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Chris' Rant- by Chris Wenham

StarOffice and the GUI revolution

Months ago I harped on the miserable state of modern Graphical User Interfaces. Boy are they still ugly. The first steps made by Macs, OS/2's PM and Windows helped us achieve rudimentary visual integration by having programs run together on the same screen at the same time. They were boxed-up in windows, and other than having some common elements and behaviors such as scroll bars, menus and window controls, they all pretty much kept to themselves and defined their own user interface conventions. This tangled mess is going to be a thing of the past, and one of the applications which is going to tug the rest of the industry kicking and screaming is StarOffice.

StarOffice makes Lotus SmartSuite look like a DOS program. This is just my personal opinion, but I happen to think StarOffice kicks ass. What used to be broken up into separate applications (word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation graphics etc.) is now all neatly integrated -- both visually and functionally. The dream we had with OS/2's Workplace Shell -- a place where you thought of the type of document you wanted to create instead of what program you'd create it with -- is now real and present. It's just unfortunate that StarOffice doesn't use the Workplace Shell as its foundations, but builds its own instead.

With StarOffice, what used to be separate programs (StarWrite, StarCalc, StarDraw and others), have all been blended into one. You don't start StarWrite, you start writing a document. You don't start StarCalc, you just start creating a spreadsheet. Everything is brought together under one frame and one program. It has all the integration of the "Works" packages that were popular in the early 90s, but all the oomph and features you'd expect from an office suite.

Applications need to head into this direction badly, for it's going to make it easier for companies to sell them to the other two-thirds of the world who are still too intimidated by today's complexity to buy a computer. It's going to make it easier for people to use the tools, and as a result it's going to cut down tremendously on user support and training costs.

StarDivision has set the standard by making an example, yet it won't be StarOffice that you'll see running on everybody's computers. What you'll see are modularized applications, built with technologies such as JavaBeans (the one I'm rooting for), and hopefully to a much much lesser degree; Microsoft's DNA (a.k.a. ActiveX, a.k.a. COM, a.k.a. OLE, a.k.a. DDE-on-steroids.)

These technologies will let applications talk to each other, share a common interface as they do in StarOffice, and act as if you were only running one program on your computer instead of five or six.

As OS/2 users we're due to see a lot of this come our way. OS/2 already has the best Java virtual machine available and the commitment of a huge company with staggering resources to keep it alive. Yes, IBM has settled on a platform it intends to use to wipe out Microsoft's Windows dominance with. IBM is comin' atcha like a fist-of-God, with billions of dollars of research, marketing and development -- just like we've been dreaming of. But OS/2 is not that platform -- Java is.

We can already see IBM following the lead that StarOffice is taking. e-Suite from their Lotus division has that kind of integration (although I haven't tried it myself, so excuse me if I stretch my assumptions here just a little bit,) and more importantly it's written in 100% Pure Java.

Microsoft is on its way down. Everything it has been doing lately is a reaction, not an initiative. It's like a tired boxer who keeps his guard up but can't make any punches himself.

Meanwhile, somebody poke somebody at StarDivision in the ribs. I'm tired of these perpetual betas, I want to see this thing ship.

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Chris Wenham is a freelance web designer, writer and Englishman who now lives in Endicott, NY. In the past he has written comedy, sci-fi, Pascal, Rexx, HTML and Gibberish. He has been using OS/2 exclusively for the past 2 years.


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