World’s First Preview of gobeProductive 3

Gobe Productive is a well known and the most important third party application in the BeOS world. It is a powerful Office Suite. Gobe (the same developers who wrote ClarisWorks for Macintosh in the past – now called AppleWorks) is now looking for a larger market than BeOS has to offer, and version 3.0 of Productive will be first published for the Microsoft Windows line of operating systems. A Linux version is scheduled for development and release shortly after the Windows one. This is the world’s first preview of Gobe Productive 3 (GP3), with lots of screenshots and a good portion of information about the upcoming product (a public beta version should be released in the near future too).

Disclaimer: I don’t care if you don’t find my grammar/spelling appropriate. Honestly, that’s the best I can do. I bet you don’t speak Greek at all. 😉

The whole beta package comes in a (just) 7 MB .zip file (beta as of November 1st), but worry not, the final version will be distributed in a CD with lots of extras, like templates, inks, installation manager etc. Extracting this base beta package, only takes 18 MB of hard drive space, and it is all ready to use. When clicking the executable, a nice looking prompt window pops up asking you to choose your new base document (see picture).

Gobe Productive starting up...

Launching of the office suite is pretty fast, around 2 to 3 seconds in my machine which has a SCSI hard drive. Hacking around the files on the GP3 folder, we can find a file, called libbe.dll and in the Translators folder, we find libraries named like PNGTranslator.dll etc. I am sure that BeOS users and developers will recognise these names. Apparently, Gobe has ported a big chunk of the BeOS API over to Windows in order to properly port Productive 3. Not the whole BeOS API have been ported, but surely a big portion of it, the part that Productive is dependant on. Along with the API, services like the image and document translators have been ported as well. A note for non-BeOS users: Translators are system libraries that are reusable by other applications. For example, if you have an PNG Translator you can write an image viewer that will use this translator to read/write PNGs. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel by adding your own code for dealing with PNGs. Under BeOS, a lot of translators are installed by default, making the life of both the user and developer easier.

The Translator libraries included with GP3

The application suite has been tested on a P-III 450 Mhz, 3Dfx Voodoo3, 512 MB of SDRAM and Windows98SE.

The Gobe word processor should be a familliar land for any Microsoft Word user, and if not, it is easy to learn and use.

On the View/Panels menu you can select which floating panels you would like to have visible at any time. Font, Styles, Ink, Transparency, Zoom and other windows can be floated on your screen, as the whole Productive environment is based on SDI. “Traditional” features found on other word processors, like Header & Footer, Grid, Rulers, styled bulleting and numbering are all to be found on Gobe’s Word Processor.

Floating Panels - Click for a larger view

Some interesting features are the following: When you select a piece of text and by right clicking, you can copy the character’s or paragraph’s format. This way, if for example, you copied a piece of text that it was set to Arial, Size 12, Bold, Underlined, when you paste this format in another paragraph, page or document, you will be able to use this exact style. Similarly, with the use of the Style Panel, you can easily transform pieces of text into a pre-defined format. For example, by selecting some text and then click on the Styles/Link, the text will be underlined and it will behave as an HTML link. These Styles are editable, so you can easily save and restore/use your own prefered text style.

Zooming - Click for a larger view

Productive also supports spell checking and it features a Thesaurus and Dictionary as well, always ready for use. I found them to be good and robust and the spell checker has the ability to learn new words too.

Spell Checking Preferences

The Font panel is a bit different of what Windows users are used to, it does not offer a sample preview, but a live review. For example, instead of play with the font settings and then decide if you want to keep the changes or not, the changes are already made to the document automatically, upon any change on the font panel. This feature is of course impressive, but I found it to be not desirable at times. In fact, in cases where you are not sure which style you want to keep and you keep play with the font settings, you will lose the original style as you will need multiple undo’s to reach the original instead of just one or none.
I would also say that its Find/Replace panel needs a bit more work on adding some more advance features.
You can insert a number of objects in a word document, things like a chart, images (all the images that the Translators support), tables, vectors, hyperlinks and HTML. For example, you can copy/paste a web page directly from an IE window, and it will look like as it does in a browser, but your copy will be editable. It is a shame that this feature never worked for me though, resulting to an instant crash everytime I was copying/pasting something from a web page.

The Text Tool

You can save a document as a .pve, the native Gobe file format, which includes in single file format, spreadsheet, word, image document elements etc. So, instead of having different file formats for presentations or spreadsheets, one file format covers all. You always have the freedom to export your documents to Microsoft Word, plain text, Rich Text Format, HTML and even PDF (yes, save as PDF 4 or 5 for free). The generated HTML has pretty good quality for a visual generator, but the problem is that its format is LF and it is not pleasantly visible by Notepad or other simple Windows text editor. The PDF export works fine, it loads under Acrobat Reader 5 fine as well, but on exit, my Acrobat Reader crashes (especially when the generated .pdf was saved with vector graphics in it). You can also save your document by posting/uploading it on the web automatically with the use of Web Folders.

Find/Replace Panel

As for the Word .doc compatibility, it works well, as soon as the document is not bigger than ~1.5 MB and it does not have pictures in it. As you can see in the screenshot below, Productive is on the left, and Word on the right. The first Word document has forms, which do not show at all on Productive. The second .doc file includes a picture (the Ensoniq one), which does not render at all on Productive, but the rest of the text is intact. The third document (the Creative one), is 2.4 MB large, which refused to load under Productive. Word compatibility (which is very important, we like it or not) was not great under gobeProductive 2.x either, but it was also functional.

