StarWriter: Linux's answer to MS Word, demystified

Let StarOffice's StarWriter Bryan Pfaffenberger show you how to make StarWriter a solid alternative to Microsoft Word.

On January 25th Bryan Pfaffenberger shared his expertise on making StarWriter a solid alternative to Microsoft Word. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

On January 25th Bryan Pfaffenberger shared his expertise on making StarWriter a solid alternative to Microsoft Word. If you couldn’t join us then, enjoy the transcript and we hope to see you on our next live Guild Meeting. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

Note: TechProGuild edits Guild Meeting transcripts for clarity.

JACK WALLEN: Tonight’s Guild Meeting is with one of TPG's best Linux writers Bryan Pfaffenberger! Tonight he will be discussing StarOffice. Bryan will hopefully answer all those questions that have been eating away at your mind! ;-)

NRUSSELL: What's the topic tonight?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: And we're talkin' about StarWriter especially.

JACK WALLEN: I also want to remind you that tonight's Guild Meeting is sponsored by, Loki games, and VMware all of which will be giving to us the prizes for this meeting! Oh did I say prizes? Well, I’m going to talk about the prizes later ;-) for now I want to hand over the floor to Bryan! Ladies and gentlemen, Bryan <insert roar of the crowd and smell of the greasepaint>.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: StarWriter is our topic tonight.

SHADOW: Yikes, did we crash?

JACK WALLEN: StarWriter as you all know is the word processing application for StarOffice.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: So let's hear your questions and concerns.

NRUSSELL: I'm installing SO now. :)

GGORMAN: <forgiveMe>Can StarWriter read and write Word files?</forgiveMe>.

NRUSSELL: My question, too.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: StarWriter can read Word 6.0, Office 95/97, and certain Office 2000 files.

NRUSSELL: What about Excel?

What about Excel?
DREW HAPPLI: Is the native file type for StarWriter the same for Mac, OS/2, Linux, Windows, etc? Or will there be minor issues reading the file, like with another Word processor?

JACK WALLEN: I have a question for you Bryan. Is there a way to keep SO from chomping up so much memory from the system resources?

SECTOR: SO will read Excel formats.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: But StarWriter can't deal with certain Word formats, such as revision marks.

SHADOW: Drew Happily read on their site that it was a spreadsheet, word processor and presentation suite, so really it looks like it's just "access" that they haven't improved upon.

NRUSSELL: I have that trouble with Word itself.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Such as special characters from Word?

JACK WALLEN: Actually I have another question: styles and templates. With Applixware you can import any kind of style and template but I can't seem to figure out how to do it with SO.

DREW HAPPLI: Actually it has a Database function in it. But it is a system resource hog (at least on my P166).

SECTOR: Some versions of SO do have a Database. Also there is a painting program and a drawing program.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: You can indeed import Word style sheets with StarOffice. Just open the Word file, delete all the text, and save it as a SO template!

JACK WALLEN: Doh! Gonna try that right now. ;-)

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Guest1994, on characters. See my piece on font de-uglification. There is a way to get SW to show MS special character.

Look at the full feature on that program
GGORMAN: How full-featured are the painting and drawing programs? How would they compare, say, to Paint Shop Pro? OK, but perhaps not so many features and you could say as much about StarWriter.

SECTOR: Only used the drawing part myself, it's not too bad has a lot of text manipulation stuff. Though it could use improvement.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: But I've learned to write macros to make up deficiencies in SW.

NRUSSELL: I have Sun's SO 5.1 installed now. Are there any patches I should download?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: If you downloaded recently, it's up to date.

DREW HAPPLI: What if you have the CD?

NRUSSELL: It's 5.1a.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: What version do you have? 5.1A?

SHADOW: Oh yeah?? I must have got something mixed up. I was trying to read covertly at work ;).

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: StarWriter exports well to Word with certain exceptions.

DREW HAPPLI: Nope, I have 5.1, so there is a patch I should more than likely get.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Just download the most recent version from Sun's site. On exporting to Word. For example, you can't embed a table within a table. Still, I submit my work to publishers who expect Word, and they don't know the difference.

NRUSSELL: I found that true with WordPerfect to Word. Cool BP, I don't want to use word if at all possible.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: I've written two books and 20 articles with StarWriter.

DREW HAPPLI: So to get the update I have to download the whole silly thing? Which books?

