Free software is often developed with the mantra 'release early, release often'. This is a great idea, because new tools can be tested, trialled and critiqued as they're developed, rather than waiting for some arbitrary point of readiness.
Which brings us to KOffice 2.0, the latest productivity package designed specifically for KDE. Like the completely rewritten KDE 4 release, KOffice 2.0 has been let loose in a state that isn't quite ready for production use. Read on for our views of the new release from the KOffice camp...
The package consists of word processor (KWord), project manager (KPlato), spreadsheet app (KSpread) and presentation tool (KPresenter), plus two drawing editors (Karbon 14 and Krita). If you're missing Kexi or the formula editor, these are destined to return in version 2.1, but the Kivio flowchart package is currently without a maintainer, so it may not be updated to run on KDE 4.
The main release should, if things go as planned, be the first in a family of KOffice releases, with specific packages aimed at the education market, kids and other sectors. This is all possible, the developers say, because of the new modular nature of the suite's core.
We grabbed the Kubuntu version of the software from official sources and installed it on a fairly standard Dell laptop. We experienced quite a few problems trying to run it under Gnome, but switching to KDE (as you'd expect) made things a lot more stable. KOffice's launch speed is comparable with that of OpenOffice.org 3.1, and its rendering is beautifully smooth, even when shifting around large blended objects.
Also worthy of note is the move to sidebar docks - KOffice 2.0 tries to do something new by putting a lot of tools to hand in a small space. It mainly works, although the dock can get crowded if you try to do too much.
KOffice 2.0's docks aren't aware of your screen's height, so opening too many will tend to push the window off the bottom edge of your monitor.
As the suite matures towards a consumer-focused release, we hope the developers will work on the default layouts, because at the moment these aren't consistent across applications, nor are they ordered in the most usable way. For instance, the Insert dock is on the right in KWord and KSpread, but inexplicably jumps to the left in KPresenter. These are simple problems to modify yourself, but consistency would be helpful.
Importing different formats is also still largely hit and miss, tending towards miss for DOC, XLS or PPT formats. The developers have said that MS Office support is not a priority - but it probably should be if KOffice is going to break out of its niche.
The path less trodden
KOffice as a suite is heading into interesting territory, but the apps themselves vary in their success. The UI strives for unity, and this is both good and bad. Good because most things appear in a similar space; bad because often that's the wrong place. A case in point is the text tool in Krita. It should be in the main toolbox (akin to Gimp and Photoshop), but instead it's hidden away in the Shapes dock.
Except for Krita, KOffice frequently refused to render JPEG files as anything other than grey squares.
Changing the fonts with the Artistic Text tool is also unnecessarily complicated because it relies upon the Shape Properties dock, but this doesn't appear automatically and there are no hints in the suite or documentation to suggest this is what you need. It all leads to the feeling that the new KOffice isn't ready for the masses just yet.
However, many of the elements in KOffice 2.0 show great promise and we look forward to testing the suite once more when it's ready.
Our verdict: A promising but incomplete suite. We're waiting for the full version. 6/10.
Your views wanted
Do you use KOffice? If not, what features do you think are lacking that would make you want to try it out?
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