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Excel Clone for Linux Now in Beta 393

Martin Kotulla writes "SoftMaker, a German software developer, has released the first public beta of PlanMaker 2004, a native-Linux spreadsheet that is highly Excel-compatible ... in fact, this app is basically Microsoft Excel ported to Linux, including Excel-compatible charting and even AutoShapes. Here is a chart comparing Excel,, and PlanMaker." Update: 05/07 19:07 GMT by M : is temporarily down; the site can still be reached at
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Excel Clone for Linux Now in Beta

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  • by ObviousGuy ( 578567 ) <> on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:26AM (#9084737) Homepage Journal
    The thing that really surprised me was how badly OpenOffice supported (or rather, didn't support) Excel's functionality.

    You may say that those features are part of the 80% of features that aren't used, but someone's using them. If those someones aren't able to use those features, OpenOffice is useless for them.
  • Google cache (Score:5, Informative)

    by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:28AM (#9084766) Homepage Journal
    of the first two links:

    Softmaker []
    PlanMaker []

  • by sommere ( 105088 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:31AM (#9084828) Homepage
    So they were able to pick out 5-6 features that OO.o couldn't support that they did. That's hardly proof that they support more excel features than OO.o.

    If an independent group created a bunch of hard to read excel files and they compared how many each displayed correctly -- then I'd believe that their support is better. For all I know they went out of their way to find limitations of OO.o and implement those features first so they could make those images.
  • Re:The wrong path (Score:5, Informative)

    by rrkap ( 634128 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:31AM (#9084833) Homepage

    When people send me Excel files, I kindly ask them to re-send the file in CSV or some other format. Yes, there are things you can only do in native file format. But the vast majority of users never do those things.

    Ah, yes. I can't remember the last time I saw someone use excel to create a chart or calculate something. The fact is that calculation and presentation of data are the two main points of spreadsheets and neither works with CSV files.

  • by Rysc ( 136391 ) <> on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:32AM (#9084844) Homepage Journal
    Gnumeric is a much better spreadsheet program than OOo Spread. It's also better than Excell in all ways in which it competes, except for charting . (And they'll be fixing that *real soon now*). Enough of this crappy OOo stuff and commerical stuff. Use Gnumeric! This is not SIAG or some krappy Koffice attempt, it's teh best Excel-styel spreadsheet program you can get.
  • by Rysc ( 136391 ) <> on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:40AM (#9084954) Homepage Journal
    Those screenshots are out of date. By about 6 years. Try some newer ones [].
  • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:42AM (#9084977)
    I have been saying this for quite some time on here. OpenOffice is NOT an acceptable replacement for MS Office regardless of what you hear the slashbots saying.

    Yes, OpenOffice is good for what *most* people do. It certainly does not support everything that everyone uses. Just because it is "good enough" for some it certainly isn't what the rest of us want.

    From what I saw in the screenshots only it *looks* good. I won't know until I actually run it. I am a bit leary of running any beta software that I don't have access to the source code.

    Running strangely named binaries from .tgz files reminds me of days-gone-by in Linux... I figured for a well done "port" that they would at least have the idea that they should make the executable something named better than what it is.
  • by praedor ( 218403 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:47AM (#9085051) Homepage

    I've used all three (gnumeric, kspread, and OOcalc). I do find that gnumeric is quite good, but not really any better at those data analysis tools than kspread is. Both gnumeric and kspread suffer (TREMENDOUSLY) in the charting arena. Gnumeric doesn't even have a broken rudimentary graphing capability while kspread ties into kchart which is a horrible charting app. OOcalc kicks both their butts on charting, but it doesn't match up to the charting possible from excel.

    Of course, excel cannot hold a candle to the charting capabilites of DeltaGraph or CricketGraph (both Mac they have PC versions?). I have begged the koffice developers to fix the atrocious kcharting app so that it is actually of use (mostly hard-of-hearing ears if not outright deaf ears). I hope against hope that OO will improve its charting capabilities (C'mon! You CANNOT do proper charting if you don't do error bars). Gnumeric doesn't even enter the picture here. Nothing at all in the charting arena so all the nice data analysis done in gnumeric is for naught. There's no way to plot it out, no way to graphically represent it.

