Software integration has become an effective way for schools and businesses to cut down on the total cost of ownership of their computer networks. Prized for their ability to let all portions of the suite work together in harmony, integrated software packages allow students and teachers to create spreadsheets, use drawing tools, word process, and create digitized presentations, among other tasks. Because of the widespread demand for these “one stop shop” packages, however, office suites have flooded the market, making it hard to tell one product from the next.

In her article, Holzberg examines five of the most popular office suites currently available and assesses their practicality for the school setting. Here are some important features to consider when choosing the best suite for your school’s needs:

AppleWorks 6.2 for OS X (Apple Computer Inc.)

This software package is actually a single integrated application with six functions, or modules, which can be opened at the same time to allow users to switch from program to program.

Pros:

• Project assistants are available to guide less experienced users through the package’s applications.

• Students can install a free Spanish dictionary with the program that allows language learners to spell-check their work as they type.

• An Auto-Save feature periodically saves work according to a time frame set by the user.

• A preview option in the printer pop-up screen allows users to save documents in PDF format, so they can be used with Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Reader.

Cons:

• Does not allow users to do more than one “undo” to reverse an action taken in error.

• Uses a “flat-file database manager, rather than the more robust relational database manager.”

Office XP Professional (Microsoft Corp.)

Office XP features a number of applications useful to students, such as task wizards, assistants, templates for developing web pages, database set-up options, and presentation creators.

Pros:

• Includes “proofing tools” for French, Spanish, and English that help kids translate words from one language to another as they write.

• Allows users to save documents created in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel as HTML-compatible web pages. Users can also preview the migrated web pages to see what they’d look like using a web browser.

• Voice recognition features allow users to dictate text in Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and eMail programs.

Cons:

None listed.

SmartSuite, Millennium Edition 9.6 (Lotus Software)

Though SmartSuite was created to serve the needs of the business community, school users will appreciate how it has combined a number of separate applications under one suite.

Pros:

• All documents and applications can be managed directly from the SmartCenter master control console.

• The only office suite reviewed that includes “a web publishing tool (FastSite) for customizing web sites built with SmartSuite documents.”

• Its word processing tool, WordPro, also allows for proofing in Spanish, French, and other languages.

• The ScreenCam movie feature lets kids view a demonstration of one of the suite’s many features and save the demo as a movie.

Cons:

None listed.

StarOffice 5.2 Deluxe (Sun Microsystems Inc.)

StarOffice comes in two formats, a free 100 MB download or an inexpensive CD-ROM.

Pros:

• A pop-up ToolTips feature helps users understand what all the toolbar buttons do, and a “Did you know?” tip of the day feature keeps users’ knowledge of the suite current.

• Tables and graphs are easily added to documents, and math students will appreciate the “formula bar” in StarOffice Writer that lets users perform math equations in table cells.

• Through Writer, users can password-protect documents and configure preferences to do periodic automatic saves.

Cons:

• Despite all the tools and features, StarOffice can still be “confusing.” In particular, when a program is launched it takes over the user’s entire screen, and users must minimize the screen to multitask.

WordPerfect Office 2002, Academic Edition (Corel Corp.)

Calling WordPerfect 2002 a “robust alternative to Microsoft Office XP,” Holzberg says this suite combines the strengths of five applications under one umbrella product at a reasonable price.

Pros:

• Perfect Expert features document templates that will help teachers and students produce resumes, newsletters, banners, monthly calendars, budgets, and grading sheets.

• WordPerfect 10 and Corel Presentations both allow users to publish documents directly to a PDF.

• WordPerfect 10 and Quattro Pro also make web publishing a cinch by letting users instantly convert documents into web-friendly HTML pages.

• Holzberg calls the table creation tool in WordPerfect 10 one of the suite’s “most salient features.” Like Microsoft Word’s AutoFormat tool, SpeedFormat lends a specified look to table data.

• The automatic table formatting function also allows students to do complex math calculations directly on their table insert.

Cons:

None listed.

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