as you're not a professional editor. Gnumeric is a powerful spreadsheet that is a very mature product. Helix Code's Evolution will add a much needed mail client and integrated PIM and scheduler. The GIMP is one of the best open source software packages ever created, and although might not be necessary for everyday office use (we're not all graphics oriented in the workplace), it's great to have this powerful tool available. Dia will also find it's way into the hearts of many as a free Visio replacement.

    The promise of the GNOME Office suite is great. As the GNOME project begins to address the issues of integration and code reuse, the future can only get brighter.


    Kanwal Arora -- Monday, March 12 2001, 04:47 am

    Could you tell em, from where to download abiword word processor for linux email arorakk

    Joe Mclauchlan -- Thursday, August 17 2000, 02:44 pm

    I think KDe and Gnome office are fine efforts for the time they have been up and running. i use microsoft office premium and star office, never use mosy of the stuff and now use gnome office as often as i can or star office for compatability with microsoft office files. My favourite environment is gnome desktop with sawmill as window manager, it is easy to customise and only improves with age,gphoto for my camera and my hp laserjet5 works easy,love the gears screensaver, in a world of mass production it is nice not to drive microsoft products, it's nice to be eccentric, in Britain it is expected.

    Peh Lee -- Wednesday, July 26 2000, 07:57 pm

    Since Sun has announced that they are going to GPL the StarOffice suite, let us wait and see what will that do to the GNOME office suite.

    If StarOffice is truly GPLed, then, some portion of the StarOffice's code may be used - talk about re-useable code ! - in other open-source / GPL software projects such as Abiword or Gnumerics.

    Juergen Mangler -- Tuesday, July 25 2000, 03:26 am

    If you are talking about reusable components, then evolution can't be your choice because it uses its own stuff instead of gnome-pim. As eMail Client (with AdressBook, gcards) I like Balsa more (don't be afraid of using experimental V0.9).

    OrLoLrO -- Monday, July 24 2000, 08:11 am

    okay it was an informative report, It comes down to the fact that StarOffice is free now and it has more functionality then gnome office. Since Star is Open source now, why not look at source code and implement into gnome office?

    Nick Bower -- Monday, July 24 2000, 06:32 am

    Did the reviewer try gnumeric? It doesn't take a "power user" to load 1000 data points and realize gnumeric can't handle anything more than a couple of hundred points for graphing.

    Paul J Thompson -- Monday, July 24 2000, 04:52 am

    For what it's worth, I really liked your article. Techy geeks can be critical all they want for you getting some details wrong, but the point is, that doesn't matter. You think the non-geek world in general even cares about those details?

    Nope! They just care about having real life applications that they can actually use. Go Gnome, Go!!!

    Once again, a nice read!!!

    Mike Johanson -- Monday, July 24 2000, 04:11 am

    gimp != graphic thingy ???

    KernelPanic -- Monday, July 24 2000, 03:56 am

    Hi! I've seen some screenshots of Evolution, and it really does look good. Since I've always used KDE, I've been looking for something similar for KDE, and found it: Magellan. You can find it at It still is in development, too, but looks realy great. Since both seem to use a non-gui server, I wondered - maybe they could merge at least that part for compatibility. Then again, I think they both use open standards, so they should be compatible anyway.

    Guido -- Monday, July 24 2000, 03:52 am

    Let's talk about the applications in the Office-Suite! I, e.g., don't like the way how templates are used in AbiWord. It's the same stupid way like MS-Word does: with an annoying Combo-Box. Why don't try to use a D&D; way. Just dragging a temnplate on a paragraoh froma list which is always on top is much nicer to use, isn't it?

    Matthias Warkus -- Monday, July 24 2000, 03:24 am

    To Steven Santos: GNOME and KDE can and will not merge. The differences in the underlying architecture are too big, and merging both projects would mean a myriad of unfortunate compromises. Also, the friendly competition that's driving both projects would be gone.

    We can hope for cooperation between GNOME and KDE. That's already happening. But a merger? As far as I can tell (I work for the GNOME project), that won't happen over our dead bodies.

