An in-depth look at KOffice, the office application suite for KDE.
This is the next set in our series of articles on KDE. Previously, we discussed KDE as a whole, with an overview of the KDE products. Then we took a look at Konqueror, the magical Web browser, file manager, and application launcher, all rolled into one. Now it's time for an up-close and personal tour of KOffice, the KDE office suite. Before we go further, I should mention that all of the screen-captures and menu choices mentioned in this article may vary a little with your own distributions. I am the North American director of training for MandrakeSoft Inc., of Altadena, Calif. Therefore, I'm a little biased to the Mandrake distribution. However, since KDE is KDE, everything other than the menu structure will be identical.
Introduction to KOffice:
KOffice evolved as a part of the KDE 2.0 rebuild, because there wasn't a decent, complete office product for Linux. You had a few choices: StarOffice, which a lot of users feel is bloated (you open one application and you get them all); AbiWord, which is a good start of a word processor; or you had a few commercial products, such as Applix and WordPerfect. Users wanted more, and in order for Linux to catch on in the commercial and corporate worlds, the users needed a office suite to replace Microsoft's office products. So along came KOffice. At this time KOffice is in a very steep and fast-paced development curve. KDE 2.0 was released a few weeks ago, and KDE 2.0.1 is already frozen, and will be available by the time you read this. KDE 2.1 is already in the HEAD branch of the development CVS (code base). KDE 2.1 will include some massive improvements both in the speed of the application and in import/export filters for compatibility. Since the recent open source release of StarOffice, KDE now has the chance to build on some of the StarOffice's filtering and other functional code. Along with these other improvements, we add another application to the KOffice suite of products: Kivio, a vectored drawing program that joins the suite of applications. Another bonus to KOffice is the ability to embed screens and data from one office application to another. As you are creating your financial statement, newsletter, or whatever you desire, you have the ability to embed pictures, charts, presentations, drawings, or even e-mail messages. All the KDE applications talk to each other. You also have the ability to talk to and manage KOffice applications from the command line. There are scripts in the KDesk package that allow you to time and automate the running of presentations, the data exchange on KSpread, and much more. Using these scripts, you can create anything that you desire; you are limited only by your imagination. So without further ado, let's start our discussions with the simplest part of KOffice, the KOffice shell.
You can find the KOffice shell by clicking on the KMenu, then Office, and then KOffice Workspace. When you do, you will get a screen that looks something like the one below.
|The KOffice workspace|
The KOffice workspace, while not required, gives you a nice way to manage all of your office windows from a central location. The KOffice applications can also be run individually, if necessary for memory or performance reasons. The office products can be started up product by product from the KMenu|Office collection. The functionality of the KOffice workspace is that of an application launcher. In the column on the left you have the available office applications, and in the window on the right you have the window you are working on. This makes it real easy to work in multiple applications and share information between them. The KOffice workspace also provides you with a great place to manage your office product configurations.
The next application to discuss is KWord. KWord is, as you may have guessed, the word processor for the suite. If you select KMenu |Office -|KWord, you will get the following screen:
|The KWord opening screen|
You need to select either a new file type, an existing file, or a blank file. As KWord develops further, there will be more templates available, or you can just add your own. In any event, select a blank page, and this is what your next view will look like:
|The KWord main window|
The KWord main window is your word processor's main window. This window is your gateway to a new and exciting word processor. You can right-click on the rulers and re-set them to inches or any other unit of measurement you choose.
If you wish to save the document in another format, select File|Save As. The default format is KWD, which in actuality is a BZ2 TAR file containing the XML KWord document and all the associated images. The nice part about saving in this format is that even though there may not be an export filter available for your application to share with KOffice, you can un-TAR and un-BZIP the files and use the pieces in other applications. For example, Microsoft Word will read XML files and allow you to paste JPG and PNG images into Word documents.
