Ubuntu Unleashed 2017 Edition (2017)
Part II: Desktop Ubuntu
Chapter 5. Productivity Applications
In This Chapter
Other Office Suites for Ubuntu
Other Useful Productivity Software
Productivity Applications Written for Microsoft Windows
Many businesses have already found a way to benefit from free and open-source software, such as office productivity suites like LibreOffice. These have the cost benefits of not having to pay license fees or support costs. However, more applications beyond these are available in Ubuntu. In this chapter, we explore some of them.
It’s important to understand that even though free and open-source software does very well most of the time, especially with less-complex documents, it is not 100 percent compatible with Microsoft Office. Why is this? Microsoft is notoriously secretive about its proprietary file formats, and the only way that free and open-source alternatives could ensure compatibility would be to reverse-engineer each file format, an exercise akin to taking apart a telephone to see how it works. This reverse-engineering is difficult to do in a legal way and is rarely perfect. However, many manage to maintain a very high standard of importing and exporting, so you should not experience too many problems except with documents of great complexity. As an example, this book was written using LibreOffice, whereas the post-production at the publisher uses Microsoft tools.
The biggest compatibility issue between Microsoft Office and others like LibreOffice is that Microsoft’s Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) and scripts produced using it do not transfer. If you use VBA scripts, you need to find another way to perform the functions for which they were written.
A productivity suite is defined as two or more applications bundled together and used for creating documents, presentations, spreadsheets, and databases. Other applications that might be included in the bundle are email clients, calculators/formula editors, illustration or drawing software, and more. Commonly, they are all tied together by a default look and feel, which makes sticking to one particular suite much easier. Because Ubuntu uses LibreOffice as its standard office suite, we introduce you to that first. We also take a brief look at some of the other Linux-based productivity applications.
Productivity for the Typical User
For the majority of users of productivity suites, LibreOffice should fulfill most, if not all, of your requirements. However, the first hurdle is not whether it can do what you require of it, but rather whether it can successfully import and export to proprietary Microsoft formats at a standard that is acceptable to your needs. Most of the time, LibreOffice should import and export with minimal hassle, perhaps getting a bit stuck with some of the more esoteric Microsoft Office formatting. Given that most users do not go much beyond tabs, columns, and tables, this level of compatibility should suffice.
However, you are strongly advised to round up a selection of documents and spreadsheets that seem the most likely to be difficult for the import/export filter and test them thoroughly (of course, keeping a backup of the originals). There is nothing worse for a system administrator who has deployed a new productivity suite than to suddenly get users complaining that they cannot read their files. This would quickly destroy any benefits gained from the other useful functions within LibreOffice, and could even mark the return of proprietary formats and expensive office suites.
On the positive side, LibreOffice supports a huge array of file formats and can export to nearly 70 types of documents. Such a variety of file formats means that you should be able to successfully use LibreOffice in nearly any environment, including formats no longer used by currently produced and maintained software, so it may be able to open some old files and documents you had once given up for lost.
LibreOffice contains a number of productivity applications for use in creating text documents, preparing spreadsheets, organizing presentations, managing projects, and so on. The following components of the LibreOffice package are included with Ubuntu:
Writer—This word processing program enables you to compose, format, and organize text documents. If you are accustomed to using Microsoft Word, the functionality of LibreOffice Writer will be familiar to you.
Calc—This spreadsheet program enables you to manipulate numbers in a spreadsheet format. Support for all but the most esoteric Microsoft Excel functions means that trading spreadsheets with Excel users should be successful. Calc offers some limited compatibility with Excel macros, but those macros generally have to be rewritten.
Impress—This presentation program is similar to Microsoft PowerPoint and enables you to create slideshow presentations that include graphs, diagrams, and other graphics. Impress also works well with most PowerPoint files.
The following five applications are not included by default with Ubuntu but are quite useful. All but Dia are a part of the LibreOffice project and add features to the suite that are not used as often as those Ubuntu installs by default. You must install them from the Ubuntu repositories if you want or require their functionality.
Math—This math formula editor enables you to write mathematical formulas with a number of math fonts and symbols for inclusion in a word processing document. Such symbols are highly specialized and not easily included in the basic functionality of a word processor. This is of interest primarily to math and science writers, but Math can be useful to anyone who needs to include a complex formula in text.
Base—This is a fully functional database application.
Draw—This graphics application allows you to create images for inclusion in the documents produced with LibreOffice. It saves files only in LibreOffice format, but it can import most common image formats.
