Introducing the emerging office suite, OnlyOffice Desktop Editor

Office Newbie

Article from Issue 198/2017
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The OnlyOffice Desktop Editor is a free office suite built for collaboration.

The Linux environment is home to several practical and high-functioning office suites. Many mainstream distros come with LibreOffice pre-installed, but other alternatives, such as SoftMaker Office [1], WPS Office [2], Apache OpenOffice  [3], and the Calligra suite [4] also compete for Linux mindshare.

The Linux version of OnlyOffice Desktop Editor (formerly Teamlab Office) [5] is a recent arrival to the Linux scene. OnlyOffice is developed by a proprietary company, but a free and open source version of the suite is available and licensed under the GPL.

Like other leading office suites, OnlyOffice comes with a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation tool. The focus is on collaborative work in a professional setting, but OnlyOffice also works well on a single workstation. Is OnlyOffice better than what you're using now? It depends on your taste and preferences, but the OnlyOffice suite does offer some interesting innovations, such as a free community server for interactive access in a local cloud environment.

Setting Up OnlyOffice

OnlyOffice is developed and maintained by the vendor Ascensio System. The software is available in server and desktop versions. The server installation (as a free Community Edition and commercial Enterprise Edition) is aimed at businesses or workgroups that want to use the office package as a web application.

To install on a single computer, select the desktop version, which is available in the form of DEB and RPM packages for 64-bit architectures only. A portable version in the form of a tarball is also available. The size of the installation packages varies between 170 and 250MB, which is not uncommon for office suites. Alternatively, the vendor maintains a package repository for Debian or Ubuntu systems (Listing 1).

Listing 1

Installing the Debian Package

 

Use the package manager for your Linux distribution to install the DEB or RPM packages. To install the portable version, first unpack the tarball using your archive manager, or enter:

tar xzf onlyoffice* .tar.gz

in a terminal window. To start the suite, change to the newly created subdirectory desktopeditors/ and call ./onlyoffice-desktopeditors.sh.

After the first call, an overview window appears that is vaguely reminiscent of the LibreOffice splash page: Top left in this two-pane window; you can click on Document, Spreadsheet, or Presentation to create a new file (Figure 1). Below are the options Recent Files and Open local file, which let you access or create locally stored documents.

Figure 1: The splash screen in OnlyOffice at first reminds you of LibreOffice.

The Share and collaborate option takes the user to functions for collaborative work in the cloud. You can create a portal in the OnlyOffice cloud (it is free for 45 days), or you can connect to your own server (but more of that later). The server does not need to reside on the Internet; you can simply use OnlyOffice on your local network.

Interface

When you create a new document with OnlyOffice, the first thing you'll notice is the unusual interface: Unlike mainstream alternatives like LibreOffice and SoftMaker, OnlyOffice is oriented on the look of newer Microsoft Office versions. You will thus find the many icons arranged in two rows; a menu bar is missing. On the left and right of the document are even more controls. This design might make the mouse travel longer than necessary for many actions, but it does use the screen space provided by a full-HD display in a better way.

OnlyOffice lets you keep multiple documents open simultaneously in a window, organizing the files in horizontal tabs at the top of the screen. This design lets you easily toggle between active documents. Unlike in the traditional office suites, the settings menu is limited to just a few choices, with hardly any customizing options (Figure 2). You can access the settings by clicking on the gear icon in the top right corner of the window.

Figure 2: Even the advanced settings in OnlyOffice offer only a few configuration options.

Format Questions

OnlyOffice saves new documents in Microsoft's .docx format by default, but the suite also can handle other formats: Besides simple text without formatting, OnlyOffice supports the Open Document specification, as used by the free office suites. In addition, documents can be stored as RTF or PDF documents.

To change the format of an existing file, click on the File button next to the document box, and then select Save as. OnlyOffice also does its own thing when you open an existing document: There is no menu item for this purpose; instead you always need to open existing files from the File menu in the main window. Alternatively, you can drag and drop documents into the application window.

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