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A first look at gobeProductive 3.0

Into the Linux Office market comes yet another impressive contestant

(LinuxWorld) -- If you've been watching Linux struggle to gain a bigger footprint on the desktop, you're aware that the other half of the malignant monopoly -- Microsoft Office -- poses a major barrier to migration away from the Windows platform. Recently that particular barrier has come under serious assault. Sun's StarOffice 6.0 is hot, gaining respect and positive reviews in both the mainstream and the Linux press. Moreover, it's not the only game in town.

Perhaps the proliferation of Linux office suites explains why the tres duh press is no longer openly snickering at the thought of Linux desktops. Alternatively, perhaps they stand as mute counterpoints to the denial of its existence. In either case, the reality is that the Linux desktop is a happening kind of thing.

Hancom recently released Hancom Office 2.0. That's another suite well worth your time to investigate. OpenOffice is out there, too. And let's not forget KOffice. This week I'm going to share my recent experiences with an alpha version of yet another Linux office suite. This one is gobeProductive from Gobe Software.

I've never done serious word processing. I once typed letters and such for bureaucrats in the Texas government using WordPerfect and had to learn how to do tables. When I was publishing a paper version of my newsletter -- The Dweebspeak Primer -- I used DeScribe on OS/2 and it was more than adequate for my needs to layout and print the eight-page spread.

When Gobe Software announced it was adding Linux to its stable of supported platforms, I immediately requested a review copy. There wasn't one at the time, but I was recently informed there was an alpha version I could look at if I wished.

By alpha, Gobe Software means it doesn't even want bug reports yet. Its developers just want general feedback on first impressions. They haven't even begun to polish the code. So, don't take anything I say here about things that don't quite mesh yet as negatives. They simply reflect the current stage of development. Nothing more, nothing less. A (possibly partial) list of prerequisites to run the code includes gnome 1.4.1, gnome-print 0.35, libglade 0.17, and Freetype 2.

I downloaded the tarball containing the alpha version of gobeProductive 3.0 for Linux and following the instructions provided decompressed it and ran the install script. A nit showed up as the last step of the install as it tried to start the application. Instead of seeing a splash screen, I got the following two messages:

/usr/share/gobeProductive/gobeProductive: relocation error: /usr/share/gobeProductive/libOSMesa.so.3: undefined symbol: glapi Context

It took just a second to fix this. I added /usr/share/gobeProductive to /etc/ld.so.conf and ran ldconfig as root. Then I reran the install script and instead of error messages at its completion, I saw the following window appear.

gobeProductive Splash Screen

My desktop box is running Red Hat 7.2 with the Ximian GNOME desktop. Before starting any of the included applications (word processing, graphics, image processing, presentation, or spreadsheet), I shut gobeProductive down and checked my menus. Sure enough, it was in the Programs|Applications menu. When I start gobeProductive from the menu, however, any application that I select from the splash screen crashes at startup. Starting gobeProductive from the command line avoids the crash.

I thought it might be fun to learn a little about gobeProductive by creating a newsletter in a format similar to what I used for The Dweebspeak Primer. First, I needed a graphic banner for the front page. I noticed while using the word processing application that an image file could be inserted in the header area of a page. Cool. I tried to puzzle out how to create said image using both the graphics and the image processing apps, but failed. No problem. I created one using one of the GIMP's script-fu logo plug-ins.

I saved the image as a PNG file, but for some reason the image file didn't' scale correctly in gobeProductive. I went back into GIMP and saved it as a GIF. gobeProductive then sized the banner appropriately. Step 1 was complete.

Next, I needed a two-column format. That was as easy as clicking on Format|Sections & Columns, and then entering 2. Now I had my basic page format.

Then it was time for a Table of Contents. You can insert a spreadsheet at any point in a text document, so I decided to try that. Up came a small three-column spreadsheet that I quickly turned into a TOC. Nothing to it.

Now it was time to start the lead story. I also decided to insert an image with it. That's me trying to convince Anna the reluctant mother that she is past due in the image below. It did no good, by the way. At least not yet.

Newsletter layout

I stopped after the first page. Nevertheless, I had done enough in a relatively short period to believe that Gobe Software is going to have a winning entry in the Linux office sweepstakes with gobeProductive. Ease of use in a feature-rich environment. A nice combination. You can bet I'll be keeping an eye on gobeProductive as it matures.

Out of curiosity, I decided to save the gobeProductive newsletter file as a Microsoft Word document, then try to open it using Sun Office 6.0. The file opened and displayed, but had minor variations from the original. The fonts did not display exactly the same in each, although the type (Century Schoolbook) was the same. The image of the photograph was also slightly distorted, as if it had been stretched in one direction. Then I sent the file in Word format to a friend at work with access to Word 97. She reports it appeared there in good shape, with perhaps a slight distortion of the image. What these differences in the display of the file on gobeProductive, Star Office, and Microsoft Word mean, if anything, I'm not sure.

Gobe Software began life in 1997 and delivered version 1.0 of the Productive office suite for BeOS in August of the following year. In August of 1999, version 2.0 was released. Not long afterwards, it began work on a Windows version of the suite. gobeProductive 3.0 for Windows shipped in December of 2001. Work on the Linux version of gobeProductive 3.0 began in 2000. There are a number of very positive reviews of gobeProductive cited on its Web site for both the BeOS and Windows versions. My guess is that in that links to glowing reviews of the Linux version will appear there as well. That will be further sign of the rapidly maturing and suddenly visible Linux desktop.

A story at Information Week recently reported that about 50 percent of enterprises deploying Linux servers are also using Linux on the desktop. An even larger percentage of both small and large firms using Linux servers plan to try it on the desktop as well. InfoWorld scribe Russell Pavlicek recently noted that his reader responses are also reflecting this new reality.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

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