Some publishers make room for Linux models while others offer downloadable programs
By Mark Kellner
Special to GCN
The big news this year in office productivity suites is that, with a couple of exceptions, there isn't much big news. But there are still some significant developments, including moves toward Lunix as well as free, downable software.''
The arrival a year ago of Microsoft Office 2000, bracketed by the latest release of Lotus SmartSuite Millennium Edition and Corel WordPerfect Office 2000, each were major events in suitedom. This year, the only company that plans to release new software for Microsoft Windows users is Lotus Development Corp., which is expected to reveal details about a SmartSuite revision by fall.
Microsoft Corp., which fairly dominates the applications suite market, has had enough on its hands with a somewhat controversial service pack release that updates Office 2000.
It implements the new Office Registration Wizard, which causes problems for some users. The wizard, first included on copies of Office 2000 sold at a discount to students and educators, tracks the number of times you install Office 2000. After two installs, a user has to call Microsoft for a code to let the software run past 50 allowed starts.
Microsoft has said the registration wizard is intended solely to stop the mass pirating of Office. Jon Magill, director of business licensing for the company, said a problem can arise when a user tries to install the software more than twice on different computers. This can happen when switching a PC or portable computer because of system failures or when upgrading. With the registration wizard, a user migrating to a new computer who has already installed Office on, say, a desktop PC and a notebook PC, would have to get Microsoft's permission to install Office again.
The current Office 2000 software license lets a user who buys a single retail copy of the product install the program on a primary PC and on a portable or home system for occasional use. That occasional use is undefined, as far as I can determine, and in practice you can install a single copy of the software on any number of systems.
The new registration wizard still will allow those two installs'and repeat installations on the original machines'but will balk at any other installs until a user calls Microsoft and gets permission from a telephone support person. Such people will be available around the clock, Magill said, but he concedes that decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. He added that many government and corporate customers may have different licensing arrangements with Microsoft that would bypass the registration wizard.To market, to market
Meanwhile, Corel Corp. and some other software publishers have found a new opportunity in the growing popularity of the Linux operating system. Corel released its WordPerfect Office suite for Linux a few weeks before pulling the plug on its Mac efforts.
Applix Inc., whose Unix and Linux products have attracted a following, spun off a division as VistaSource Inc. to market Applixware Office.
Applixware Office for Linux, just released in Version 5.0., is billed as the company's premiere offering. Components include Words, a full featured word processor; Graphics, a combined vector and bitmap drawing tool; Presents, which can create presentation slide shows; Spreadsheets, a robust and high performance spreadsheet; Mail, an e-mail client, and Data, described as a graphical relational database.
The suite includes extensive filtering capability, which enables document exchange with Microsoft Office, Corel WordPerfect and other word processors. The company said the software is native to Linux and not a port from the Windows platform.
'By offering a native application for Linux users we deliver applications that truly take advantage of the robustness of Linux,' said R. J. Grandpre, vice president of sales and marketing for VistaSource. 'Another advantage is that our products run with a smaller memory footprint than emulated applications and with less processor overhead,' he said. 'This enables users with less powerful computers and thin-client devices, such as IBM's Network Station, to have a powerful office suite on their machine.'Intel in common
But having your roots in Windows isn't necessarily a bad thing. According to Graham Brown, a Corel vice president in charge of WordPerfect, moving from Windows to Linux is made easier in part because most users run both operating systems on Intel Corp. or Intel-compatible processors.
'What made Linux easier is it's still running on Intel architecture,' Brown said. 'This actually allows us to use the Windows code base, [and] that gets mapped through to Linux and X Windows commands. About 95 percent of the code is shared; very little is different.'
Spokesmen for Microsoft and Lotus each said the companies are not planning Linux versions of their office suites.
While Corel and VistaSource chase the Linux market, Sun Microsystems Inc. is giving away software for Linux'and for Windows and several flavors of Unix as well.
Called StarOffice, the software was developed in Europe. Sun bought the company that created it and is readying a release of StarOffice Version 5.2, said Tony Hempell, Sun's director of marketing for Web and applications software in Menlo Park, Calif.
By giving away the software'and eventually offering it free online as StarPortal, which will be tested later this year'Sun hopes to gain customers for its SunRay workstations, as well as Sun enterprise servers and storage systems. It's a razors-and-blades approach often discussed in the technology sphere, and one that Hempell said Microsoft can't match.
'This is something the guys in Redmond can't offer because they don't have the ability to offer hardware,' Hempell said.
Opting for a strategy that offers file compatibility with Microsoft applications as another enticement, Hempell said Sun is actively targeting users with Windows systems.
'Sixty percent of our user base is Windows. We encourage Windows users to download, free of charge, the StarOffice product they need and use it,' he said. 'If you consider yourself a knowledgeable user, you don't have to purchase any kind of support; this is true freedom of choice.'
The next StarOffice release may well gain popularity to rival that of the last, which totaled 1.5 million free downloads. Hempell said a just-concluded public beta test, in which users downloaded 59,000 copies, gave Sun plenty of information about what users want in an office suite.
'What came out of that is a lot of feedback [resulting in] stronger Microsoft interoperability. We can share files between us and Microsoft Office 2000. For enterprise class customers, we've also created a thing called StarOffice player, a presentation tool. You don't have to have a suite to run a presentation,' Hempell said.
On another front, Microsoft is putting some development muscle behind a new Office suite for the Apple Macintosh platform. This is rather fortuitous for Mac fanatics, since Corel Corp. announced last month that it has decided to let WordPerfect for Macintosh, whose 3.5 version was last tweaked in 1997, to fade into history. The firm said it would do no further development on a Mac word processor'let alone a Mac office suite'preferring to concentrate its Mac efforts on various graphics programs.
Microsoft expects its Office 2001 Macintosh Edition to be available in the second half of this year. The new release would be the first upgrade of Office for the Mac platform since 1998.Latest and greatest
Microsoft has announced a new integrated e-mail client and personal information manager for the Mac product. Among the improvements will be the ability to access the PIM's address book from any application in Office 2001 Macintosh Edition, as well as track projects through the calendar and task list.
In addition, Microsoft Word-like editing tools are integrated into the new application for message composition. Misspelled words are visually highlighted and common errors simultaneously fixed with the application's AutoCorrect feature.
While the departure of WordPerfect from the Mac scene may have disappointed some longtime fans of the software, it appears that the advent of a new Microsoft Office suite for the Mac could make up for the deficit. A new productivity suite that may put Macs on even more of an even playing field with their PC counterparts could support the renaissance of the Macintosh platform.Mark A. Kellner is a free-lance technology writer in Marina Del Rey, Calif. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.