Saturday, December 17, 2011

Part 6, Free and Cheap Software for the SOHO Office

Even Lesser Known Office Suite Options

Crystal, Celframe, Coral, Calligra & KOffice (and a few more)

It's difficult to find a way to put all these software players into a single literary, movie, or operatic reference (as we've tried to do, with varying success, in earlier parts of this series). So let's just imagine them as potential characters in the upcoming movie of The Hobbit. Crystal would obviously be a reference to one of the magical communication orbs the wizards sometimes use. Celframe nicely describes the architecture of a room in a Hobbit's underground home, or a minor monster in a Dwarvish mine. Coral and Calligra are obviously Elvish characters, and KOffice sounds vaguely Orc-ish to me. Trying to meld all these characters into a single scene or plot would take many pages – and would certainly exceed the patience of this blog's readers. So let's talk about the software, instead:

Crystal Office  has some nice “Lite” office programs for Windows which have good functionality, but won't win any competitions based on features:
  • NotePro is a Rich Text Format-based word processor, which is more advanced than WordPad and includes spell checking, a calculator, tables, and bookmarking. The RTF format is an older, basic formatting specification that should make it easy to import or paste into almost any other program.
  • DayMate is a schedule organizer which allows you to schedule reminders, start applications, shut down your computer, dial phone numbers, send messages and open web sites.
  •  CellPro is a speadsheet application and ChartPro is a charting program.
The entire suite is $31.95 (more for a backup disk), or you can buy the individual programs separately. If you like simplicity, ease of use, and quick loading software, these are worth a try. If you live by the calendar and appointments, DayMate sounds particularly intriguing.

Also of note are a few extra programs available on the Crystal site:
  • ClipPlus is a clipboard manager that collects text and graphics clips.
  •  Maple and Maple Professional are outline managers that allow you to collect text, graphics and files, all in a hierarchical outline structure. If you do research or collect lots of data, but find that notebook applications, such as OneNote and Evernote, don't have the organizational structure you want, the Maples definitely are worth a look.
The site is currently advertising a Winter sale of 20% off if you enter the code (located on the banner of the home page).

If you are interested just in simple word processing, Jarte  (Windows only) may be similar to Crystal's NotePro. Adding to the features already found in Microsoft’s free WordPad software, it adds things like spell-check, headers/footers, tables and more, and it’s free.

If you need a full-featured word processor without the rest of an office suite, you can also look at the open source, free AbiWord. It is a stand-alone word processor which functions similar to Libre/OpenOffice's Writer or Word 2003. Its small size and modest system requirements make it perfect for older Windows computers and for new netbooks, too, as well as Mac OS X and Linux machines. It can also be run from a USB memory stick. Despite its small size, it is a full-featured word processor that has gathered a loyal following. It's well worth the download to try it. It's part of the GNOME project by GNU, which someday may be an entirely different blog post.

Headquartered in New York City, Celframe may be the largest U.S. producer of office software that most people have never heard of. Celframe offers application suites that appear to be popular with large corporations, governments, and schools. Its Celframe Office 2008 includes a full suite of applications including: Write, Spreadsheet, Power Presentation, Draw, Data Access, Studio (a graphics program), Photoalbum, Mail, Backup, Note Maker, Publisher, PDF Maker, and XML Maker. Celframe offers four different suites, ranging from Celframe Office Home for $62, to Celframe Office Pro for $170. (The suites are all different, depending on the intended audience. You need to see the website to compare.)

Celframe doesn't directly import newer Microsoft XML formats. It does offer, a free converter called, unsurprisingly, Celframe Converter. Otherwise the suites will open earlier Microsoft files plus OpenOffice formats, too. (It's graphics programs support Adobe Photoshop, Flash and CorelDraw formats.) Its interface is similar to Office 2003.
The suite can be run from a USB flash drive. You can download a trial version for 30 days. Reviews say that the programs are fairly light in functionality.

Upon a query, a Celframe spokesperson did say that they are planning to update its software in 2012, including cloud apps. This makes sense since other vendors (including Google and Zoho) are making large inroads in the corporate, government and education markets which appear to be the bread and butter of Celframe. Beta testing is expected in the middle of 2012.

Unless you have a need for the complete suite of packages and need to run it from a USB flash drive, it's hard to imagine a scenario where this would be the most economical or most powerful suite one could get for the money. If, however, you run an international conglomerate, this might be a nice, economical package for a few thousand employees.

If you are a Linux/Unix user, you should take a look at the free KOffice which is an open source suite of office and graphics applications. A “stable” version, KOffice 2.3.3 was released last March. Versions may also eventually be made for Windows and Mac OS X.

Of note, KWord is a frame-based word processor which might be excellent for desktop publishing and page layout, with master pages, graphic frames and other features. Other programs include KCells (spreadsheet) and Showcase (presentations). Other related open source software programs include Karbon (vector drawing), Krita (bitmap graphics), KPlato (project management), Kexi (data management), and Kivio (diagramming). The graphics programs, Krita and Karbon, are both considered stable and ready for "real" work. Interestingly, this project was boosted in 2010 by the support of Nokia.

Just as the OpenOffice community has split into groups, the KOffice community has an offshoot called Calligra which is creating versions of the KOffice suite with different names. So far, the software is still in beta testing. For Windows users, this could be the better bet for the future, but the software is currently only available for Linux. Watch for announcements for Windows and Mac versions as well as smartphone capability. The Calligra suite uses the same file formats as Libre/Open Office, which might be good for interoperability, eventually. This is also an open source project, so the applications are free.

Coral WordPerfect Office Professional  is another office suite that is often loaded on personal computers as a trial product. It includes a word processor, Quattro spreadsheet, Paradox database, slideshow and presentation units, data analysis, a digital notebook, a sticky note app, and a light email client. You can buy versions of the suite from the Coral website, but you might do better shopping other online retailers for a better price.

WordPerfect, at one time, was one of Microsoft Word's best competitors and it's a shame it wasn't able to survive Microsoft's marketing onslaught. (I think the same of Lotus 1-2-3 which was, in its heyday, much better than Excel.) Coral, known for its graphics programs, later bought up the rights and today lots of people do good work with this suite. Although a bit pricy, the software has stood the test of time and claims to have good interoperability with Microsoft products.

Coming next: Zenware

Tags: AbiWord, Crystal, Celframe, WordPerfect, Coral, KOffice, Calligra, Jarte, Maple, software, SOHO, office