The Microsoft Word Compatibility Test - Click for a larger view

I do not have great experience with spreadsheets unfortunately, and without a help/manual from GP3, I can’t say that I mastered this part of the Office suite. I wrote a Sum formula as shown in the screenshot and used its chart system. The spreadsheet does perfectly at least the basics of what someone would expect it to do. You can add formulas or use the built-in ones, change the colors of the cells and the charts, merge cells, choose between lots of types of charts etc. I am sure this feature list can describe it much better than I can regarding the spreadsheet part. You can save your work as a .pve, .csv, Microsoft Excel 95 or 97, Sylk, semicolon-delimeted text and tab-delimeted text. The spreadsheet seems to be really powerful (however it is also the most crash prone part of GP3), it has loads of little features that can be found in the menu and it integrates so well even inside a text .pve document.

gobe Spreadsheet - Click for a larger view

The Graphics part of GP3 is based on vector objects and shapes put together. I found this part to be extremely easy to use and fun to play with. GP3 is not of course, a extremely powerful/advanced vector package, but it is enough for the day to day usage that a non-artist would need to use. There are plenty of shapes to choose from (however, flow charting shapes I found to be missing and I think that Gobe could strike a winner there if they add such shapes to their application), a line tool, reshape, bezier, freehand and polygon tools. I found the reshape tool very cool and fast. Too bad that you cannot save your own shapes and store them in a library though (Editor’s note: Gobe’s Tom Hoke wrote in to tell us that such a feature already exists! Thanks Tom!), but at least copy/paste works well between Productive and vector-aware editors like PaintShopPro7. As you can see from the screenshot, a number of options are available when right clicking in a selected shape, options very familiar to people who have used Illustrator, FreeHand, CorelDraw or Xara. You can Group and UnGroup shapes, so they behave as a single shape, Smooth edges, you can Tranform them (reshape, rotate, scale), align them to front or back, select the transparency level and also use the powerful Alignment to snap shapes into Grid or among them, as seen in the screenshot.

Advanced Align features

No filters or special effects can be used with the Graphics package, but with the addition of some flow chart shapes, it is more than perfect for an office/home use.

The Graphics desktop - Click for a larger view

GP3 supports the notion of picture frames. You create an object frame for your picture and then you insert it. This way, you can differientiate between the image that you want it to behave as a letter (by clicking on the Insert menu command), and the image you want it to behave as an object (by clicking on the Picture Frame icon on the Graphics panel).

Some of the problems I encountered:
BMP pictures larger than 700 kb will crash GP3 or they won’t load.
The “Image Size” context menu option does not work correctly. And when it does work, it does not do what you asked it to do (for example, there are cases it will crop your image instead of resize it).
The inserted “letter” image (glyph) does not support Text Flow/Wrap so it cannot flow nicely around your text. I believe this is a pretty important missing feature. The image object does support it though, so I hope that this feature will be added for the Glyphs too.

While you can add vector shapes to your image document, they do not integrate greatly with the rest of the image. For example, you can’t merge the two layers containing the raster and the vector part. Similarly, you can’t break a raster image into vector shapes.

The Image Manip desktop - Click for a larger view

The Image Processing application do come with some basic and important tools though, like lasso, freehand selection, magic wand (use SHIFT to have a play with these tools, they are pretty impressive), paint bucket, eraser, pencil (I still haven’t figured out where I can change pencil’s line width), airbrush, clone, and the color picker (which supports RGB, CMYK, HSV, HLS, LAB and System colors).

You can save your images, as .pve, PDF, bmp, gif, pat, jpg, png, Tiff and xpm (in short, depends what translators are available on the system).

There is not much to say about Presentation really, as it is a simple tool which utilizes the Graphics engine as discussed above, but introduces the notion of slides. A single slide is like a single page with vectors/images or text in it, put together to create a team of slides, the presentation. There is a nice slide control center as shown in the screenshot, where you can add new slides, remove them, move them up and down in their herierchy etc. From what I could gather so far (I have to say here that there was no documentation coming with this beta package), there is no way you can add video, sound or interactive content (for example, you can’t click in a button to go to a specific slide instead of the next one). The Presentation tool is simple, basic, but I believe it will be enough for most of us. For now. However, it is a shame that GP3 cannot read or write Microsoft PowerPoint files, as that could be a useful feature for people who would like to totally switch to GP3.

The Presentation desktop - Click for a larger view

Gobe Productive 3 is a honest effort to bring a fast, modern and pretty powerful office suite to the Windows and Linux platforms. A BeOS version is not certain yet, but Gobe accepts pre-orders that can help BeOS users upgrade to GP3 for Windows for only $40 USD.

For BeOS and Linux this office suite is one of their killer applications that users should be proud of. For Windows users, it still has some features left to be desired when a ‘monster’ like OfficeXP is already out and about. The Word .doc file format has not yet been mastered, no powerpoint compatibility, poor lettering on Glyphs, no sound or video. OfficeXP may be more feature complete in general, but Gobe has some great points too: The ability to save as a .pdf file, a uniform file format, lots of speed in most operations, live previews from the image plugins, small package overall (ideal for laptops and older machines), great price and more.

The About Box

The application is still crash prone, but this is due to be still a beta. It is scheduled to be released before the end of 2001. gobeProductive for Windows and Linux will have a Suggested Retail Price of $124.95 and will include a “Gobe Family License” so you may install on all computers in your home plus one installation where you work, which makes the product an even better buy overall.

Update: Dave Johnson from Gobe emailed us about the pricing policy:

“GP will be $124.95, with the “Gobe Family License” which allows you to install on every computer in your home plus one installation where you work. Both Windows and Linux are in the box. Until the Linux version ships we will include a coupon in the box that the customer can send to us if they are going to want the Linux version.

There will also be academic, enterprise, government, OEM and volume pricing options available.”


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