Integrating StarOffice into the company's infrastructure: How to be a Linux ninja

If your company's like most, it's saturated with Microsoft products. Sun's StarOffice is a complete Linux office package that offers all of the functionality of Microsoft Office and can work as seamlessly as Office within a company's framework.

Let's face it. The vast majority of companies are riddled with Microsoft products. Productivity is controlled by Office, Exchange handles e-mail, NT doles out file sharing, and ftp and the Web are served by IIS. Attempting to connect anything but a Microsoft product to this trap offers its share of challenges. Linux is one operating system that allows a solid, reliable connection to a Microsoft-dominated system. With a little patience and effort, you can have Linux up and working in a Microsoft world with efficiency that's unheard of.

In this Daily Drill Down, we go all-ninja with the topic: Integrating StarOffice within your company. In upcoming Daily Drill Downs, we'll deal with issues such as working Linux e-mail magic, file sharing with Samba, Linux and ftp, and finally Apache. The intention of these Daily Drill Downs isn't to provide an in-depth look at each of these topics, but rather to provide a general "how-to," so you'll be the Linux ninja of your company.

Integrating StarOffice
Sun's StarOffice is a complete office package that has all the functionality of Microsoft's Office and can work as seamlessly as Office within a company's framework. We'll examine three of StarOffice's critical elements: calendaring, e-mail, and file sharing. All three elements, when combined, will serve nearly all of your office needs... with a few exceptions (one being the Outlook scheduling horror).

Calendaring with StarOffice
Though not as totally integrated into the Microsoft environment as Office, StarSchedule is quite capable of handling the everyday needs of today's businessperson. StarSchedule includes all of the standard features of a calendar application (such as events and tasks), as well as the more critical ability to send appointments via e-mail. This feature is similar to Outlook's appointment scheduling with the primary difference being that StarSchedule only allows you to send appointments through e-mail. What StarCalendar lacks is the ability to push events into the recipient's personal calendar. When involved in a primarily Microsoft environment, this can be an issue and, decidedly, a downfall of the StarOffice application. However, if you're adamant about not using Outlook, StarSchedule is an effective solution.

StarSchedule looks, to the untrained eye, like any full-featured office suite complete with entries, tasks, and work folder listings. What's unique about this scheduling application is that, like the entire StarOffice suite, it's integrated into an entire desktop environment. Because of this, you can navigate though file structures, work with documents, schedule new events, create new appointments, use e-mail, and browse the Web "all in one place," as StarOffice claims.

StarSchedule handles all appointments and events with simple, quiet grace. With the StarSchedule event scheduler, you can create appointments and schedules with minute details and visual, audio, and e-mail warnings.
In order to use the e-mail warning for StarSchedule, you must select StarSchedule as the default window for StarOffice startup. Choosing this setting is a simple matter of configuring an inbox to be used by the user.
Akin to Outlook, StarSchedule enables you to manage appointment participants via e-mail. However, before using StarOffice's appointment sending capability, it's necessary to set up the address book. (StarOffice's address book is handled more like a database application and includes a great deal of configuration options.) To edit the address book, go to the Events application (found in StarOffice's default desktop) and select Edit | Address Book. The address book editor is fairly typical and self-explanatory. Once the address book editor is open, select the New button, provide the necessary information, and refresh the database.
Once an entry is accepted, it isn't possible to make changes to that entry, unless you're working within the address book tables section from the Explorer (the vertical window on the left side of the StarOffice desktop).
Once the address book is complete, you can enter new appointments to be sent as e-mail with the Events application. After a new appointment is entered, highlight the appointment and a properties window will open. Within this properties window, choose Participants, then select your colleagues, partners, friends, family, and/or enemies from the drop-down menu and press [Enter]. Once the participants are selected, a small mail icon will be added to their records. Click this icon to get a drop-down box and select Automatically Notify Participants Of Event. When you send the e-mail, it will go not only to the appointed e-mail address, but also to all participating members of the appointment.

After all appointment participants are entered, go back to the original appointment and right-click the original appointment to bring up a menu where you can choose Send Event As E-mail.