    Kimmo -- Monday, July 24 2000, 01:59 am

    What similarities do Eye of Gnome and Publisher have? Like using my bicycle to manufacture cars or so?

    samdu -- Monday, July 24 2000, 12:18 am

    So the security issues with Outlook are all the fault of sys admins, eh? So I suppose the endless stream of patches coming out of Redmond are just for PR purposes...

    Steven Santos -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 10:49 pm

    Why don't the GOffice and KOffice projects merge?

    All of Gnome and KDE for that matter. They will eventually have to if Linux is ever to really play with M$

    John Gowin -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 08:39 pm

    Another note on PowerPoint. To the best of my knowledge, PowerPoint is only included in Office Professional, which is the MS top priced office product. I was comparing Small Business Office Edition, the middle price point for MS Office.

    John Gowin -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 08:33 pm

    A little more data on the test system:

    IndyBox K6III-450 128 MB RAM SVGA drivers with 4 MB RAM on video Red Hat 6.0 running Helix GNOME Preview 2

    AbiWord Personal Edition is included in Helix GNOME Preview 2.

    philip kelley -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 08:24 pm

    What I find to be incredible is how people now refer to spreadsheets as "Excels" and presentations as "Powerpoints". "Yes, my PowerPoint has that info from the Excel in it."

    David -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 06:20 pm

    User friendly names *please*.

    tom alphin -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 05:46 pm

    woah; you are blatantly forgetting microsoft powerpoint. I might hate the product with a passion; but from working in corporate america under the completely clueless squares at the top I know, that It is impossible to not have this capability on a employees desk. And i quote: "make the users guide into a powerpoint for me", "can you update the webpage with the data from this slideshow", and "put this presentation on the web for our users to see"

    -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 05:06 pm

    Can Gnumeric print these days?

    Klasa -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 04:39 pm

    AbiWord being fast??? You can't be serious. Last time I tried it (Helix 1.2 Gnome release) it was still slower on my PII 300 than MS Word is on my PI 100. It's slower both in loading and in editing. Just doing "page down" with the scroll bar and pouring a cup of coffee while waiting for the screen to render should be enough to scare off anyone. Sad...

    tom alphin -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 04:33 pm

    woah; you are blatantly forgetting microsoft powerpoint. I might hate the product with a passion; but from working in corporate america under the completely clueless squares at the top I know, that It is impossible to not have this capability on a employees desk. And i quote: "make the users guide into a powerpoint for me", "can you update the webpage with the data from this slideshow", and "put this presentation on the web for our users to see"

    Monster -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 03:45 pm

    If it's two separate columns, then don't put horizontal lines across the box. I knew what was going on after a double-take, but it's the job of the author/editor to make these things clearer in the first place. Of course, compared to most program docs, there's no reason to complain at all....

    Nathan Hubbard -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 03:23 pm

    It's amazing that so many people could read the same article as me, and still totally misunderstand so many things. Yes, there are graphical email clients for both GNOME and KDE, but niether of them are included in the office suites. Also, just because the rest of pieces of the two office suites were listed, doesn't mean they were being compared (Outlook and GIMP for example).

    Nathan Hubbard -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 03:21 pm

    It's amazing that so many people could read the same article as me, and still totally misunderstand so many things. Yes, there are graphical email clients for both GNOME and KDE, but niether of them are included in the office suites. Also, just because the rest of pieces of the two office suites were listed, doesn't mean they were being compared (Outlook and GIMP for example).

    moose -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 02:44 pm

    Have been looking for a graphical database frontend for a long time. Found pgAccess which is very nice but needs more work. Have yet to check out gnome-db: why have i never heard of it?

    Jules -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 01:02 pm

    StarOffice will NOT make Goffice irrelevant. StarOffice is a slow, bloated, leaking memory hog - I had to use it for about a year because at the time it was the best available product for Linux, and I came to dread the 30-45 second wait every time I loaded it, as well as the sluggish response. Forcing the user to load ALL their office applications into memory when all you want to use is the word processor is not my idea of good design.

