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StarOffice ( v. 8.0 ) - complete package review: StarOffice ( v. 8.0 ) - complete package

StarOffice ( v. 8.0 ) - complete package

Jeff Bertolucci
4 min read
StarOffice 8
Sun Microsystems StarOffice 8 is a solid productivity suite that costs a fraction of the price of its main competitor, Microsoft Office 2003. StarOffice includes the Writer word processor, the Calc spreadsheet maker, the Draw graphics tool, the Base database, and the Impress slide-show application. Like its free and open-source relation OpenOffice 2, StarOffice 8 has plenty of enhancements: new mail-merge and database wizards, better import and export filters for Microsoft Office files, and an Adobe PDF-export tool that now supports hyperlinks, tables of contents, and other essentials. You'll also see a revamped interface, particularly in the Impress presentation program. What's missing? StarOffice 8 lacks a contacts manager, an e-mail program, and a photo editor, all of which Corel WordPerfect Office 12 Small Business Edition provides. And while StarOffice runs on a variety of operating systems, including Linux, Solaris, and Windows, it eschews Macintosh--surprising, given the suite's cross-platform philosophy. But the package price of $100 on CD or $70 via download makes StarOffice 8 a good buy for both small and large businesses.

For a single-user system, StarOffice is a breeze to install. The simple process took us 10 minutes on our test Windows XP PC. The program is no disk hog, either. It demands just 250MB to 400MB of hard disk space, depending on which components you include. StarOffice 8 has improved its setup routine for enterprise users. It now automatically adopts the default language for your system, and IT managers can use administration tools for Linux, Solaris, and Windows to load StarOffice on networked desktops. It's polite, too: it doesn't make itself the default program for opening Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint, and Word files unless you check the appropriate boxes during setup.


StarOffice ( v. 8.0 ) - complete package

The Good

Imports and exports files from Microsoft Office; new mail-merge and database wizards, improved interface and Adobe PDF-export tool; friendly for Linux and Solaris users.

The Bad

Some Microsoft Office file imports are imperfect; no Macintosh version; lacks an e-mail client.

The Bottom Line

StarOffice 8 is an impressive upgrade of Sun Microsystems' bargain productivity suite. It's a good buy for small and large businesses, but users needing an e-mail program and a photo editor should consider Corel WordPerfect Office 12 Small Business Edition.

Each of the five main programs in StarOffice 8--Writer, Calc, Impress, Base, and Draw--bears more than a passing resemblance to its counterpart in Microsoft Office. Luckily, the interface enhancements to StarOffice are significant. Writer, for instance, has a cleaner toolbar-and-menu layout than in StarOffice 7. The clunky Load URL window is gone, and many icons formerly stacked in a left-side column, such as Spellcheck and Find, have moved to the main toolbar. Microsoft Word devotees won't have a problem making the switch to Writer.

Impress, the presentations module in StarOffice 8, has a much-improved interface with a new slide sorter and task pane.

Impress, the presentation program, got the biggest makeover, with a streamlined arrangement of toolbars and menus resembling the ones in Writer and Calc. Impress now displays thumbnail images of slides in its Outline view, à la Microsoft PowerPoint, making it easier to rearrange slides. New animation effects, slide transitions, and drawing shapes are designed to increase compatibility with PowerPoint. In our tests, however, some PowerPoint slide transitions didn't work well, and some text and images vanished completely.

StarOffice 8 comes in two versions. We tested the Standard Edition ($70 download, $100 CD), which includes Writer, Calc, Base, Draw, and Impress. By contrast, the pricier Microsoft Office Small Business Edition 2003 costs anywhere from $250 to $450. Corel WordPerfect Office 12 Small Business Edition runs $349. Then again, both Microsoft and Corel include powerful e-mail programs--a component sorely missing in the StarOffice suite.

StarOffice 8 Enterprise Edition includes advanced tools such as the Macro Migration wizard, which converts Visual Basic macros, and the Document Analysis wizard, which estimates the amount of work you'll undertake to switch from Microsoft Office. Pricing for the Enterprise Edition varies, but large corporate and government users (with 10,000 seats) pay as little as $35 per seat. Unless you're General Motors, you'll likely pay more.

Why would you want to pay for Sun's StarOffice 8 when OpenOffice 2 is free? Look carefully, and you'll find key differences: for instance, StarOffice Enterprise users get the Macro Migration and Document Analysis wizards, which OpenOffice lacks. And while StarOffice provides 60 days of free support, OpenOffice fans must seek help from fellow users. Still, cost-conscious home users may find it hard to beat the free OpenOffice 2.

StarOffice 8 has added dozens of enhancements. Writer's handy export-to-PDF tool is notably beefier and now supports hyperlinks, document outlines, and notes. New database and mail-merge wizards simplify tasks that were too complex in version 7. Still, the interface could use a bit of work: for instance, the Mail Merge Wizard resides on the Tools menu rather than on the File/Wizards menu where it belongs. But spreadsheet jockeys who work with huge data sets will appreciate Calc's new support for 65,536 rows--more than double the capacity of the earlier version--for importing even the largest Excel worksheets.

The Mail Merge Wizard is one of many new features in StarOffice 8.

In a Microsoft Office-centric world, import filters are essential. For the most part, StarOffice 8 does a sound job of importing Microsoft Office documents, but don't expect perfection. The Sun suite retained the formatting, the graphics, and the fonts of most Word files, albeit with the occasional, easily correctable glitch. Our results with Excel proved similarly favorable, although Impress translated PowerPoint presentations less than perfectly, losing some text and slide transitions.

Given the bargain price of StarOffice 8, Sun Microsystems supplies fairly generous support. Users can request help three times via e-mail or telephone for 60 days, with help available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. PT. After the grace period, support costs $25 per e-mail and $30 per phone call. That sounds pricey, but it's better than support for Microsoft Office, which offers two rounds of e-mail and phone help for free; after that, assistance costs $35 per incident. Corel WordPerfect Office beats both of them with free e-mail help, though phone support runs $25 per call. StarOffice has particularly strong online support; in addition to searching Sun's knowledge base, you can browse and query the StarOffice and OpenOffice support boards for assistance from fellow users. Because both programs share the same underlying code, you may find answers to StarOffice tech questions answered on the OpenOffice boards.


StarOffice ( v. 8.0 ) - complete package

Score Breakdown

Setup 7Features 7Support 7