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Feature: Desktop Software

Siag Office is far from pathetic

By Peter Enseleit on July 10, 2007 (5:18:05 PM)

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"Siag, it sucks less!" This is the slogan for Siag Office. This and the self-effacing name for the Siag Office Word Processor, Pathetic Writer, might leave you thinking that this office suite is a mere plaything, a university student's cobbled-together programming assignment. But don't be fooled by first impressions. Siag Office is a lightweight suite of applications which might be just the right set of office tools for you, especially if you have older hardware.

Siag Office is an office suite for Unix systems which contains a spreadsheet, (Siag), a word processor, (Pathetic Writer) and an image animation program, (Egon) as well as a file manager, (XFiler), a text editor, (XedPlus) and a postscript document viewer (Gvu). The main applications -- Siag, Pathetic Writer, and Egon -- were written by Ulric Eriksson, who started working on them well over 8 years ago, the length of time they have been available on freshmeat.net - http://freshmeat.net/projects/siagoffice/.

Siag Office has a venerable heritage. In the days before Open Office was available and KOffice was still in its infancy, it was one of very few open source office suite alternatives for Unix\Linux. It was designed with the tools available at the time to work in the graphical user environments (GUIs) of its day, using a variant of the Athena Widget library for its interface controls. It therefore looks and feels a little antiquated when compared to the latest and shiniest Linux desktop applications.

Its design aims, as stated in the Siag help files, reflect much of what is still valued in Open Source Software today:

"Unlike commercial applications, where the vendors try to lock users into proprietary file formats and standards, these applications use free, non-patented routines and data whenever possible. In addition, data portability is ensured through support for multiple file formats."

Pathetic Writer and Siag Spreadsheet files, saved in their default formats, are simple text files. Once plugins are included, the files are bundled together as tar archives, so their contents can easily be unpacked and examined. This philosophy of using open formats might be familiar to us now with the Open Document Format standard, (ODF), but Siag Office has been doing this since its inception.

Each of the component applications of Siag Office is designed to be simple and lightweight, but extendable through extension languages including Scheme, (SIOD), Guile, Python, Ruby and Tcl. On first observation it looks as though Siag Office is very lightweight and lacks most of the features we have come to expect in maistream office suites, but because it is designed to be extendable you can add your own functions to make the software do what you need it to do. Of course, this is beyond what many end users would expect to have to do with an office suite these days, but if you are willing to sit down and take the time to learn the ins and outs of Siag, its flexibility will reward you.

Installation

I have to be honest: installation was not easy. You will probably have trouble finding Siag Office packages for your system, and even if you do find some, you may find they depend on old packages which are no longer in common use in today's Linux distributions. I tried compiling Siag from sources and it worked, for the most part, but Egon would not run for me at all.

Siag Office can be downloaded from http://siag.nu. You will need to download the source code for the XawM and Mowitz projects as well. Links to these projects are included on the main Siag Office site.

To compile Siag from source on my Ubuntu Feisty machine, I needed to install some extra development files along the way.

  • XawM needed the neXtaw libraries.
  • NeXtaw needed libxmu development files.
  • Mowitz needed libxaw development files.
  • Siag needed libxpm and ncurses development files.

With each project you use the standard ./configure make make install routine to get your compiled files installed under /usr/local by default.

If the thought of compiling from source code is a little daunting for you, you can try Siag Office before you take the plunge by downloading VMWare player and a VMWare image of Puppy Linux which has packages for Siag Office available for it. This way you can take it for a test run and see what it can really do before you delve into compiling it for your own system.

The VMWare image for Puppy Linux is available at http://www.ericsgrumbles.net/2006/01/28/puppy-linux-vm/">ericsgrumbles.net.
The Puppy Linux packages for Siag Office are available at http://www.murga-linux.com/puppy/viewtopic.php?p=79179">murga-linux.com. (Note: These packages do not include Egon Animator).

Once I'd built and installed neXtaw, XawM, Mowitz and then siag, I was ready to go.

Pathetic Writer

Pathetic Writer does most of the basic things you expect a word processor to do. It supports styles, font selection, and simple formatting. Tables can be implemented by importing a Siag spreadsheet plugin into the document. The plugin architecture also supports images, text, latex, dvi and html, and can be extended to include other file types. I find using Siag plugins easy to figure out, although moving plugins from one position in the document to another is a little unintuitive. You have to position your cursor at the point you want your plugin moved to, then choose - Plugins -> Move to get the plugin to move to that position.