  • Re:Home use only (Score:4, Informative)

    by JanneM ( 7445 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:48AM (#9085059) Homepage
    Like Gnumeric, you mean?
  • Did Microsoft gave the developers access to the Excel source code?

    No, but MSDN lists almost every single function in the app, making cloning Excel just a job of implementing the functions.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:50AM (#9085093)
    That makes it a clone not a port.
  • by Tet ( 2721 ) * <slashdot@astradyn[ ] ['e.c' in gap]> on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:51AM (#9085095) Homepage Journal
    Gnumeric is so great, and it opens Excel files too

    Agreed. Like OO.o, it doesn't have 100% coverage of everything in Excel. But I can say that for real world use, rather than contrived examples, it opens every spreadsheet I've tried it with, without problems[1]. It also has the benefit of being literally 10 times faster than oocalc.

    [1] I'm talking about recent versions here. If you haven't tried it lately, give post-1.2 releases a shot. It's come a long way...

  • Weak charting (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jody Goldberg ( 61349 ) <jody&gnome,org> on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:07PM (#9085281) Homepage
    Gnumeric is admittedly still pretty weak on the charting side. However, things are improving quickly. Please file a few feature requests to help guide things. 1.3.x has support for error bars now (still need to hook up the xls import for that) and the polar (what xl calls radar) plot engine is in place too. My short term goals are to extend the axis mapping support, and add a gnuplotish implicit iterator feature that is not in XL.
  • Re:The wrong path (Score:3, Informative)

    by danheskett ( 178529 ) <> on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:08PM (#9085292)
    When people send me Excel files, I kindly ask them to re-send the file in CSV or some other format. Yes, there are things you can only do in native file format. But the vast majority of users never do those things.

    The thing is, you are wrong. I deal with a lot of excel users, and let me assure that 90% of them use at least one dynamic field, data generated field, calculated field, or reasonably appropriate formatting.

    There is no open well-designed spreadsheet format that is recognized by a standards body. There should be one. In alot of industries, people like you are excluded from many activities because of an insistance on using an inferior file format.

    The real-estate industry in my area is pretty cut throat - either use the software we want or you get replaced for a management-friendly vendor. I've got dozens of appraisers who would love to get work.. I pick the ones that are easiest for me to manage. If I get data back on taxes, or metrics, or whatever and I have to spend anything more than 30-seconds formatting/reviewing it for sending to end-clients, you've wasted my time.
  • 256 columns (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jody Goldberg ( 61349 ) <jody&gnome,org> on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:19PM (#9085415) Homepage
    This has been supported for quite some time as a compile time option. The 256 is maintained as the default for XL compatibilty.
  • by advocate_one ( 662832 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:19PM (#9085417)
    You are a twit... would you like to try reading the F'ing article next time... Planmaker for MS-Windows already exists and is refered to on their webpage... but I can't give you the precise link 'cos the site's been slashdotted... Here's the griff from the google cache [] of their home page
    SoftMaker is dedicated to creating office productivity software for popular operating systems, including Windows, Windows CE, and Linux.

    Our current English-language products comprise TextMaker and PlanMaker, a word processor and a spreadsheet for Windows, Linux, Pocket PCs, and Handheld PCs, and MegaFont XXL, a 10,000-fonts typeface library for Windows, Linux, and OS/2.

    I'm part of the public beta program for the Linux versions and am a happy customer using the Linux version of Textmaker.

    Also Softmaker are perfectly happy sticking to the English and European markets... they're obviously doing well as they're still in existence after several years.

  • chart import (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jody Goldberg ( 61349 ) <jody&gnome,org> on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:22PM (#9085462) Homepage
    This is still not to the point where'd I'd like it but it's no longer a bad joke (aka 1.0.x). Have you tried 1.2.x ? If there are still problems please submit samples it helps us to prioritize which areas to focus on. Thanks to the softmaker tests I just added xls import support for gradient backgrounds, things are starting to look reasonably pretty.
  • by Jody Goldberg ( 61349 ) <jody&gnome,org> on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:27PM (#9085529) Homepage
    If you're looking for analysis tools in a spreadsheet Gnumeric has alot to offer. Here's a screen shot [] of just some of the available utilities. The additional worksheet functions [] (above and beyond MS Excel) are also quite useful.
  • by martin-k ( 99343 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:30PM (#9085557) Homepage
    Jody: We grabbed nearly all test files from the web. These are actual files that ordinary users have created and that were available for download at some place, and we used them to hone our Excel import filters for PlanMaker.

