|StarWriter v3.0||- by Stefan Sarzio|
When OS/2 e-Zine! asked for volunteers to write word processor reviews, I offered to do a review of StarDivision's StarWriter 3.0. Living in Germany, I received the German version of StarOffice some time ago, so I have a head start on North American users who will not see the English version for some time. Because of this unavailability in North America, this will be more of an overview than a complete review, but you can expect a full review of StarOffice in a future issue. StarWriter is, of course, the word processor in the StarOffice suite.
To review StarWriter and to write this review I used a 486DX2-66 PC with 16 MB RAM, IDE hard drives, a single speed CD-ROM and an 1 MB video card.
Concerning the installation, I can only say that I did not encounter any problems on my computer. You can install any combination of applications and add-ons. A complete StarOffice installation eats up about 45 MB of hard disk space, which includes 20 MB of demo and tutorial files. A deinstallation routine is included as well as an upgrade installation which installs bugfixes or additional import filters. Starting StarWriter for the first time after installation requires a system shutdown since the installation adds the StarOffice paths to the PATH and LIBPATH statements in config.sys.
StarWriter needs about 6-8 MB of RAM on top of what OS/2 needs, but most of this is swappable. As always, the more RAM you have, the less likely you are to have excessive swapping. The start-up time for StarWriter can be reduced by loading the StarOffice Manager at boot-time. This gives you a kind of Launchpad and also loads some of the DLLs for the applications, thus some of your memory is, of course, used before starting any of the 'real' applications. I recommend removing the StarOffice Manager from the start-up folder unless you really can spare the memory. StarWriter is very responsive with 16 MB RAM while having 2 or 3 other programs running. Up to 16 MB more RAM would surely help. I would not recommend using it with less than 16 MB.
Those of you already using StarWriter 2.0 or even Microsoft's WinWord will be pleased to hear that StarWriter's look-and-feel is very similar to those two programs. This proves to be very useful since the printed manuals as well as the on-line documentation have been kept very short. This is very annoying; even more so because the StarWriter 2.0 manuals were very good. This really needs to be fixed.
In addition to these manuals the suite includes a second CD containing some videos which explain its functions. Unfortunately these videos were made using the pre-final version. Thus only about 90% of the material in them applies to the final version.
If you know how to use it, StarWriter can be very productive. The interface (gif 25k) contains a lot of features which are very intuitive to use. Out of the box, it supplies menus, toolbars and an object-bar that make sense for the task you're currently working on. Those who don't like the selection or order can completely re-customize the menus or bars. This is not only useful for the power-user but also for administrators who don't want their users to get confused by a lot of options.
StarWriter 3.0 doesn't have too many filters, but you can import from HTML 2.0, Lotus 1-2-3 1.0 (DOS and Win), MS Excel, MS WinWord 6.0, Rich Text Format, Text and older version of StarWriter. You can also export to most of the same formats. StarDivision decided to write all these filters themselves which explains why there are not too many of them. While they are not perfect, they are quite good. As far as I know there will be additional filters available in the future.
This is the most annoying part of StarOffice. It is incredibly slow when scanning your hard disk for files. Additionally, you are not confronted with one document-manager (gif 8.6k), but with one for each application plus one which can be started only from the Manager (i.e. StarOffice Launchpad). The good thing is, every document-manager can see and start each type of document from the StarOffice suite. The bad thing is, every document-manager has its own configuration.
As noted above, StarWriter has a similar look and feel to WinWord. As far as standard features go--spell check, thesaurus, footnotes/endnotes, tables, columns, etc.--it behaves much the same as well. Everything seems to be there and work adequately.
OS/2 Specific Features
With StarWriter you can embed other documents into your text. You can have a spreadsheet to prove what you've written, you can have an additional graph that visualizes the data, or you can have a photograph of something you're writing about. Since OpenDoc is still on the way, StarDivision ported Microsoft's OLE in order to have the same functionality on every platform. However, OLE is inside their StarView Class Library, which is the foundation of the whole StarOffice, so they should be able to replace OLE with OpenDoc quite easily.
StarOffice doesn't make use of multithreading (see below), but differently from StarWriter 2.0 you can now drag documents from the WPS onto a printer without having started the complete package. Although this takes quite a while you can then do other things because it doesn't lock your message queue as printing from within StarWriter does.
When saving documents you can make full use of long names. Upon installation StarWriter puts a template in your template folder. This template and all documents you save in StarWriter have a type association so that you don't have to use file extensions in order for StarWriter to identify your documents.
The support provided by StarDivision is quite good--there is no charge for this--and they normally respond very quickly. You can submit your problems via snail-mail, telephone, fax, CompuServe or their WWW site. Unfortunately I didn't get answers in time to print in this review to my questions concerning new filters, multithreading and other stuff.
StarWriter is a very good piece of software. Together with the other applications of StarOffice it is THE complete solution for private and business users. There are, of course, some problems--but for the most part minor ones. I recommend everyone, when they're able, to check it out.
CompuServe: GO STARDIV
Voice: 040-23 646 700 (outside Germany 49-40-23 646 700)
Fax: 040-23 646 750 (outside Germany 49-40-23 646 750)
Price: ~US$ 360 (upgrade and bundled pricing available in Germany)
Stefan Sarzio is a 23 year old computer science student in good old Germany. To earn extra money he works as a programmer and network administrator (Netware and LAN Server).
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