What books are we talking about?
BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Thanks for asking! Mastering GNOME (Sybex), and Linux Command Reference (Also Sybex).

SECTOR: Not sure for the current level, but there have been patches available before.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: It's only 70 MB :-) Office is 200MB? More?

RICHARDS: What is Sun saying about the future of SO?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: They're very serious about supporting it and keeping it available gratis. And selling support.

SECTOR: Some don't have all these nice fancy things like cable modems or xDSL available. That said, it takes awhile but I've download StarOffice a couple of times.

NRUSSELL: The SO table came across fine to my word. Yea!

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: It's saying something good about SO, though, that so many people download it despite the time involved.

DREW HAPPLI: Ever try downloading 70Mb at 56K? My mother would shoot me if I told her she needed to do that to update the program I installed on her computer.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: So buy a copy of MS Office at $200?

SECTOR: Has downloaded it at 31.6K.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: And you won't be able to keep it running. StarWriter deals with crashes VERY well.

SECTOR: If it's a problem, get it on a CDROM.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: I've never lost work with StarWriter.

SECTOR: What crashes?


NRUSSELL: I won't test the crash, okay?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Crashes? Some files give SW fits. For example, big, complex Word files. Recovery is EXCELLENT!

SECTOR: Don't mess with those myself.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Star Office works fine with Win 95 and 98 right? I don't run it on Win. Only Linux.

SECTOR: I wouldn’t know anything about that.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Anyone tried it on Windows?

SECTOR: It works well with OS/2 though.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: There's an OS/2 interface compatibility mode. Very cool.

NRUSSELL: Cool—still use OS/2.

DREW HAPPLI: It works fine under Win95 & 98.


BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Major shortcoming of SW: lack of compatibility with Word's revision marks. Sun says they're going to fix this. It's the only reason I still run Microsoft Word. My editors send me manuscript marked up with Word revision marks.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: And StarWriter can't read them.

RICHARDS: How does StarWriter's use of styles compare with Describe or WordPerfect?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: StarWriter's styles are very similar to Word's. They're named, with underlying templates.

SECTOR: Will a future version of SO be able to read those revision marks.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: That's what Sun says.

How good are they?
NRUSSELL: How good are the macros?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Really cool. I've been writing them like crazy lately.

NRUSSELL: What language is it like?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Partly to cope with SW's deficiencies. For example, there's no command to delete a paragraph. You can record macros, or use StarBasic, a VisualBasic-like language.

NRUSSELL: With sub routines?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Yes—and a full set of control structure (if, do/while, etc).

NRUSSELL: Good I like a strong macro language.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Love it! I'm working on a Linux command reference. I'm importing a bunch of stuff from text docs.

DREW HAPPLI: Star Office also works fine under NT 4.0 workstation.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: I've written a macro that deals with paragraph breaks, creates a table, formats everything, and it's saving me HOURS.

NRUSSELL: Are files the same between NT and Linux?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: You mean SW files? If so, yes.

NRUSSELL: Data files?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Yes, *.sdw is the format. But SW also writes to Word 6.0, Office 95/97.

NRUSSELL: Is it? I've only tried saving as word docs. :)

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Try sdw. It's faster, because translation isn't necessary. And I think slightly less buggy.

You’re really bugging me
NRUSSELL: I see. It is sdw.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: So who else is using StarWriter? Like it?

DREW HAPPLI: I've worked with it a bit, under NT, 95, 98, and a little under Linux..but the Linux box I had was very small..P90.

SHADOW: I downloaded it at work but haven't managed to get it home yet. But I'm looking forward to it.

SECTOR: How was it on the P90?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Have you work with it on a network Drew? I've used SO on a P166. Not bad actually.

DREW HAPPLI: It was a bit slow. It was better than some other products. So it wasn't hideously slow.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: We've run it on our LAN here. Not bad, but Sun has a ways to go to implement the Web-served version.

DREW HAPPLI: I have not worked with the network version. I've only used it installed to the local machine.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Novel 4.3 is our network. See any problems BP?

NRUSSELL: Off topic—Do you like the spreadsheet part?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Yes, it's very strong. As well developed as StarWriter. The presentation graphics module (StarImpress) is also quite good.