    The problem is usually not files that have only been edited in one version of Excel, but went through different versions and service packs of Excel, OpenOffice, Gnumeric, whatever. Maybe the files are not valid anymore according to the "official" specs, but as long as Excel (and PlanMaker) read them and display them correctly, they _are_ correct for the regular user.

    P.S.: I still have that e-mail from you in my box. Sorry for not getting back sooner...

    Martin Kotulla
    SoftMaker Software GmbH
  • by martin-k ( 99343 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:33PM (#9085591) Homepage
    Currently, PlanMaker imports the macros but doesn't touch them. When you save your file, they are saved in the output file as well.

    Actual VBA macro support is our next step. PlanMaker for Windows and TextMaker for Windows have an OLE object model that is already close to Excel's and Word's, but we have to move that stuff to Linux as well.

    Martin Kotulla
    SoftMaker Software GmbH
  • by Jody Goldberg ( 61349 ) <jody&gnome,org> on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:34PM (#9085596) Homepage
    I'd be interested in getting copies of any file that you have trouble with to see how Gnumeric fairs. Getting good test cases can be very helpful. Our confidentiality policy can apply if desired. Please contact me [mailto].

  • by _xeno_ ( 155264 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:38PM (#9085653) Homepage Journal
    1) *nix only. That doesn't sell copies, since everyone else is using Windows. This is the #1 way to cut out a gigantic market demographic for software developers these days, especially when we're talking about desktop software.

    Actually, if you looked at the very top of the page, you'd notice that Slashdot only linked to the Linux beta page. There's a Windows [] version, plus a PocketPC [] version, and a Handheld PC [] version (whatever "handheld PC" means - I could only pull up the linked page, after that, the site died).

    Of course, as to whether or not this will succeed - who knows. There probably is a market for 100% feature-complete Excel clone that runs on multiple platforms. You wouldn't believe how much Excel gets used in the buisness world - I've seen it used as a database before! It gets used a lot as a very powerful and very easy to use data storage and presentation tool. Plus the VBScript macros are very powerful - if a little on the slow side and annoying to write.

    I'm currently writing an application in Excel. No, seriously. I'd rather use something else. (Anything else!) But the client wants to add some code to an existing Excel spreadsheet to get some added functionality. VBScript and Windows Forms allows me to do that job with just Excel. Of course, this ties the customer to Excel and Windows - giving them another option in the future that's cheaper than the Microsoft solution could very well gain customers.

    Although I tend to agree - I doubt that this will have much effect against Microsoft or any of the other Linux spread sheets.

  • by Jody Goldberg ( 61349 ) <jody&gnome,org> on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:39PM (#9085670) Homepage
    Gnumeric has solver, goal seek, and iterative expressions.
  • xls is documented (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jody Goldberg ( 61349 ) <jody&gnome,org> on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:44PM (#9085749) Homepage

    It is a persistent untruth that there is no documentation for these vast binary blobs. MS itself published their internal docs as what I assume was filler material in the 'Excel 97 Developers kit' they were not complete, and have been known to contain errors or miss features. However they are a decent starting point. The OOo folk have also done a wonderful job of writing up the format. The vast majority of the work reading xls has nothing to do with deciphering the bits. The real issue is mapping or figuring out the datastructures that the format implies. If you can use an internal representation that mirrors MS XL import/export is trivial. When there is an impedence mismatch ... there is alot more work and bugs.
  • Re:The wrong path (Score:5, Informative)

    by AstroDrabb ( 534369 ) * on Friday May 07, 2004 @01:02PM (#9086048)
    MS's XML format is more of a PR stunt then really being open. MS has barked a million times about "IP" and MS Office is one of their biggest cash cows. Basically they made a schema that will let you read the MS Office docs, but they still keep tons of closed proprietary stuff in those XML files. What is the purpose of being able to read the file if the important content is a binary blob in some proprietary format? The plain text is readable, so a simple Word doc is easy to read (though competing office apps have been able to do that for a long time). MS Office will truly be open when MS release full specs of the file format and all that could possibly be in them. I can give you an XML file with a Base64 encoded blob of proprietary data. Just because it is XML does not make it Open. OpenOffice's format is _really_ open. You can get docs that explain the format and how to read or write OOo's file formats. This is not the case for MS. If it is, please provide a link to the MS Office document _specs_ and not just some silly schema.

