Virtual OS/2 International Consumer Education

December 1998
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Star Office 5.0

By Peter W. Lazenby

Sadly, I was unable to attend Warpstock this year, but being the smart person that I am, convinced an attendee to purchase me a copy of Star Office at the Warpstock special price of $99.00 US. Smart huh? Before the mail snails of two countries managed to locate my remote doorstep with the goods, I found that Star Division has released it for free for non-commercial use, and I am told I could purchase a deluxe edition for only 39.95 US. "Oh well," I said to myself, "I must be getting the super deluxe edition."

Finally the big day arrived... Canada Post knocked on my door with a couple of parcels in hand. The box of Christmas gifts from my mother was hastily cast aside, after duly noting the remarkable speed in which it crossed an ocean and the full breadth of the country to arrive fully a month before it was due. Instead, my attention focused on a package worthy of any office suite, or similar heavy duty application. A bit light perhaps, but the size was right.

Tearing open the taped seams, I open the flaps of the box and withdrew wad after wad of the crumpled up newspaper used for packing. Not only was I waiting for Star Office, I had also purchased a Voice t-shirt and was also expecting registration forms for those members who signed up at Warpstock. A large manila envelope and the t-shirt were the first items I uncovered, and after lifting these out a smaller manila envelope containing a single CD presented itself. WHAT? Where are the manuals? Where's the fancy shrink-wrapped box that I can proudly display on my shelves of OS/2 software? WHERE IS MY SUPER-DELUXE EDITION?

An hour or so later, I wiped the tears from my eyes and recovered the CD from the corner where I had cast it in my disappointment. The readme revealed that I must upgrade to at least Java 1.1.6 to get full functionality from the suite. Nicely, however, Star Division thoughtfully provides the runtimes on the CD, also with it's very own readme. This file informs me I must also install at least fixpack 6, and the new Feature Installer, the latter of which is also included on the CD. I know, I was behind the times, but hey, I've been busy.

Well, I had been putting these upgrades off long enough, and in waiting, fixpack 9, java 1.1.7 and FI 1.2.3 had all been released. I began my day of downloading and rebooting. I am thankful that today I got the fast line at my ISP... the 1200 baud connection is lightening fast compared to the 300 baud I usually seem to get. Seriously though, it's a 28.8 dialup... it just performs rather slowly on the average, and today was no exception. I started some FTP transfers and went to bed.

By the following afternoon, the system was completely upgraded. Not to get sidetracked, but all three installations went smooth as silk, but then you probably already know that having done it eons ago yourselves. On to the Star Office installation at last!

Installation Requirements:

Oddly, I can't seem to find any requirements other than harddrive space needed. The package needs 120 to 140mb of hard drive space depending on the installation route taken (according to the .pdf), with an additional 20 to 30mb temporary space. The installer reports that you can get by with as little as 61mb if you take the minimum route. I chose custom, and gave up just over 100mb for the features I wanted.

Other than a few annoying information dialogues which wanted to be acknowledged, the installation went very smoothly. I can't say for sure how long it all took, as I set things in motion and went out for an hour, only to come home and see the first dialogue dutifully awaiting it's button push. Ten or more "OK"s later, it was done and ready for reboot. Finally, it was time.

Initial Impressions:

First launch took about a minute to load, and presented me with the registration screens all ready for online registration. I presume all went well, as I did connect to the Star Division web pages somewhere, but I have no idea the final phase accomplished anything. Pressing the completion button gave no indication that anything had happened. After several button presses and about 5 minutes later, I disconnected and closed the application down. I'll have to wait a day or two to see if I get the promised confirmation email.

The first launch seemed extremely slow, but from experience I know that some apps require more on the initial run. I decided to time the next one. 45 seconds required to get to the Star Office Desktop, and another 20 seconds to open the HTML tool in order to write this review. This on a p166 with 64mb ram, a machine that has proven to be entirely adequate up until now. I would highly recommend no less than 128mb ram, and nothing slower than a p166. Star Office appears to really need some horsepower.

