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February 2004

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Office suites for OS/2 and eComStation

By Ed Durrant © February 2004

Spoilt for choice!

What did Santa bring you for Christmas?

Well "Santa" in the form of three OS/2 or Java supporting companies have brought OS/2 and eCS users the most important Christmas present in several years. The choice of three MS compatible office software packages!

Back when OS/2 Warp first came out most agreed that it was technically a great product. It was not just the marketing and morals-less sales methods of Microsoft in forcing Windows 95 on to suppliers that lost OS/2 Warp market share. It was also, some would say to a greater extent, the success of Microsoft's office applications package - MS Office. Once it became the de-facto standard businesses were forced to use Windows on their PCs (or to a lesser and more expensive extent Apple's MAC computers) as MS Office was not available on any other OS platform.

For some time the cry was "where are the applications for OS/2?". There were and still are some very good ones. Many fell by the wayside due to the shrinking OS/2 market, while some companies transferred their efforts over to the more lucrative Windows marketplace. With each new version of Microsoft Office came a changed file format, in the end the other companies couldn't keep up in the Windows market either and faded away.

Now at a time where Microsoft's biggest enemy is its own greed in raising prices, there are several file format compatible, equally as good, hundreds of dollars cheaper, alternatives available and yes there are OS/2 versions as well as Linux and Windows !

The first is a product that has been around as long as Warp itself. Lotus Smartsuite has its own style and presentation that people either like or hate rather than an MS "look and feel".

In its latest incarnation "Lotus Smartsuite for OS/2 Warp 4 version 1.7.2" it has its best file format compatibility with Microsoft Word and Excel that it has ever had. Smartsuite however doesn't have built in MS Powerpoint compatibility. There is a (windows based) conversion program available, however this extra step is not what we would expect to have to perform in a modern office environment.

Lotus Smart Suite

The first of the "newcomers" is actually a development of an original OS/2 product - "Star Office". Since Star Division was bought by Sun Microsystems all development of the OS/2 version was stopped. Well, like Netscape with Mozilla, Sun decided it would gain by releasing the source code to the Open Source community.

The result is "OpenOffice.Org" a strange name for an office package that looks and feels like Microsoft's Word, Excel and Powerpoint programs and is file format level compatible. The first versions of this package have been produced for Linux and Windows with Sun producing their own commercial version based on the same code (still called "Star Office"). So what about OS/2? OpenOffice.Org, unlike Microsoft Office, runs under the ODIN free Win32 emulator for OS/2. Well, that's not always the case .... You need to have the right version of OpenOffice.Org and the right version of ODIN and as ODIN is still very much a "work in progress" you can often find yourself in the situation of needing different versions of ODIN to support different WIN32 applications. .... Enter Innotek Systemberatung GmbH. This German firm maintains its own stable, controlled build of ODIN. Along with their ability to design and write OS/2 native code where required they can produce very effective "conversions" of windows applications to OS/2 in short periods of time.

I was very happy to be invited to partake in user testing of their "Alpha 2" version of OpenOffice.Org 1.10. Alpha version? I (and several other testers) have been unable to fault it! I am using it to type this article. Based on the quality of this code I would not be surprised if the final version was available in early 2004. It will be marketed via Serenity Systems to individual users and by Innotek direct to corporate customers. The main difference between the present OS/2 alpha version and the Windows version of v 1.10 is that the OS/2 one doesn't have the main program, instead it has a normal OS/2 folder containing icons to start up the individual components. I suspect this may change in the final version.

I have read, processed and saved Word, Excel and Powerpoint documents with no corruption and no problems reading the modified or newly created files in MS Office - this is very impressive!

Both OpenOffice.Org and the third office package have a nice additional feature, that they are able to save their documents in Adobe PDF format, directly from the package.

And the third contender is... Evermore Integrated Office.

This product is different on at least two counts both technically and politically.

Evermore is a state sponsored company in China. China is not so much a supporter of open source as a hater of Microsoft's business techniques and pricing. China also needs to build up its own fledgling IT Industry to supply its internal development and to build export markets.

EIOffice is an example of a program package that should fulfill these aims.

Technically EIOffice is also different as it is written totally in Java, making it platform independent. Evermore market a Linux and Windows version of the product both of which are available in Chinese and English versions.

I contacted Evermore and they were very helpful in supplying access to trial versions of the product and some advice on how their install packages were constructed.

Under Windows the product is packaged with Sun's Java 1.4.1 runtime engine for which EIOffice is optimised. Nowadays Java is far quicker than earlier versions making a Java office package a workable solution.

For OS/2 a compatible version of Java is required. Guess what... Innotek who are producing OpenOffice/2 have also produced an OS/2 version of Sun's 1.4.x Java releases ! I am presently running EIOffice using Innotek's port of Sun's Java 1.4.2.

I can currently create and modify documents, presentations and spreadsheets and then read them in Microsoft Office. I am experiencing problems with loading files from Microsoft Office at present. The format conversion process is not working. This does work without problems in the Windows version, so this looks like a problem with my OS/2 implementation. I am working with Evermore to address this issue and by the time this article is published, hopefully this will also have been fixed. My wish is to provide back to Evermore an OS/2 install procedure for their package once everything is working, so that they can also market to the OS/2 - eCS world.

A further application of this package may be in the area of Application Service Providers (ASPs), being Java the office package may run within a browser. In fact there is a sample batch file provided with the code from Evermore, to do just this. I haven't yet tried this on my Apache/2 server however.


Since writing the article above, Innotek have just released OpenOffice/2 to public beta, rather than private alpha. I have not yet installed this code as I am presently happy with the alpha.

Of the three options, I would expect OO/2 to appeal to most readers of this article.
Evermore with its file conversion (under OS/2 only) problems is not usable, however once it is usable, it would make a great WP application to host from an ASP web site.

Lotus SmartSuite still has the advantage of commercial support for a commercial product, but for how much longer?

My vote at this time goes to OpenOffice/2 as the one to go with once it becomes available to purchase.


Lotus Smartsuite for OS/2:

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