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KSpread, disaster zone?

A number of people have been discussing the spreadsheets roundup in LXF76, particularly the 1/10 score I awarded to KSpread. It's a tribute to the increasing maturity of the KDE community that most of the comments were constructive, forward-looking and objective. Others weren't quite so fun to read.

Either way, I think the KOffice guys deserve a few pointers to clarify the review, so I picked out just some of the more interest comments that people have made. Here they are, along with my responses:

<< Sounds to me like the review has been having fun writing a little rant >>

D'oh - caught in the act! This is quite true. I don't know about you guys, but I buy magazines mainly for information, but also for entertainment. In this case, KSpread got a review that most people would refer to as "a damn good kicking." I've only done it a few times in my writing career, usually reserving such rants for serious irritations. In this case, I thought that KSpread deserved more than just a list of places where it fell down - I needed to make it quite clear that I seriously questioned its existence!

<< To me filter and macro aren't as important as the basic spreadsheet functionalities >>

I think the key part there is "to me." Everyone has different uses for spreadsheets, and macros are remarkably prevalent in corporate environments.

<< It seems to me, this is one person's view, and he/she has a strong bias toward OpenOffice. Perhaps its a marketing ploy by Google, Redhat, Novell, and Sun, who knows but it does show an incredible disregard to what is important to user. >>

This is perhaps the one comment I found offensive. I cheer for Google as much as the next geek, I think Red Hat is a smart and innovative company, and I've even been known to like Novell now and then. But to imply that I only said that OOo was good because I've been bought off by some company is a rather low blow.

The fact is, I find it hard to believe that any user sat down using OOo Calc and KSpread side-by-side would consider them anything even remotely similar in featureset or stability. Yes, OOo is slow even on my fairly powerful computer, but I spend much more time using my software than I do loading it. I think that's true of most users.

<< Macro IS NOT important nor will it be for 99% of spreadsheet users. >>

No comment.

<< Giving Calc a 9, and Gnumeric a 7, kinda give you a hint, this person is probably a Gnome person or show some kind of "sugaring" up to the big boys behind Gnome or both. The probability is strong either way. >>

I don't see how being a "Gnome person" would inherently set me against KDE. This isn't a war, folks: most KDE and Gnome developers that I've met seem to get on just fine with each other. I'm not "sugaring up" to anyone, and to say so just because I have a low opinion of YourFavouriteAppHere is a bit silly if you ask me.

<< It doesn't matter, they can have their games now. It won't be long before things change. >>

This almost sounds like an entry from the HHGG: "Linux Format: a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes."

<< I hope the reviewer didn't think "KSpread doesn't RUN MS VBA macros!" >>

The thought certainly went through my mind. But this was a group test of spreadsheets: I had to establish some criteria for our tests, so I wrote down a list of all the possible things that someone might require of a spreadsheet. VBA compatibility was one of the things on that list. But, as it's just flat out not supported anywhere (and that's probably a good thing in some respects), it didn't get included in the final feature.

<< Having said that, I think that when we market KSpread, we should be clear than OpenOffice is a better alternative for people who need to work with complex Excel spreadsheets. >>

That's a very honest thing to do, but I would rather see this as a combined marketing effort from the larger free software movement. There are some ways that OOo Calc falls behind both Gnumeric and KSpread, and it'd be great if the OOo team were equally upfront and mentioned the alternatives to those interested.

<< * Excel compatibility. "Barely loads" - doesn't say more. >>

Our tests were based on random spreadsheets snagged from the internet - that seemed the fairest way to ensure that random features would be put to the test. We only used one artificial spreadsheet, and that was for the torture test - it was something like 1000 rows x 1000 columns of calculations, or similar.

<< * Filters. It's entirely unclear whether it means filters in the file format conversion sense, or in the spreadsheet specific context. >>

Sorry. To clarify, I was referring to the ability to filter data as opposed to file format filters.

<< * No macros. Self explanatory. They liked the fact that Gnumeric reveals almost all its internals through Python. >>

Well, I like the fact that Gnumeric has Python built in there, but it still doesn't match up to OOo macro recorder. Not many people care about writing macros, but most people can grok macro recording and use it to great effect.

<< Sounds like a good letter to write to the editor, that another reviewer managed to do what this reviewer apparently failed, to get this stuff running normally... >>

Well, like the review said the test machine was a fresh install of SUSE 10.0. We also tried it on Ubuntu 5.04, and experienced the same problem. Fixes - and occasionally bugs - get introduced all the time, and it's quite possible that we just ran our tests at a bad time.

It's hard to tell, and this is always going to be an issue with a monthly title, but to be fair if there really was a serious problem with the charting element at the time of our tests then that still reflects badly on KSpread.

So, where does that leave us? Perhaps 1/10 might be too harsh, but it certainly seems to have made people sit up and re-evaluate the state of play. I think Gnumeric is a great spreadsheet, but more often than not I use OOo Calc. Not because I like it particularly, but for the same reason I tend to use Vi for text editing - it's installed just about everywhere, so it's habit for me.

If there are fixes for some or all of the problems reported in my review, that's great - I look forward to doing another spreadsheet roundup in 18 months time and finding a world of difference in KSpread. If you have questions about what I've said either here or in the review, just drop me an email. Or if you and I still have irreconcilable differences over this, do drop the editor a line and get your name in print while having a good whinge ;)

In other news, this rocks!


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