Office tools, calendars, and mail clients – Chapter 5.4
This is the seventh of the free articles directly taken from the Manjaro Linux User Guide book, available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0C4PSWRQS/. The full list of freely available articles is here: Manjaro Linux User Guide – For newbies, fans, and mid users. More information at the end of the article.
Read time: 5 minutes. Previous article: 3.1 A Few Important Steps After Installation. Next article: 6.6 Creating Application Shortcuts And Converting .Deb And .Rpm Packages.
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PDF and any document viewers
Manjaro Xfce and GNOME flavors come preinstalled with the Evince Document Viewer GNOME application, which supports PDF, PS, EPS, XPS, DjVu, TIFF, and DVI files (with SyncTeX) and comic book archive files (CBR, CBT, CBZ, and CB7).
KDE Plasma has preinstalled the quite famous Okular. It supports, among others, PDF, EPub, DjVU, and MD formats for documents; Postscript (PS) documents based on libspectre / CHM; JPEG, PNG, GIF, Tiff, and WebP for images; CBR and CBZ for comics; and DVI, XPS, and ODT.
Xfce opens PDF files by default in the Firefox browser. Nowadays, all modern browsers support it. I prefer changing this in the Default Applications configuration module. To do so, type Default Applications in the main menu search, open it, go to the third tab (Others), find MIME/type application/pdf, and choose Document Viewer or Okular (if you have installed it). I prefer Okular, as it has more advanced features, but both offer highlighting and notes in a saved copy.
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Mail clients with calendars
The following are available directly on any Manjaro flavor:
- Thunderbird (Mozilla): We will start with the most famous one. Apart from SMTP, IMAP, and POP3, Thunderbird also offers MS Exchange support. It has a great calendar, which can sync with Google Calendar. It offers a built-in RSS reader and multi-account support. In addition, hundreds of plugins are available for it. It is stable, reliable, and mature, as the project started in July 2003. Finally, it has integrated PGP encryption support, an address book (you can also import one), and mail filtering and folders support. I have used it for years and think it’s great! As it requires a bit more resources, it can be a bit slower on weak machines.
- Evolution (GNOME project): This is the direct competitor of Thunderbird, as it has all its features. Interestingly, some users tend to switch from Thunderbird to Evolution due to issues with PGP encryption and the UI. I tried it, and adding a Google account to it took a few seconds, which also added my calendar events automatically. The contacts took around 15 seconds to load. It was a great experience. This application is also old and mature, started in May 2000, and also requires a bit more resources like Thunderbird.
- Claws Mail: A lightweight mail client, Claws Mail is also very popular among Linux users. It is the default mail application on some lightweight distributions, but not Manjaro. Comparing it with the previous two, it has fewer features. Automatic integration with Gmail is not so easy, requiring a few specific Gmail settings to be changed. It supports encryption, but additional features, such as an RSS aggregator, calendar, and others, might require additional plugins. It is generally lightweight, and emails are displayed as simple text. You cannot send HTML or other rich formatted emails with it. Claws is used mainly to read mail and rarely for anything else. If you want more features, use Thunderbird or Evolution. This might be your choice only if you want a simple and limited lightweight mail reader.
- Geary: This is another simple and lightweight mail client. Connecting to MS Exchange might be an issue for it. Again, depending on your system, Gmail might require additional steps to connect.
- Kmail: Another rich mail client considered an alternative to Thunderbird. It is KDE’s default mail application. I haven’t tested it, but some reviews say it is good enough. If you want a powerful mail client and don’t like the first two, Kmail is worth trying.
Mailspring and Blue Mail are only provided for Manjaro KDE as Flatpak.
I recommend trying, in this order, Evolution, Thunderbird, and finally, Kmail. If your system is too slow or weak, or you have an explicit reason to try another client, check out Geary or Claws Mail. The rest of the available mail clients are neither better nor stable, so I would not try them.
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The modern, rich office suite SW comes historically from Microsoft Office. At a minimum, this means Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Its additional applications (Access for databases, Outlook for mail, OneNote, the cloud, and communications services) are rarely necessary for everyday users. So, I will review here the best alternatives, focusing on editing .doc and .docx documents, Excel sheets, and presentations.
Our alternatives list is rich – LibreOffice, SoftMaker Office/FreeOffice, OnlyOffice, WPS Office, Apache OpenOffice, and Calligra. The other option is to use the online services of Google Docs or Microsoft Office365, but they are both limited.
