Have you heard the news on the street? Alter-natives to Microsoft Office are greatly improving with every version release and cost just a fraction of the price commanded by the market dominator. StarOffice and Ability Office have been around for a while now, but a new contender has entered the market: the China-based and US-investor-backed Evermore Software.
EIOffice's familiar Microsoft-like interface makes the transition to an alternative office suite easier. However, the Binder system could scare off inexperienced computer users.
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Evermore built its flagship product from the ground up, first releasing Evermore Integrated Office (EIOffice) for the Chinese market in 2002. Released in May this year, EIOffice 2004 makes the suite available to English-speaking markets. Evermore's president has not been shy in decrying Microsoft, but how does EIOffice fare in comparison?
After first installing EIOffice you will notice its interface's striking similarity to Microsoft Office - toolbars, menus, commands and layout are familiar. The main difference in this suite is its integrated nature. Like StarOffice and other suites, Evermore has created a single interface for all components - in this case spreadsheet, word processor and presentation tools - which can be accessed easily via a small floating toolbar. Evermore's single file format - .eio - and Binder system are initially mind-boggling. All files carry the .eio extension, and Binders can be created to contain all documents related to a project. A Binder can contain spreadsheet, word and presentation/graphic files. The Navigation Pane, a traditional file tree on the left side of the screen, enables users to move between documents and Binders, automatically switching the program to whichever component is required.
The purpose of this is evident when using EIOffice's Paste Link command. Click here to see a screen shot. When inserting spreadsheet data into a presentation document, for example, use the Paste Link command in the Edit menu.
Evermore's DOORS (Data Object Oriented Repository System) technology enables the data shared between documents in the same Binder to update automatically when changes are made to the source document. This is a very handy feature for business users.
Like other alternative office suites, EIOffice supports seamless import and export of Microsoft Office files: .doc, .xls and .ppt. And at installation, users can choose to create EIOffice file associations for these file types. Documents can also be saved as PDF, XML and HTML files.
On the collaborative side, EIOffice's Executive Board Room enables online meetings over the Internet, an intranet or a network. Participants in a meeting can collectively work on documents in shared EIOffice Binders.
EIOffice is a single application, so the company claims there's no draining of system resources - take that with a grain of salt, though, and make sure your PC is up to the task. Minimum system requirements include 64MB of RAM (128MB of RAM is better) and at least a 500MHz Pentium II processor (1GHz Pentium III is recommended). My system fell at the bottom of those requirements, and I found that my PC slowed to a halt when testing EIOffice and the application became sluggish beyond an acceptable level. It's wise to take note that EIOffice is written in Java, meaning that a processor with grunt is required.
EIOffice 2004 runs on Windows and Linux. Support for Mac and Solaris is in the works.
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