The two newest releases in the office-suite market come via strange routes.
One comes from Evermore Software, a Wuxi City, China-based newcomer to this category; its debut in the U.S. market is a suite for Windows and Red Hat Linux.
Integrated Office has too many annoyances.
Transcript: Rob was online to discuss this review and an earlier column on the Shuttle XPC desktop PC.
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___Personal Tech E-letter___ Washington Post personal technology columnist Rob Pegoraro answers reader e-mail and expands on themes he touches on in his weekly newspaper column. The e-mail version of this weekly feature includes links to the latest gadget and software reviews.
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The other comes from a slightly better-known company, Microsoft -- but it doesn't run on Windows.
Evermore Integrated Office 2004 (Win 98 or newer/Red Hat Linux 2.4 or newer, $149 at www.evermoresw.com) offers an uncanny resemblance to Microsoft Office 2003, despite having been written in the cross-platform Java language. EIO's developers have all but committed identity theft in duplicating the appearance of Microsoft's suite, down to the toolbar icons.
But where Microsoft's suite consists of linked word processor, spreadsheet and slide-show programs, EIO runs as a single monolithic application -- an approach that might work in busy offices but is unnecessary at home and causes a blizzard of buttons, menus and toolbars.
Evermore makes an even more befuddling departure from convention in its file management. You don't start a letter, a spreadsheet or a presentation in EIO, you create a "binder" and then populate it with different documents. (Hint: Clicking the "new document" toolbar icon makes a new binder, while clicking the arrow next to it and selecting a file type adds a document to the current binder.)
The tools provided in EIO for writing, calculating and slide shows work fine in general, with a few bizarre irritants -- for instance, its word processor can't properly display "smart quotes," the kind that tilt left and right before and after quoted text.
As for the vital issue of Microsoft compatibility, Evermore works well except when it fails awkwardly. Some Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents came across with stunning fidelity, but others lost tab stops and bullet points; a simple expense-report spreadsheet caused EIO to yield a typo-ridden error message.
EIO files converted to Microsoft formats showed comparable glitches. Fortunately, the program also can export documents with all details intact as Portable Document Format files.
At a price of $149 (including only a year's support), Evermore is no bargain, not when Microsoft discounts its own Office to $149 in a student and teacher edition sold to the general public.