Dia—This technical drawing editor from the GNOME Office suite enables you to create measured drawings, such as those used by architects and engineers. Its functionality is similar to that of Microsoft Visio.
Planner—You can use this project management application for project planning, scheduling, and tracking; this application is similar to, but not compatible with, Microsoft Project. After you install it, you will find it under the name Project Management.
A Brief History of LibreOffice
LibreOffice started as a fork of the OpenOffice.org office suite. The OpenOffice.org office suite is based on a commercial suite called StarOffice. Originally developed by a German company, StarOffice was purchased by Sun Microsystems in the United States. One of the biggest complaints about the old StarOffice was that all the component applications were integrated under a StarOffice “desktop” that looked very much like a Microsoft Windows desktop, including a Start button and menus. This meant that to edit a simple document, unneeded applications had to be loaded, making the office suite slow to load, slow to run, and quite demanding on system resources.
After the purchase of StarOffice, Sun Microsystems released a large part of the StarOffice code under the GNU Public License, and development began on what has become OpenOffice.org, which was freely available under the GPL. Sun also continued development on StarOffice. The significant differences between the free and commercial versions of the software were that StarOffice provided more fonts and even more import/export file filters than OpenOffice.org (these filters were not provided in the GPL version because of licensing restrictions), and StarOffice provided its own relational database, Software AGs Adabas D database.
Sun was bought by Oracle. Oracle suffered from a major disagreement with the developer community surrounding OpenOffice.org and the developers left to form The Document Foundation, hoping that Oracle would eventually join. Because the code for OpenOffice.org was licensed using a free software license, The Document Foundation created a fork, or a new version of the same software, using what they intended as a temporary name, LibreOffice. The hope was merely to change how the project was governed, from being led by one company to being led by a community with many companies and individuals participating. Oracle chose not to join The Document Foundation and instead relicensed the OpenOffice.org code for all future versions, which they may do as the owners of that code, and gave the code to the Apache Software Foundation, who is licensing it under the less-restrictive Apache license that allows open-source code to be used in proprietary products. To make things more interesting, IBM is using this Apache-licensed version of OpenOffice.org as the foundation for its own free-as-in-cost office suite based on it called Lotus Symphony, which also has some proprietary additions.
As the saga continues, the ultimate winner may be the end user as this effectively creates three competing office suites. For now, LibreOffice has the most developers, the strongest community, and the most mature software with the most rapid addition of new or improved features.
Other Office Suites for Ubuntu
As mentioned earlier, LibreOffice is the default application suite for Ubuntu. However, as is common in the open-source world, there are plenty of alternatives should you find that LibreOffice does not meet your specific requirements. These include the popular GNOME Office and also KOffice, the default KDE productivity suite. You are likely to hear more about LibreOffice, especially as more and more people realize that it is generally compatible with Microsoft Office file formats. Interestingly, the state of Massachusetts not long ago elected to standardize on two file formats for use in government: the Adobe Acrobat PDF format and the OASIS OpenDocument format, both of which are supported natively in LibreOffice.
The decision by the state of Massachusetts to standardize on PDF and OpenDocument has huge ramifications for the open-source world. It is the first time that OpenDocument, an open standard, has been specified in this way. It means that anyone who wants to do business with the state government must use OpenDocument-based file formats, and not the proprietary formats in use by Microsoft. Unfortunately for Microsoft, it does not have support for OpenDocument in any of its applications, making them useless to anyone wanting to work with the state government. This is despite Microsoft being a founding member of OASIS, who developed and ratified the OpenDocument standard.
Working with GNOME Office
The other office suite available for Ubuntu is GNOME Office, which is a collection of individual applications. Unlike LibreOffice, GNOME Office does not have a coherent suite of applications, meaning that you have to get used to using a word processor that offers no integration with a spreadsheet and cannot work directly with a presentation package. However, if you need only one or two components, it is worthwhile investigating GNOME Office.
The GTK Widget Set
Open-source developers are always trying to make it easier for people to build applications and help in development. To this end, there are a number of widgets or toolkits that other developers can use to rapidly create and deploy GUI applications. These widgets control things such as drop-down lists, Save As dialogs, window buttons, and general look and feel. Unfortunately, whereas Windows and Apple developers have to worry about only one set of widgets each, Linux has a plethora of different widgets, including GTK+, QT, and Motif. What is worse is that these widgets are incompatible with one another, making it difficult to easily move a finished application from one widget set to another.
