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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 grub ( 11606 ) * <> on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:22AM (#9084659) Homepage Journal

    in fact, this app is basically Microsoft Excel ported to Linux,

    A port? Did Microsoft gave the developers access to the Excel source code? Anyhow, that nitpicking aside the package seems to be working perfectly well on my OpenBSD desktop w/Linux compatibility enabled.

  • Good... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by NIN1385 ( 760712 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:24AM (#9084707)
    Excel is about the only program I have ever cared for that MS makes...this could be a good thing since open office isn't that good of an alternative for Excel quite yet.
  • Re:The wrong path (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pegr ( 46683 ) * on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:28AM (#9084771) Homepage Journal
    If you want to make a better product, you can't "embrace and extend." You have to make a better product. By providing file-reading compatibility, you only re-enforce the proliferation of closed file formats.

    Uh, by "cloning" a "closed" file format, you actually "open" the format to other uses. When you get a large number of vendors using the "closed" format, the original vendor now has to consider very carefully additional changes to the format for fear of breaking competitor's products. The fear is not breaking the other products but reducing compatibility of their own product. Using "closed" formats is a good thing, depending on market conditions.
  • Crossover (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Mr. McGibby ( 41471 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:28AM (#9084778) Homepage Journal
    While I applaud the effort, and I'm sure they'll sell some copies; other than some cost savings how is this functionally different from using Crossover Office? I've been using Excel in Linux for quite some time and it works perfectly.
  • by Gilesx ( 525831 ) * <sjw AT diepls DOT com> on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:29AM (#9084792)
    This is not a flame. I *want* this product to succeed. But unfortunately, being able to display wordart better than openoffice isn't a deal maker, and especially isn't going to make me choose paid for software over free software. However, if they were to suddenly enable you to import all your VB macros with a Spreadsheet, then I'd happily hand my card number over there and then. Unfortunately, until then, this really just smacks as a "me too" product, and I can't see it taking much of openoffice's market share.
  • Re:The wrong path (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pheared ( 446683 ) <> on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:30AM (#9084817) Homepage
    While I mostly agree with you, there is still a problem. Just making a better product doesn't solve the problem if there is no one even considering a switch to your product. While I think that it is mostly in vain, there is still some value to playing catch-up because you can pick up some more users who are caught in MSs wake.

    With more users and more developers and more attention you will be able to convince R&D departments to spend more money on creating this better product for Linux.
  • Re:The wrong path (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SpyPlane ( 733043 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:31AM (#9084832)
    Agreed. At the same time though, reality is that some people don't want change. If/When someone decides to switch to linux, it is good to know they can still open all of their old files, whether simple or feature complete in their new OS. This limits the ACTUAL amount of change they have to deal with. It's enough of a concern worrying about hardware working or not, but when you have to worry about converting all personal or corporate documents, you just about eliminated any gain from the change.

  • by ecklesweb ( 713901 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:33AM (#9084857)
    Looking through the product's web site, it looks like the software is pretty lacking compared to Excel in the data analysis arena. According to the site, the data analysis features include:

    Analyze Data

    Create database ranges inside your worksheets
    Data grouping (outliner)
    Sort, filter by condition, AutoFilter
    Database functions for sum, average, variance, etc.

    No ANOVA, regression analysis, t tests, correlation, etc.? No pivot tables? That's most of what I find Excel useful for!

    Hopefully someone can tell me I'm wrong and that these features are included.

    How does OpenOffice compare in terms of data analysis? (I've <gasp> never used it).

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

    by Azureflare ( 645778 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:41AM (#9084963)
    Compatibility and User interface are two different issues here. You seem to be lumping them together, which IMO is just wrong to do. is able to import .xls files pretty well (though not perfectly) and the interface is pretty different from Excel; I wouldn't say is "copying" Microsoft's UI in the least.

    In the case of this product, yes it is copying the UI AND the file format of Microsoft. What does this mean for the average user? It means they don't have to buy Microsoft Office to work with .xls files, they just need to get this application.

    This reminds me of like Lindows^H^H^H^Hspire; it's oriented towards users who are comfortable with Microsoft's design, and have learned how to do things using Microsoft products. Those kind of users want something they're familiar with, so they will be more likely to use something that is familiar to them. We still have our KOffice and spreadsheet applications; is there something wrong with this approach?

    If this application didn't exist, people would just run Excel in Crossover Office. That's what I do actually, so this app may allow me to throw off Microsoft Excel completely, if it functions as advertised (currently slashdotted to hell).