The main issue for me is compatibility. In 2014, I was sending multiple versions of my CV as an MS Word .doc file created with LibreOffice. When opened in Microsoft Word, it had completely different content ordering, which was devastating for me. Back then, I wanted to switch entirely to FOSS office. Eight years later, there is no such issue, as the alternatives have improved significantly. Despite this, to be sure that an MS Office document created with a FOSS application will look the same when opened with an MS Office application, ask a friend to check this for you. The other option is to export in PDF, as it keeps the content format and order. HTML is not an option, as its interpretation depends entirely on the browser/SW that will open it.
Table 5.1 lists all MS Office alternatives. We’re interested in the FOSS ones in this book, so I will review only them.
Table 5.1 – A comparison of office tools for Linux distributions
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The Libre Office suite is the official winner. It provides the best MS Office compatibility and includes the text editor Writer, the spreadsheet program Calc, the presentation builder Impress, Draw for drawing (both raster and vector graphics), Math for editing formulas, and Base for databases.
I opened drafts of this book’s chapters, full of comments, with Writer. All the document information, annotations, and contents were presented correctly. Writer supports more formats than OpenOffice for saving, including the .doc, .xml, and .docx Microsoft formats. LibreOffice also provides a lot of guides online.
Calc opened my complex Excel sheets without problems. It also opened the book .xlsx schedule with dates and periods and calculated them correctly. There are draw functions, separations, filters, and everything you might need.
The presentation application Impress provides all you need for a good presentation, including shapes, animations, arrows, and templates.
The only thing to remember is that to have Microsoft and other fonts, you must install additional font packages from Pamac. Otherwise, you should stick to the default ones.
There are thousands of templates online for all LibreOffice modules. Check out https://extensions.libreoffice.org/?Tags%5B0%5D=118 and https://www.libreofficetemplates.net/.
Regarding documentation and supported file formats, open the latest Getting Started guide at https://documentation.libreoffice.org/en/english-documentation/. In it, search for File formats LibreOffice can open and File formats LibreOffice can save to.
LibreOffice is available for Linux, Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android. It supports many languages, some available as extensions, and you can change the proofing/spellcheck language runtime.
Yes, it looks like the old MS Office 2003. Conversely, all the tools you might need are there. If you insist on a ribbon interface (the MS Office look for the last decade), you care for design, not functionality. Considering that it is FOSS and has everything you might need, we owe a big thank you to its authors and community.
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OpenOffice is the parent of LibreOffice. It was started by Sun Microsystems, based on the older proprietary StarOffice suite. A community created the LibreOffice branch just before Oracle bought Sun, as they were afraid Oracle would make OpenOffice proprietary. Now, both suites are FOSS, and their modules are the same. Their licenses are different but compatible; both share many improvements and ideas.
OpenOffice has several cons, resulting in a firm no for it. First, it doesn’t support most Microsoft Office formats for writing. Second, it has a less frequent update model, so LibreOffice has more and faster fixes and improvements. Third, OpenOffice is available only as a deb or rpm package and is not in the official Manjaro repositories. To install it, you must convert it from deb, which is covered in the next chapter.
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Calligra, the last alternative on our list, is a KDE project. It offers a suite of applications, the main being Words – the word processor, Sheets for tables, Karbon for vector images, Stage for presentations, KEXI for databases, and Plan for project management. It also has the unique Gemini – a document preparation tool for touchscreen devices.
It has a unique interface distinct from MS Office, but its integration with MS formats is not yet good enough. It can save in .docx; however, opening complex .xlsx files resulted in incorrect data and formatting. Calligra favors Open Document Formats (ODFs) such as ODT (text), ODS (spreadsheets), and ODP (presentation), which are also used by LibreOffice and OpenOffice. The final verdict here is that Calligra is suitable only when MS Office formats are not necessary.
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The official winner is LibreOffice. It offers the best MS Office compatibility, excellent documentation, and hundreds of templates online. If you use only ODF formats, you can try Calligra – it is also a great suite. It is nice to know that ODF documents are accepted officially in some administrations. Both Calligra and LibreOffice are available in the official Manjaro repositories.
Microsoft 365 online is an option only for basic functionality and if you explicitly need modern MS Office text styles (considering its limitations).
Google Docs online is great, but it is also seriously limited in options.
In the book we continue in the next sections with Web Browsers, and then Photo, image, video, and graphics SW.
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Next article: 6.6 Creating Application Shortcuts And Converting .Deb And .Rpm Packages.
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