Posted by: reformedmusings | September 13, 2008

Softmaker Office 2008 for Linux Quicklook

This is by no means a review, but a cursory look at the first public beta of Softmaker Office 2008 for Linux on which I posted here. This beta expires Oct 31, 2008, but is fully functional in the meantime. I installed the software in a VMWare Workstation virtual machine running Gnome-based Enlightenment 0.17 over a KDE 3.5.9 base install. Yeah, I know, it’s a bit of a mess, but it was laying around after an experiment that I ran a few weeks ago. It provided a quick and dirty way to test Softmaker’s new offering. This quick look also helped build my experience with Enlightenment.

Softmaker Office (SO) has installation packages available as an rpm package, deb package, and a tgz archive, the latter for any version of Linux as well as non-root installations. These three options should make installation a breeze in any major Linux distribution. Since I’m running Debian-based Kubuntu, I downloaded and installed the deb package. That installation finished quickly with no problems. It installed SO shortcuts correctly under the Applications/Office menu of Enlightenment. The beta registration code arrived via email before I could test the installation, and that’s fast!

Next, I simply opened a number of documents in the suite. I first noticed how quickly Softmaker Office programs opened. Each application appeared on the screen ready to use in a second or so. This proved much faster than OpenOffice.org (OOo) applications, whose first opening takes 5 or more seconds to load initially. Even after OOo is in the cache, SO still loaded faster though the difference then is small. Hat’s off to Softmaker for their tight code. I started with the TextMaker word processor by opening an open standards odt file created under OpenOffice.org Writer:

odt file opened in TextMaker

odt file opened in TextMaker

This particular document has embedded images, tables, and hyperlinks. Everything displayed perfectly. I then opened a Microsoft Word document which also loaded perfectly. I then loaded an odt document that included images linked to the Internet. However, the images never loaded:

Where's the linked picture in TextMaker?

Where's the linked picture in TextMaker?

Here’s the same document section in Writer:

Here are the images in OOo Writer

Here are the images in OOo Writer

The display settings are correct in TextMaker, but TM apparently doesn’t go out to the net to get the images. I’m not sure if that’s a feature or an oversight, but I’ll let Softmaker know about it.

Moving on to Excel files in the PlanMaker spreadsheet:

Excel file in PlanMaker

Excel spreadsheet in PlanMaker

No problems there. On to a Powerpoint file in Softmaker Presentations. This file included design-type graphics with text and graphic overlays:

Powerpoint file in Presentations

Powerpoint file in Presentations

Again, no issues at all. I know from personal experience over a period of years that Softmaker Office  supports Microsoft data formats very well. It’s nice to see that they also include support for open source formats now. Of course, Softmaker has its own formats if you want to use those.

Softmaker Office 2008 includes an excellent manual in TextMaker format that’s accessible from the Help menus. It covers all major areas and answered my needs when I couldn’t get the embedded Internet image to display in TextMaker. Although the layout of the suite’s functions seem pretty standard, thereby making migration from other suites pretty easy, it’s good to know that even the beta has good documentation to help just in case.

I noticed that even under Linux, Softmaker offers the user a variety of appearance options:

Choose your favorite flavor

Choose your favorite flavor

As you can see, they also support the Linux XRender library for font smoothing, as well as a variety of languages and both U.S. and metric measurements. Other settings and toolbars are as you would expect in any quality office suite. I have always found Softmaker Office easy to use on any platform on which I’ve tried it.

As best I can tell, Softmaker’s support for Linux is solid even in this public beta. They certainly have the installation, loading, and display issues nailed. I encountered no crashes or other stability issues during my short test. I’m sure that there are other rough edges besides the internet image issue, but I didn’t find any others in my brief look.

I leave this overview most impressed with the fast loading speeds of the Softmaker applications. They put OpenOffice.org to shame on that front. Many level slow-loading-speed criticisms at OpenOffice.org developers’ feet, but things haven’t changed much over the two year that I’ve been watching. On other fronts, the suites seem pretty equivalent from a user perspective. Softmaker definitely has a winner here.

The prices of both Sun Office at $69.95 and Softmaker Office 2008 at $79.95 sit far below that of the equivalent Microsoft Office 2007 Home at $149.95. In my experience, there’s nothing in Microsoft Office to justify its high price, and the security holes in Microsoft products would seem to argue against them. Combine Mozilla Thunderbird (with its Lightning extension), KDE’s Kontact, or Gnome’s Evolution (all free and open source) with the Sun or Softmaker suites for email/PIM support, plus the excellent open source/free Scribus for desktop publishing, and you’d have the equivalent of Microsoft’s $449 Small Office/Business suite for less than 1/5 the price. Same capabilities, better security, better stability, easy to use, far lower price (or free!)…your call.

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Responses

  1. […] tried Softmaker 2008 for Linux a year-and-a-half ago and wrote about it here. Even then, it loaded much faster than OpenOffice.org, the latter taking about 5 seconds to load […]


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