GTK is an acronym for GIMP Tool Kit. GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program, is a graphics application very similar to Adobe Photoshop. By using the GTK-based jargon, we save ourselves several hundred words of typing and help move along our discussion of GNOME Office. You might also see similar references to QT and Motif, as well as other widget sets, in these chapters.
Here are some of the primary components of the GNOME Office suite that are available in Ubuntu:
AbiWord—This word processing program enables you to compose, format, and organize text documents and has some compatibility with the Microsoft Word file format. It uses plug-ins (programs that add functionality such as language translation) to enhance its functionality.
Gnumeric—This spreadsheet program enables you to manipulate numbers in a spreadsheet format. Support for all but the most esoteric Microsoft Excel functions means that users should have little trouble trading spreadsheets with Excel users.
GIMP—This graphics application allows you to create images for general use. It can import and export all common graphic file formats. GIMP is similar to Adobe’s Photoshop application and is described in Chapter 6, “Multimedia Applications.”
Evolution—Evolution is a mail client with an interface similar to Microsoft Outlook, providing email, scheduling, and calendaring. It is described in Chapter 4, “On the Internet.”
The loose association of applications known as GNOME Office includes several additional applications that duplicate the functionality of applications already provided by Ubuntu. Those extra GNOME applications are not included in a default installation of Ubuntu to eliminate redundancy. They are all available from the GNOME Office website, at www.gnome.org/gnome-office/, and in the Ubuntu software repositories.
Working with KOffice
The KDE office suite KOffice was developed to provide tight integration with the KDE desktop. Integration enables objects in one application to be inserted in other applications via drag and drop, and all the applications can communicate with each other, so a change in an object is instantly communicated to other applications. The application integration provided by KDE is a significant enhancement to productivity. (Some GNOME desktop applications share a similar communication facility with each other.) If you use the KDE desktop instead of the default GNOME desktop, you can enjoy the benefits of this integration, along with the Konqueror web and file browser.
The word processor for KOffice is KWord. KWord is a frames-based word processor, meaning that document pages can be formatted in framesets that hold text, graphics, and objects in enclosed areas. You can use framesets to format text on a page that includes text and images within columns that the text needs to flow around, making KWord an excellent choice for creating documents other than standard business letters, such as newsletters and brochures.
KWord and other components of KOffice are stable, but are still under development and lack all the polished features of LibreOffice and AbiWord. However, it does have the capability to work with the OpenDocument format found in LibreOffice, as well as limited compatibility with Microsoft file formats.
The KOffice KSpread client is a functional spreadsheet program that offers graphing capabilities along with all the other standard spreadsheet functionality.
KDE includes other productivity options in KOffice. These include an address book, time tracker, calculator, notepad, and scheduler. One popular application is Kontact, which provides daily, weekly, workweek, and monthly views of tasks, to-do lists, and scheduled appointments with background alarms.
Other Useful Productivity Software
The office suites already discussed in this chapter are ideal for typical office-focused file interactions: creating basic documents, spreadsheets, and so on. However, some of us have more complex or precise needs. This section covers some of the options available to help you be productive in those instances.
Working with PDF
Reading a PDF in Ubuntu is simple. The functionality is available by default thanks to an installed program called Evince. Open a PDF, and Evince opens and so you read the document. Sometimes filling out forms is less straightforward as the form might have been created using functionality only available from Adobe. You can install Adobe Reader from the Ubuntu Software Center from the Canonical Partners section. Adobe Reader should work with any PDF form created using Adobe software, whether it was created on Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux.
On occasion, you find that you have a PDF file that you want to edit. That is a little more complex, but not as difficult as it used to be. There is a program created just for editing PDF files.
Install PDF Editor (pdfedit) from the Ubuntu Software Center. On the surface, this program seems simple enough, but it has great power that is not immediately obvious. Advanced users can learn to use pdfedit in scripts to make sweeping changes quickly. Of course, as with most powerful tools, it comes with the cost of complexity and learning how to use it.
Working with XML and DocBook
Like its ancestor SGML and cousin HTML, XML is a markup language. It is designed for use in a plain-text document. Tags surround specific sections of the text to denote how that section is to be displayed. Listing 5.1 contains a short example.
LISTING 5.1 Sample XML Excerpt
Click here to view code image
<xml-stylesheet type="text/css" href="book.css"?>
<title>Ubuntu Unleashed 2013</title>
<paragraph><dropcap>N</dropcap>ot that long ago,the mere mention...