The text editing window does not display your text in the prettiest representation I've seen. If you're looking for Mac OS X-quality font rendering you'll be disappointed, but it does a reasonable job. To see what your document will really look like when it is sent to the printer, however, it can be viewed in postscript format by invoking the File -> Preview command to launch your document in Gvu. Gvu, through postscript, renders your document in a much more attractive manner.

Pathetic Writer does not natively support recent Microsoft Office file formats, but the command line program wv can be used to convert Word 97 documents into other formats which can be opened by Pathetic Writer. Nor does it support ODF documents, but it can save documents in its native pw format, Rich Text Format, (rtf), html, text, Adobe's Portable Document Format, (pdf) and Postscript, (ps). It can open pw, text, rtf, html, Abiword, (abw), and older Open Office, (sxw), files.

Siag Spreadsheet

The Siag Spreadsheet is the champion of this office suite. Siag stands for Scheme in a Grid, but, according to Siag's help file, Siag stands for Siag Is Not An Excel Emulator, which seems to set its tone. If you are expecting all of the features of Excel or Open Office Calc you'll be disappointed, but Siag boasts a lot of features which make it useful as a lightweight spreadsheet in its own right. For a start, it's not bloated. It has the same plugin architecture as Pathetic Writer and it boasts hundreds of built-in functions, many of them Excel equivalents, and because of its extensible architecture you can tailor it to your personal needs.

As with Pathetic Writer, it supports styles, font selection, and simple formatting. It has column and row sorting, allows you to send your document via email and, as an example of what can be done with the extension languages in Siag, it even allows you to create a one-shot Webserver to display your file. With GnuPlot installed, Siag also supports plotting graphs.

Siag can open its native siag files, as well as Lotus 1-2-3, Open Office Calc files saved in the sxc format, csv, text and html. It can save to siag, text, html, Lotus 1-2-3, Postscript, pdf and Latex. The help file recommends exporting your existing spreadsheets to Lotus 1-2-3 format before opening them in Siag. From my testing it seems some loss of formula information does occur when opening from Lotus 1-2-3 and Open Office Calc files, though the data seems to remain intact.

Egon Animator

As I mentioned above, Egon Animator would not work for me so I couldn't take it for a test run. It is described as an animation program, which, from the sound of it, could be used for simple presentations. Whether it could function well enough to be a suitable replacement for a true presentation program such as Open Office Impress or Microsoft Powerpoint, I am not sure. It boasts the same plugin architecture and extensibility as the other programs in this suite, so presumably could be extended to do more than the built-in functions alone.

Fonts

Extra Fonts can be installed if the small default set does not satisfy you, but it is a manual process that requires editing a font configuration file.

Associated Tools

The default programs used for KDE and Gnome environments in Tools -> Environment have dated a bit, but you can configure a custom environment and add more up-to-date programs for viewing help files; i.e. yelp; launching a file manager, i.e. nautilus; launching a terminal; and a few others.

Printing

It is helpful if you know your way around the Linux CUPS command line interface for printing from Siag Office, because there is no user interface for its print functions. It sends documents to the printer with the command line options you configure. Below are a couple of websites which will help in this regard:

http://www.g-loaded.eu
csx.cam.ac.uk

Conclusion

Siag is largely the work of one man. Considering this, it is an impressive suite of software. The Siag mailing list siag@siag.nu is still active, as evidenced by the fact that I had a question I posted to it answered within a day, so support is available if you need it. The freshmeat website indicates that it was last visited by the developer in April 2007, so development seems to have slowed rcently. If anyone is interested in lending a hand on the project, I encourage you to do so. It is still useful for older hardware or even on newer hardware where users want a small-footprint office application. Extending Siag Office's functionality with its built-in language support requires some learning and a degree of technical ability, but you can say the same about power users in Microsoft Office, with its Visual Basic for Applications or about Open Office, with its own version of Basic. While not as feature-rich as larger office suites, Siag Office covers the basic tasks reasonably well in a very small package.

Peter Enseleit is a software developer. Among his interests are Linux, woodwork, music, using whatever meager talent he has in graphic design, and a newly acquired enthusiasm for torturing his thighs through mountain biking.

Peter Enseleit, a software developer from Australia, has been a Linux enthusiast for more than eight years.

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on Siag Office is far from pathetic

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Siag Office is far from pathetic

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 87.64.73.77] on August 03, 2007 11:22 AM
This office suit deserves more support!

It's the only office suit which runs decent on old hardware.

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Siag Office is far from pathetic

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