NRUSSELL: Good, I have a need for spreadsheet tool. I use QuattroPro.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Gnumeric (GNOME) is slightly better at digesting large, complex Excel worksheets. But Gnumeric can't do charts.

And now for the chart toppers…
DREW HAPPLI: I thought it was pretty good. I've only used the spreadsheet part once, and the Database (StarBase) once. I don't have as much time to play anymore.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: So StarCalc has the edge. StarBase is rather pathetic, I'm sorry to say.

NRUSSELL: Edge over numeric?


NRUSSELL: Can you insert spreadsheet charts in StarWriter?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: StarImpress (presentation graphics) is VERY nice. On charts in SW, yes! There's excellent integration.

DREW HAPPLI: StarBase was very slow on the P166.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: After all, it's one big monster of a program!

NRUSSELL: Can you insert part of a spreadsheet into the document as a table?

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Nrussell, yes, you can insert the ss as a table. In fact, in SW, a table IS a spreadsheet. Guest61994. Don't know what you mean by recording an introduction? PP you can record your voice on each slide. The key to StarWriter happiness lies in customizing the program.

NRUSSELL: Or the intro to James Bond? :)

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Oh, recording voice. Possibly in the Win version, but not Linux.

NRUSSELL: I just tried the old—nice!

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: It is nice. And StarBasic is very powerful. These are the aspects of SO that people are just now discovering. I don't miss Word at all.

The end of the road
JACK WALLEN: Ladies and gents this is your 5 minute warning ;-). Let's start wrapping up your last minute questions

NRUSSELL: I see. This is definitely worth digging into. I don't miss Word now!

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: At first, SW's interface gives you fits. So many icons! But you get it after a bit. If it's frustrating you, keep with it.

NRUSSELL: A bit strange, I agree.

DREW HAPPLI: The Cross OS compatibility is what I like the most about StarOffice.

SECTOR: I've never used Word myself. (Used to use WordStar, though.)

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Yes! And Sun is reportedly working on a Mac version.

NRUSSELL: Yes, one of the things I like about WordPerfect.

DREW HAPPLI: A Mac Version would just rock.

NRUSSELL: The even had a vms WordPerfect back in the 5.x days.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: WP 5.2 was cool. I get the same feeling with SW.

DREW HAPPLI: I could use that at work, we only have one Mac, and we keep getting Word98 files.

SECTOR: Did they have a CP/M version?

NRUSSELL: Good. It's hard for me to leave WP!!!! They had a DataGeneral WordPerfect I don't remember a cp/m version. That's too long ago. ;).

SECTOR: 2 minute warning. Well, that's when I started using WordStar.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Hurry up offense.

JACK WALLEN: Let's start wrapping it up folks (sorry tsteele and thanks Sector!) so I can announce the happy puppies.

NRUSSELL: I never really used WordStar.

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Sector, I used PerfectWriter on a 1981 Kaypro!

RICHARDS: How is printer support, any recommendations?

NRUSSELL: I used Edlin. :).

JACK WALLEN: You're dating yourself Sector! ;-)

BRYAN PFAFFENBERGER: Thanks everyone for joining. If you've more questions e-mail me. It's

SECTOR: I've got the Perfect suite myself, came with my PiedPiper.

NRUSSELL: Thanks for the info!

Too much information
DREW HAPPLI: Under NT, 95, and 98 it uses your Windows printers. Prints fine (at least to a networked 4SI).

JACK WALLEN: The 3rd place winner who will get out of the computer chair, jump for joy and now own a copy of Quake III (for Linux), and IDG book and a chance to win one of the Athlons is Guest61994. The 2nd place winner who will give us their best faye ray scream when they realize they've just won a copy of VMware and a chance to win an Athlon machine is nrussell.


JACK WALLEN: Nrussell I didn't get a faye ray scream!



Thanks for coming
JACK WALLEN: Okay .I just want to thank everyone for showing up. Remember to support our great sponsors,, and

NRUSSELL: You bet!

JACK WALLEN: Come back Thurs. when we'll be talking about making the final migration to Linux—enlightening you on dropping Windows for good!

DREW HAPPLI: My wife won't let me buy a new computer from Something about buying a house.
Our Guild Meetings feature top-flight professionals leading discussions on interesting and valuable IT issues. You can find a schedule of Guild Meetings in your weekly TechProGuild Notes TechMail, or on the Guild Meeting calendar.

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