Select Send Event As E-mail to open the StarOffice e-mail client (only if the e-mail client is set up—see below) where you can provide the necessary e-mail addresses for the appointment. You can supply e-mail addresses by typing them, selecting them from the drop-down menu, or by dragging and dropping them from the open address book. Although StarOffice doesn't have the ability to push the appointments directly into the target's Outlook calendar, when the e-mail is opened, it will show an attachment that can be double-clicked to open Outlook. When the StarOffice appointment opens Outlook, it automatically enters the appointment into the unsuspecting victim's Outlook calendar. Oh, the naughtiness that could ensue…

The StarOffice e-mail client
StarMail is a full-featured e-mail client that offers all the functionality of its bigger brothers: Internet Explorer Mail and Netscape Mail. StarOffice's capabilities include file attachment, HTML formatting, in-line insertion, e-mail address completion, spell checking, object insertion, and sending via SMTP, vim, or NNTP.

One of the first (and least obvious) steps in setting up StarMail is setting up the user's Outbox. What's not so obvious about this step is knowing where to perform the setup. Here's Jack to the rescue! From the default desktop location, right-click the desktop and select New, then choose Outbox. From this configuration box you can enter all of the necessary information that will allow you to connect to your company's mail server. You can also click the E-mail & News tab from within the Explorer, right-click and choose New, then select Outbox. Once the Outbox configuration screen appears, supply the required information and you're off and running.

Another tricky aspect of StarMail (and one that's so poorly documented it may seem that the service doesn't exist) is receiving e-mail. The ability to receive e-mail in StarMail exists and it's a very simple matter of configuring the SMTP server settings in the Inbox's properties (from within the Explorer). Once the settings are complete, it's just a matter of opening the newly created inbox to have the POP service check the specified account for e-mail. What's quite nice about this system is that it allows the user to set up multiple inboxes so that more than one account may be configured. The one thing that must be noted is that, in order to send or receive e-mail with StarMail, the Online icon must be selected. The Online icon is the small globe (with a check mark) on the upper right side of the main StarOffice window.

StarMail is a perfect solution for many corporate settings where multiple accounts are necessary and Outlook is not a requirement. StarMail quickly becomes an unsung hero for those hoping to escape the IE/NS mail trap.

File sharing with StarOffice
File sharing with StarOffice, of course, depends on a number of configurations including Samba, NFS, and ftp. Most of these configurations have been previously discussed, so I'll provide a link at the end of this Daily Drill Down for these necessary resources. Many of these resources create a situation (for the user) that is seamless and perfectly transparent. For example, using the smbmount command allows StarOffice to access any networked directory as if it were local. The NFS routine allows for the same silent service. When these types of directories are mounted, it's easiest to navigate through them via the Workplace directory within the Explorer. In the user's Workplace directory, all directories listed under "/" will appear, which means, in effect, every directory in the user’s file structure, including network mounted directories and files. The user can navigate, read, and write to these files so long as that particular user has access to that directory.

StarOffice also has a very unique method of viewing and navigating networked file structures. Through the Explorer, the user is able to connect to various systems via ftp. So long as the ftp routine is working properly, the StarOffice client can connect to remote file servers (or other machines) and display the directory as if it were local to the client.

In order to set up StarOffice's ftp client, you must have the ability to ftp (see link below). Once ftp is set up and running properly, open the Explorer window, right-click any blank space, select New, and choose FTP Account. The information needed in the configuration window is simple: the server is either the host name or IP address of the remote client, and the user name and password are self-explanatory. That's it! Once the connection is set up, you'll see a new icon in the Explorer with the label of the new ftp account, and to the left of that icon will be a [+] symbol. To activate the connection, click the [+] symbol and, if the account has been set up correctly, the directory's hierarchy will be displayed.

This new ftp structure can be treated as if it was identical to the Windows Explorer. Files can be copied via drag and drop and they can be opened with a double-click from either the Explorer or from the main directory structure opened in the larger desktop window.

Networking resources

Jack Wallen, Jr. is very pleased to have joined the TechRepublic staff as editor in chief of Linux content. Jack was thrown out of the "Window" back in 1995 when he grew tired of the "blue screen of death" and realized that "computing does not equal rebooting."

Prior to Jack's head-first dive into the computer industry, he was a professional actor with film, TV, and Broadway credits. Now Jack is content with his new position of Linux Evangelist. Ladies and gentlemen—the poster boy for the Linux Generation!

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

Editor's Picks