You will also find that you can drag and drop the toolbars from one location to another, and fully customize them by using the settings menu. A hint: if you right-click on the ruler bar you can change the grid to inches, or points, if you do not want the centimeters.
KWord also contains all of the features that you would expect to find in any office platform. It does spell checking, macros, and has print capability. While it is still in the development stage, it is an excellent word processor.
Another application that is a part of the KOffice products is KSpread. KSpread is the spreadsheet for KDE. As with any of the KOffice applications, when you start KSpread you are asked if you would like to create a new document or use an existing one. If you choose to create a new document, you will see a window like the one below.
|KSpread main screen|
You can use formulas, equations, or text in any cell. You have the ability to format the spreadsheet in any way you wish, and you also are able to create additional tables and form workbooks. KSpread is compatible with KChart, which is the KDE chart application. The formatting tools included in KSpread allow the use of colors, shading, borders, and much more. You also have the ability to add additional sheets to create a workbook. You can import Excel, Lotus, and CSV spreadsheets from other applications. In any KOffice application, you can insert graphics, pictures, and portions of other KDE applications. KSpread is no exception to this rule.
KIllustrator is the vector drawing program included with KDE. KIllustrator can import SVG, EPS, and other file formats. The main screen for KIllustrator is shown below.
|The KIllustrator main screen|
A vector drawing program like KIllustrator allows the user to draw via straight lines and points and angles. This allows for very accurate blueprints, diagrams, circuit board layouts, and more. The difference between a vector program other drawing programs is that a regular drawing program allows the user to draw curves, and basically any other shape that can be drawn with the mouse. While the other programs allow a little more freedom, it is harder to be precise when drawing to a scale.
KPresenter is the presentation manager for KDE and KOffice. With KPresenter you can create and display slideshows, papers, and more. Like other KDE applications, KPresenter also uses the DCOP database, and thus allows you to use scripted presentations. With the correct timing and audio WAV files you are able to generate a full multimedia application. The scripts can be written at the shell script level, which makes all these functions accessible to even the newest user.
|KPresenter main window, showing toolbar and slide sorter|
One of the things you will notice in KPresenter is the slide sorter on the left of the screen. There are also additional toolbars you can turn on and off via the View menu option (available in all of the KOffice products). Additional features in KPresenter allow the user to draw figures, and insert pictures, clipart, and data from other KOffice applications. This makes KPresenter a truly robust presentation manager,
Kivio is the latest addition to the KOffice family. While Kivio was originally developed by TheKompany.com, of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., it has now joined the KDE CVS as a part of KOffice. Kivio is a fully functioning flowchart program.
|Kivio main screen with a flowchart example|
In the above screen capture you will see an example of a flowchart. A flowchart is a timeline or schematic diagram of what a process or program will do. While flowcharting is not used by programmers that often anymore, it is still a sign of good planning and is used very frequently in mechanical engineering and robotics.
In addition to flowcharting, Kivio can be used to create circuit diagrams, and other line drawings. While a full-fledged UML (Unified Modeling Language) tool is under development, Kivio provides a way to fill the gap for the time being.
To be fair, it is important to note two items that are missing in the KOffice suite. The first is a database tool or manager such as Microsoft Access. There is currently a project underway at TheKompany.com (www.thekompany.com) to solve this gap. The author has tried a current snapshot of the CVS and it failed to compile.
Also missing in the KOffice application suite is a program similar to QuickBooks or Quicken. This type of software would allow a small business to migrate their invoicing to KDE and to interface with the other KOffice and KDE products. It is rumored that GNUCash is working on a port to KDE, and this may solve the problem. As always, the KDE team is looking for programmers who wish to help with the project. If you are so inclined, please visit http://www.kde.org and check out the "How to Help" pages.
Christopher Molnar is the North American training coordinator for MandrakeSoft Inc., and is based in Hartford, Conn. You can reach Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, and most days you can catch him on IRC chat at irc.kde.org, on the #kde channel.