After the registration step, the suite defaults to what I can only describe as a browser integrated desktop. Though I have never seen MicroSoft's attempt at this horrible idea, Star Office is just what I imagined an Internet Explorer integration would look like. The desktop even looks like a win9x/NT desktop, right down to the start button, taskbar, window controls, and those silly little "shortcut" arrows:

The look and feel can be changed somewhat via the configuration dialogues. Choices are available for Stardivision, Macintosh, Xwindows, and OS/2, but none of them change the look and feel of the desktop. All choices seem to affect only the title bars and window controls of the various internal windows:





After fighting with the above for over an hour, I switched to HTML Studio to complete this document. Though the WYSIWYG capabilities of the Star Office HTML tool was nice, it was just too slow and clumsy for me to use efficiently. Also, Star Office insisted on creating obscure named .jpg files to replace the .gif files I had initially specified. Text entry seemed to halt periodically, and on several occasions while using PMView to capture images, text entry quit altogether. I was forced to save the document, shut down the suite, and reload. This also happened at one point when I viewed the .pdf documentation at the beginning of the review, but unfortunately the "saveas" dialogue didn't allow me to enter any filename, so my work had been lost. Luckily, I had only started to outline a few key points, so not a whole lot of time was wasted.

As to saving and opening files, I found the interface clumsy at best. Star Office presumes you will keep all your work in the default "work" folder. Initial saves and opens are directed to this folder, but if you want to open or save something from/to a different location, you have to backstep through directories. Using a different drive requires that you backstep four times just to get to the drive selection choices, then navigate your way from there. At least subsequent opens/saves are directed to the previous choice, but the lack of a drives selection tool I found extremely annoying.

open dialouge

On the plus side though, looking through the "filetype" selections, I counted one hundred and sixty filetypes that were not Star Office specific. All the popular formats (namely those MS creations) appear to be supported, along with a wide range of Mac documents, nearly every image format known to man, and to my surprise, even AutoCad's drawing exchange format (dxf) is supported.

Another pleasant surprise was the spell checking. Some typos will be corrected automatically after completion of the word, while words that are possibly typed wrong, but the suite isn't sure, the words are "underlined":spelling

What you get:

StarWriter is a full-featured word processor/web browser/HTML editor. HTML editing can be done by source, or by WYSIWYG. However, I lost the ability to edit by source somehow... the menu option just disappeared on me.

StarCalc is a spreadsheet tool. In the past, I had used StarCalc from Star Office v3, and was very impressed.

StarMath is an equation editor. I have no clue what it's used for :)

StarImpress is a PowerPoint like application for business presentations.

StarDraw is the vector image editor, including OpenGL based 3D effects.

StarImage is the bitmap editor, allowing colour adjusting, a few drawing tools, a few effects. Not a full blown graphics application, but it'll do nicely in a pinch. Supposedly scanning is supported, but I have no scanner to test with, so I ignored that feature.

StarBase is the database tool.

StarChart is a graphing/charting tool, both standalone, and used by StarCalc for it's charts and graphs.

StarSchedule is a Personal Information Manager... something which I've wanted for some time. I was disappointed though, since Star Office is so slow, I won't be able to put the PIM to good use.

StarMail and StarDiscussion are internet email and news tools. Nice to include I suppose, but in my opinion, just extra baggage that could have been excluded from the suite.


Since I started writing this, I have found that the speed issue is only a concern for those of us who bought the package (hmm... is that my super deluxe feature?). The version freely available for download apparently doesn't suffer from the snail's pace that I experience when trying to use the suite. I won't be able to find out for sure though, since I can either download it, or install it, but I don't have room to do both :(

Also, my registration did not work. At least a week has gone by since I first attempted to register, and no email confirmation has yet arrived.

Personally, I'm quite disappointed on the whole. Star Office v3 was the last one I worked with, and I was hoping v5 would have been similar. I quite liked the toolbar method of launching the individual applications. I even approached Star Division on several occasions to see if they would consider donating the StarCalc module to VOICE, but received no response. Star Division, if you're reading this, give me v3 with no expiry in exchange for v5. I would switch in an instant...

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