    I think it's rather silly to say "No! Never will I support anything Microsoft!" when the majority of users use it. This application may allow users to take another step away from Microsoft lock-in. The goal isn't to "embrace" Microsoft's technology, the goal is to create a viable alternative, that will create the minimum amount of fuss in transition.

  • Re:The wrong path (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pegr ( 46683 ) * on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:43AM (#9084981) Homepage Journal
    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.

    But that edge is lost when changing the format drives away your customers when they can no longer interoperate with users with competing products. It's a critical mass issue. When so many people are using MS's format with competing products that MS can't change the format for fear of a user backlash of not being able to interoperate, you've frozen the format and can now move into "open" formats with greater functionality... functionality MS has to duplicate just to stay in the game. Now who is copying whom?
  • by garcia ( 6573 ) * on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:45AM (#9085018)
    I have no direct proof on me but anything I have ever tried to open in OO (word or excel) has barfed.

    I don't consider myself any sort of "power user" with Office products either. If a simple Word document won't open I can't believe your comment that "they picked the 5-6 things that OO can't do" is valid.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 07, 2004 @11:46AM (#9085028)
    Actually they sued SCO many many years ago (the original Santa Cruz Operation - not the SCO of today which is Caldera/Canopy group). SCO had a Lotus 123 compatible product called SCO Professional - Lotus didn't like it and they sued. In the end they settled out of court.
  • by Idou ( 572394 ) * on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:02PM (#9085229) Journal
    it seems pretty quick (especially when comparing it to OO 1.1, I suppose that is because it is just a spreadsheet program). And it seems to open xls files as quick as Excel.

    Seems to be in a niche between OO which allows you to save to xls and gnumeric, which I didn't think allowed you to save to xls format but is very light and quick.

    Oh, and it seems to support OO's calc format.

    No, maybe it will not save the world, but it just may help a handful more people move to Linux and reward a commericial developer for supporting Linux. Though, I am sure it is not for EVERYONE.
  • by torpor ( 458 ) <ibisum@gm a i l . com> on Friday May 07, 2004 @12:59PM (#9085999) Homepage Journal
    This just goes to show you how pervasive Microsoft is; they're getting to be like Band-Aid and Vaseline - people refer to any adhesive bandange or petroleum jelly (respectively) using these brand names.

    I believe, if you look closely and not always brashly at what you see, that Microsoft is a Master at language-control propaganda methods.

    Microsoft "Windows", "Word", "Excel", "Passport". They have, using copyright/trademark registration backed up by the full force of the U.S. Government, usurped a significant chunk of the English dictionary and grafted their own contemporary definitions.

    The "he inserted microsoft in the socket behind his ear" pun of Gibson&co. is a delicate stab at this issue, which has been ongoing for quite some time.

    Software "registration" of common English words, and the commercialized property now granted as a result of it, is taking its toll on English as a language ... Microsoft aren't the only ones doing it, but from them you can learn -many- worthy things in this regard.

    {I find this aspect of their 'leadership' of the computing industry to be detestable, and this is why I don't ever use Microsoft products. Ever.}
  • Re:The wrong path (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gnu-generation-one ( 717590 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @01:07PM (#9086137) Homepage
    "Unfortunately when somebody sends my company an Excel file it's usually a customer who (more likely then not) is about to spend a lot of money. I can't see telling them "I'm sorry, please send your file in a different format, we don't support the most widely used Spreadsheet format here.""

    Why not? If you're spending a lot of money, then minor things like file formats won't make any difference to a sale. If you've got a good quote and the ability to supply what they want, then who's going to break-off a sale because you say "any chance of sending that as CSV?", or as a screenshot.

    Being offended because someone won't open your preferred spreadsheet format is far more petty and unprofessional than you'd expect from someone in charge of making large purchases, and there's a good chance that such worries are overstated.

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

    by SillyNickName4me ( 760022 ) <> on Friday May 07, 2004 @01:35PM (#9086553) Homepage
    Let me correct you on a few points:

    A single user cannot start asking everyone to send them docs in OOo, they will be laughed at.

    Well, no need for that. OOo does a pretty good job reading proprietary word and excel files, oh an powerpoint files as well.

    The thign is that the OOo user will have to remember to send files to MS Office users that they can actually read.

    company that wants to do business will have to send in an open format such as OOo, CSV, HTML, PDF, etc.

    Last time I looked, PDF is quite owned by Adobe.
    Yes, there are open implementations of PDF writign and reading code,, and quite good ones for that matter.. but hrm..
    Kets say it is about as open as lots of the stuff from the 'Open' group..

