After my remarks on Microsoft recently, where I mentioned Open Office, I decided to try it once more. And I must say that I’m impressed by the progress in this project since my last try two years ago. Then it was barely usable, now it is only a bit uncomfortable.

But it is catching up with MS’s suite pretty fast, right now MS’s advantages are:

  • much better dictionaries and generally language support (Word is capable of suggesting style corrections or detect grammatical errors, Writer for now can do only spelling and has a thesaurus, also handling multiple languages in Writer is horrible, if you write in many languages and want to use spellchecks etc. then Writer will be a source of constant frustration. For example: right now I couldn’t get it to check this text for me using English dictionary, it keeps on switching to Spanish and I really tried everything. I ended by copying this text to MS Word, changing the language there and copying it back to Writer.),
  • more streamlined and comfortable user interface (some things are very badly designed indeed in Writer, for example tables borders/shading is available only in edit table menu and not available also easily per cell via right-click as in Word, or there is no easy way of selecting zoom level without having to go through another pop-up window with choices),
  • more control over some aspects of the layout.

But there are some very good features, one of the best is simple generation of PDF files with a single click and no additional external components unnecessary. And the PDFs generated are of good quality and very compact, usually remarkable smaller than generated with Word+Acrobat combination from the same document. Also, Writer can now open quite complex MS Office documents and even MS PowerPoint presentations, which have been particularly hard to handle in the past versions I knew.

In summary Open Office suite is now a very useful set of tools and one should really consider if the differences with MS Office are really worth its ripoff price.

That can’t be said on Linux on the desktop. I’ve tired Ubuntu, a distribution that was supposed to be desktop-oriented and easy, aimed at normal end-users. I’m sorry to say that, but previous Unix admin experience is a must if you are going to try this one. Installer works ok (although it had some problems with my graphic card and I had to finish the installation intuitively since the screen was garbled just when the installer was about to mess with the master boot record to install a boot loader there) but later on if you want anything out of standard you are back to command line, vi, scripts and man pages. Packages available from net (using nice graphic tool called Synaptic) are old, unless you switch to “unstable” version of the distribution but then other problems appear. For example, I tried to get a nice multimedia player called amaroK to run on my system. It took me 5 hours of hard work including recompiling packages and in the end upgrading my whole system to “hoary” (the unstable one) to achieve it. Any normal, non-geek user would give up way before I did.

So, as much as I was impressed with the Open Office progress I’m surprised by the total lack of progress in Linux on the desktop. It seems that geeks without a pointy-haired boss standing above them can’t produce a desktop system that would be usable to the rest of us. Pity. Luckily, there is the Max OS X – a stable Unix with a legendary, easy to use and complete Apple’s GUI. Now, if only their hardware could be cheaper (or my income greater)…