This could easily be written using a simple text editor like the one installed by default, Gedit (called Text Editor in the Dash and the listings in the Ubuntu Software Center). However, doing it that way would be tedious for most people. A better option is to use an editor expressly designed and intended for dealing with XML files. Because DocBook is an open-source standard form of XML that has been designed explicitly for use with documentation, many editors that can work with one will work with both. If you only need to do something quick, one of these should be suitable. Start with Gedit, which is installed by default. If it is not suitable, look in the Ubuntu Software Center for other options like the ones discussed next.
If you intend to write a lot of complicated documentation in only the DocBook format, the most common recommendation for Ubuntu is a program called Publican. Publican is not just an editor; it is also a publication system for DocBook. It tests your XML to ensure it is in a valid DocBook form so that your output conforms to publication standards. It automates output into multiple formats such as HTML and PDF, and it allows complete control for custom skinning and formatting. You can install Publican from the Ubuntu Software Center.
A more powerful option is XML Copy Editor. It is designed for editing most markup languages including XML, DocBook, DITA, and more. It also features schema validation, syntax highlighting, tag completion, and spell checking. This is the most useful option for the professional documentation specialist. You can install XML Copy Editor from the Ubuntu Software Repositories, and their website has a version available for use on Windows. See http://xml-copy-editor.sourceforge.net for more.
Working with LaTeX
LaTeX was created for and is widely used in academia. It is a WYGIWYW (What You Get Is What You Want) document markup language created for the TeX typesetting system. Multiple editors are available for use with LaTeX, and they are likely to be found for just about every operating system in existence.
WYSIWYG is an acronym for “what you see is what you get” that has often been used to describe word processors and document creation systems that use a graphical interface. Unfortunately, anyone who has created documents with these programs, including the ones mentioned earlier in this chapter, such as LibreOffice, knows that what you see on the screen is not always what appears in the printed version on paper. There are no promises about how things will or will not look on the screen while using a LaTeX editor for your TeX document, but the format promises that the ultimate output will be exactly what you ask for.
A couple of the more popular LaTeX editors available from the Ubuntu Software Center are discussed in this section. You can also create and edit using any text editor, including Gedit.
Texmaker not only has a version in the Ubuntu Software Center, but also offers versions for Windows and Mac OS X from www.xm1math.net/texmaker/. It is free, easy to use, and mature. The program has been around for a while, it is stable, has many useful features, and is rather popular in the TeX world.
LyX follows suit with both a version in the Ubuntu Software Center and versions available for Windows and Mac OS X from its website at www.lyx.org. The main appeal for LyX users is its graphical interface, which makes it an interesting bridge from WYSIWYG to LaTeX. It also has many plug-ins available to expand functionality.
Kile was written and designed for use with KDE. As such, it blends in well to Kubuntu but will run well on a standard Ubuntu installation. It also has a Windows version available; see http://kile.sourceforge.net for details.
Productivity Applications Written for Microsoft Windows
Microsoft Windows is fundamentally different from Linux, yet you can install and run some Microsoft Windows applications in Linux by using an application named Wine. Wine enables you to use Microsoft Windows and DOS programs on UNIX-based systems. Wine includes a program loader that you can use to execute a Windows binary, along with a DLL library that implements Windows command calls, translating them to the equivalent UNIX and X11 command calls. Because of frequent updates to the Wine code base, Wine is not included with Ubuntu. Download a current version of Wine from www.winehq.org/. To see whether your favorite application is supported by Wine, you can look at the Wine application database at https://appdb.winehq.org/.
Other solutions, primarily CrossOver Office from CodeWeavers, enable use of Microsoft productivity applications. If you are after a closer-to-painless way of running not only Microsoft Office, but also Apple iTunes and other software, you should investigate CodeWeavers. CrossOver Office is one of the simplest programs you can use to get Windows-based programs to work. Check out www.codeweavers.com to download a trial version of the latest software.
www.libreoffice.org—The home page for the LibreOffice suite.
www.documentfoundation.org—The home page for The Document Foundation.
www.openoffice.org—The home page for the OpenOffice.org office suite.
https://wiki.gnome.org/Projects/GnomeOffice—The GNOME Office site.
www.koffice.org/—The home page for the KOffice suite.
http://www.pdfedit.cz/en/index.html—The home page for PDF Edit.
www.codeweavers.com/—The home page for CrossOver Office from CodeWeavers that enables you to run some Windows programs under Linux.