    At any rate, it works well for publishing your texts since everyoen can read it and it will print as you want it.
  • by martin-k ( 99343 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @02:33PM (#9087287) Homepage
    We have the source code to our own Visual Basic-compatible scripting engine, and before we put that into the product, we'll make sure it is sandboxed. That is: no accesses to the outside, file system etc. without explicit permission by the user. The worst thing a virus could then do is to modify the documents currently loaded.

    Martin Kotulla
    SoftMaker Software GmbH
  • VBA scripting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ion_ ( 176174 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @02:35PM (#9087308) Homepage

    I wonder if any non-Microsoft®Office® spreadsheet program supports VBA scripting? Being able to run such useful Excel® programs as Pacelman [] and Excellence [] would be very important for the FOSS community. Apparently there has been some effort to make a Visual® Basic® interpreter for Linux [], but the project doesn't seem to have made any progress.

  • by WillAdams ( 45638 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @04:29PM (#9088677) Homepage
    Let us remember that Visicalc was modelled on the limitations of an accountant's ledger and the Apple ][ screen.

    Let us _please_ move past that limitation --- you've got companies that have to _require_ that all ranges used for calculations (even of a single cell) are given names --- Lotus Improv w/ it's cool tear-off ``item dispenser'' instead required one name things as they were made, so that formulas read like:

    profit = sales - expenses

    Cloning is boring and uninteresting --- contrast LyX ( ) to Word for an example of how an opensource app can change the concept and do much better.

    For those running Mac OS X, look up

    For those w/ systems running NeXT or OPENSTEP, well, you've already got Lotus Improv or Quantrix already, right?

  • The only thing... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Audacious ( 611811 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @05:01PM (#9089080) Homepage
    The only thing these spreadsheets needs now is a compiler so you can quickly create a set of programs which use a spreadsheet-like interface.

    Think of it - pre-defined variables (cA_1, cA_2, etc...), pre-defined functions, pre-defined graphic routines, pre-defined everything just about - except for the stuff written by the user. You don't have to worry about if the program will work or not on a given platform, you could do straight-line programming or oop programming, and displays are already standardized. They all look like spreadsheets. :-)
  • Re:The wrong path (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ekuns ( 695444 ) * on Friday May 07, 2004 @05:50PM (#9089528) Journal

    Don't know what kind of engineer you are but in the Real World (TM) you will find lots of engineers doing some quick & dirty calculations in Excel.

    Back in my scientist days, we only used one of a small number of custom written applications. (Named "paw" and "mn_fit" plus a few others less commonly used.) Excel cannot even dream of producing the kinds of plots that I had to produce for my dissertation. Of course, these tools were command-line driven, but that gave the power to iterate on a plot, to view arbitrary plots of N-tuple data, to change the scales and so on. MUCH more power than Excel gives. I had scatterplots with many tens of thousands of points. (Took a LOOOONNNNNGGGGG time to print on laser printers of that day!)

    But as you say, for quick and dirty stuff, Excel and the like are fine. I haven't figured out how to do two dimensional error bars -- the cross shapes showing the uncertainty in each variable -- and complicated stuff like that, but maybe Excel can do stuff like that as well. But if I were doing a scientific or engineering paper, I would not use Excel.

  • bad business plan (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hak1du ( 761835 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @09:41PM (#9090847) Journal
    It's commercial software, I need to make payroll every month.

    So why do you pick a business plan as bad as creating an Excel clone? There are zillions of interesting software products you could make. But you pick a product that competes head-on with Microsoft and with open source software. Do what you like, but don't come around bellyaching later when your product fails; you will have neither Microsoft to blame, nor OSS, only yourself.
  • Re:bad business plan (Score:2, Interesting)

    by John Starks ( 763249 ) on Friday May 07, 2004 @10:03PM (#9090957)
    Gee, that's funny, I didn't realize that Microsoft and Open Source software had an Excel-compatible spreadsheet available for Linux!

    Oh, they don't. This is a good business plan. Excel is very important to businesses, and this product will only make it easier for users to migrate to Linux on the desktop.

  • by martin-k ( 99343 ) on Saturday May 08, 2004 @09:25AM (#9092919) Homepage
    With 15 employees, we are much smaller than the better-known office suite manufacturers, and we have been concentrating exclusively on the German market till about 12 months ago. So, if you don't actively read German computer magazines, it would have been easy to miss us.

    I have no problem competing with open source software, and authors of open source software usually don't have that towards commercial software. There is much more zealotry among the user base than under developers...

    Martin Kotulla SoftMaker Software GmbH

I am more bored than you could ever possibly be. Go back to work.