    As a little test, create a new Excel file and on Sheet 2 put the following data:

    1 1
    1 2
    1 4
    1 4
    Now on Sheet1, insert a chart using the data on Sheet2. Now try to save it as "XML SpreadSheet (*.xml)". You will get a warning that all "AutoShapes, other objects and Charts" will be removed. What is the point of this "open" XML format if it cannot save complex spreadsheets? MS will never let their MS Office format go. End of story.
  • by martin-k ( 99343 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @02:41PM (#9087403) Homepage
    OK, our hosting company cut us off because "some scripts were attacking our servers". When I told them about Slashdot, they never heard of the site. Oh well.

    Currently, I have moved things to:

    Main page []
    PlanMaker for Linux page []
    Comparison page Excel, PlanMaker, []

    Let's see how quickly you slashdot those.

    You cannot download the beta right now because the Python scripts point to which is currently no way. Just look at the pictures instead.

    If someone wants to mirror us, please contact me at info (at) . Please. Pretty please.

    Martin Kotulla SoftMaker Software GmbH

  • Re:The wrong path (Score:3, Informative)

    by ccp ( 127147 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @03:19PM (#9087871)
    The "edge" to which the parent refers is that of letting Microsoft define the format all the time. If Microsoft constantly sets the standard, then other developers who are creating "clones" spend most of their time trying to fiddle with the file format, rather than improve/extend the functionality of the software.

    Sure, the format's open now, but what do you do when the company decides to change their file format for the next release of their software?

    What this argument fails to realize is that MS can't migrate 100% of its victims to the new format. Far from it.
    I don't know about you, but in my part of the world the VAST majority of people is running Office 97 on Win 98.
    Are they going to upgrade? Not in your life! A PC here costs serious money, and the most usual configurations couldn't even DREAM on having Win XP installed on them.

    So, even the .doc format is fragmenting, and old Win users are unable to open documents written with the latest version. A majority of MS Word users is stranded with no intention to upgrade.
    The old versions of .doc are effectively frozen, and filters are NOT running behind a moving target, so they're getting better all the time.
    And the fun part is, OpenOffice is rather good at opening MS Office docs.

    Go figure! Soon OO will be the tool of choice for navigating the multiple, more or less incompatible MS formats.

  • Re:65k row limit (Score:2, Informative)

    by Morky ( 577776 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @06:16PM (#9089713)
    That's hilarious you wrote that right after my comment. They have a 16k row limit, a la Excel '95. Give me Gnumeric any day over that.
  • Re:Row Limit (Score:5, Informative)

    by martin-k ( 99343 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @06:35PM (#9089800) Homepage
    The current limit of 16384 rows is not set in stone. We had PlanMaker builds with 65536 and 256K rows, but then some functions (like sorting whole columns) were too slow -- remember that we are also supporting Pocket PCs and Handheld PCs, and CPU-wise, they are at a i286 or i386 level.

    As soon as we have optimized some of these routines, the row limit will be raised.

    Martin Kotulla
    SoftMaker Software GmbH

  • Re:Unfortunately... (Score:5, Informative)

    by martin-k ( 99343 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @07:07PM (#9090013) Homepage
    No, in fact we haven't.

    It's commercial software, I need to make payroll every month. If you can get over this fact, the rest is really lenient. Remember Philippe Kahn's "just like a book" license? That's what our license is modeled after -- install on as many machines as you like, but only use as many copies concurrently as you have licenses.

    If "free" is what you are after, get ahold of a copy of SUSE Linux 9.1. It ships with TextMaker Free Edition and PlanMaker Free Edition.

  • Re:bad business plan (Score:3, Informative)

    by martin-k ( 99343 ) on Saturday May 08, 2004 @03:50AM (#9092124) Homepage
    My company has been selling word processing, spreadsheet, typefaces, and database software in Germany since 1987. It's not like we just entered this business yesterday.

    I never complain to anyone about failed business ventures and, besides, Slashdot probably wouldn't accept the story...

    Martin Kotulla
    SoftMaker Software GmbH

Q: How many IBM CPU's does it take to execute a job? A: Four; three to hold it down, and one to rip its head off.