Saturday, November 6, 2010

Linux at Work Part 1 - Windows Equivalent Office Software

Many a times there will be people who ask whether it is possible to use Linux desktop instead of Windows for work. Well the answer to this depends on the nature of the job itself. The main issue will be whether you are using any specialized and commercial software that is only offered in Windows with no Linux alternatives. In my case the nature of my work is software development, and I have been using Linux desktop at work for the past few years. With the great improvements in the Linux desktop over the years, I would say more than 99% of my time at work now is using the Linux desktop.

I have started this series called "Linux at Work" to explore some options that we can have to make it possible for us to work using the Linux desktop. These options can also be easily extended to personal use of Linux desktop at home. I shall start by looking at some of the commonly used Windows software at the workplace, and their equivalent or sometimes even better Linux alternatives. In this first part, we shall take a look at the Office software.

OpenOffice
In the office environment, we are definitely familiar with Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint. These are office productivity software that we cannot do without in our everyday work. This can be a potential sore point in using the Linux desktop as someone may be sending you a excel file and you find that you have problem opening.it. All thanks to OpenOffice, this is no longer a big issue for Linux users. OpenOffice also offers word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software that can read and write files in Microsoft propriety format. OpenOffice is on the top of my list as the alternative to Microsoft Office because it offers high level of compatibility with Microsoft Office files. On top of that, it is also open-source and free to use, and is packaged as the default office software in most Linux distros.

One thing to take note is that recently the open format versions of the Microsoft Office files (those with extensions .docx, .xlsx, .pptx) have become more widely used. Although being open format should make it more compatible with other office software, I have experience some problems with these files using OpenOffice. Initially the problem was these files were not supported by OpenOffice at all. Then OpenOffice was updated to support opening of these files. However, I was unable to save them in the original format after doing some editing, and have to save them in the propriety format (.doc, .xls, .ppt) instead. Then OpenOffice was updated again such that opening and saving of these files in the open format are both supported. Unfortunately, sometimes I am still facing the problem of having some parts of the files that somehow seems to be off in format from the way it looks in Microsoft Office. This is not a big issue most of the time as the files can still be read without any problem. But it will be a problem if the files are to be shared, and someone may need the format to be strictly correct as they need to use scripts to read and extract the data. In such circumstances, I will have no choice but to think of other ways to deal with it. I shall elaborate more about this  at a later time.

KOffice
KOffice is a KDE based office software. Like Microsoft Office and OpenOffice, it also offers a integrated suite of office applications that support word processing, spreadsheet, and presentations. I have only tried it briefly sometime back, but decided to use OpenOffice instead as its compatibility with Microsoft Office files was not as satisfying.

AbiWord and Gnumeric 
AbiWord and Gnumeric are Gnome's answers to Word and Excel respectively. I used to like using them as they were much faster in performance to OpenOffice and Microsoft Office. I remember there was one period of time when it would take ages for OpenOffice to open a file, though this has greatly improved over the years. I have decided to stick with OpenOffice due to its better compatibility with Microsoft Office files, though sometimes I still use Gnumeric when I want to do some work on the spreadsheet quickly.

Installation
OpenOffice, KOffice, Abiword and Gnumeric are available in most, if not all the Linux distros. They can be easily installed using package manager such as the Synaptic Package Manager.

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