    I thank God and Miguel every time I use Gnumeric.

    Jaez -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 01:01 pm

    The nature of Outlook's security problems are minor and transient, however unlike linux/opensource software it has never been a labour of love, and will thus always lack the kind of pure attention to detail and reliablity that opensource offers. Gnome office packages all seem to have this quality which I believe will make the suite a resounding success in the years to come.

    Dan Heskett -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 12:02 pm

    Hey about Outlook having not regard for security issues, you are full of crap. You've obviously never deployed or managed an Outlook/Exchance environment. The whole-script kiddie virus problem is not MS's fault, but moronic users and IT staff who refuse to set their security setting to high. Simply moving one little slider up one notch would have eliminated this problem just like that.

    Steve Blair -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 11:40 am

    About Outlook... It is not an outstanding piece of software. It is an excellent concept executed very poorly with no regard for security issues.

    Mark -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 11:25 am

    Uh, KDE does have a graphical mail client.

    Stinking Pig -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 11:15 am

    errp -- make that AbiWord that I've had bad luck with. But as long as I'm writing another comment, GNOME's pilot integration is coming along nicely. The Calendar app is better than JPilot's, but JPilot is still the more stable app -- gpilotd got pretty confused last week and started loading three copies of itself every time I hit the sync button :-(

    Stinking Pig -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 11:11 am

    Dia is vital and currently acceptable. I use it to do network diagrams. Pro: basic feature compatibility with Visio, ability to export as PDF in two steps (via ps2pdf) Con: Can't change properties on a group of objects at once, can't import/export Visio, can't do the simu-3d fun stuff I used to do in Visio

    I've had bad luck with Dia and I tend to use KLyx instead. Usually very nice, though it occasionally outputs weird PostScript which looks great but can't be ps2pdf'ed properly.

    caveman -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 11:05 am

    Nice article, I'm glad to see that interoperability was mentioned. Industry stds. & interoperability are so important, and people don't pay enough attention. Not until the largest percantage of their business is wrapped around proprietary applications and non-std data formats - the ol' "painted into the corner" trick.

    Ottawa -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 09:44 am

    the correct spelling is 'ottawa,' not 'ottowa'

    Lewis -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 09:35 am

    In place of Outlook, until Evolution is in a more mature stage of development, one of the other gtk+ mail clients would definitely be able to fill the gap. Balsa or Spruce, for instance.

    Kevin Stewart -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 09:32 am

    From what little I've seen of Evolution it looks like it will be really impressive. I've used and developed for Windows for years, and I am FINALLY making the switch to Linux. My firststop will be Gnome Office and developing Bonobo components.

    Baudtender -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 09:16 am

    If the text/GUI "philosophical can of worms" is a valid reason for not having a mail client, then why were any of these components written?

    leon brooks -- Sunday, July 23 2000, 12:31 am

    dave, you probably could write email in GIMP, as long as you didn't mind very clumsy text editing and sending a pixmap; you could probably also feed inbound email to the text tool and read it; a GIMP plugin would also make seriously pretty calendars...

    H. Aurag -- Saturday, July 22 2000, 11:47 pm

    Irrelevant, since StarOffice will be gpled/gnomeified/bonoboized/componentized/gtk+ied, and a slew of other ied, zed stuff.

    PH -- Saturday, July 22 2000, 10:56 pm

    Gnumeric donot have a freeze function and is slow when the cell size is reduce (to very small).But then I may not be using the latest version.

    Garrett -- Saturday, July 22 2000, 08:27 pm

    Wow, someone writes a positive article about the Gnome desktop and it's future applications, and people cap on him because a few of his statements are not all together clear...... Lame...

    John Gowin, EIC Linux Orbit -- Friday, July 21 2000, 04:09 pm

    It's just a list of applications, not column A equals column B

    dave stevens -- Friday, July 21 2000, 03:41 pm

    really? outlook=gimp?

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