I spent a few days playing with the Calligra Suite and am very impressed with the variety of its modules. It’s one of the most ambitious open-source applications I’ve seen.
It is a project of KDE and has Windows, tablet and phone versions but I only tested the Linux version.
As expected, it offers the standard modules: word processor (“Writer”); spreadsheet (“Sheets”); database (“Kexi”); and presentation (“Stage”), compatible with the OpenOffice file standard.
What makes Calligra so impressive is the other modules it offers: mind mapping (“Braindump”); flowchart/diagramming (“Flow”); vector drawing (“Karbon”); project management (“Plan”); paint (“Krita”); and eBook composer (“Author”).
I played with the modules that might be useful in a library setting. My impression varied a lot depending on the module. One module worked very well, a couple were OK and others are just not ready.
Writer requires a bit of a learning curve because it’s organized around frames, somewhat like Framemaker. (Calligra calls them “shapes”) It’s not difficult but requires un-learning MS Word or LibreOffice Writer. Shapes/frames allows a higher level of formatting control which I appreciate. I find graphics in MS Word extremely frustrating. Mixing text and graphics is almost effortless in Calligra Writer.
Calligra Writer imports and exports to the standard formats and directly imports (only) from Google Docs. This worked fine with a relatively simple document.
But other things don’t work so well. Writer behaved erratically at times, even considering my inexperience with the product. It crashed once. I was excited to see that Writer exports to both ePub and .mobi (Kindle) but I was disappointed with the results.
My suggestion to the developers: Writer should be positioned as a desktop publishing program and Calligra should add a lightweight, super-easy, word-processor. Just the basics. This would give users a less-painful way to start using Calligra. The suite could also use Dreamweaver-type web authoring module.
I was excited to try the Author module which is designed to create ebooks and textbooks. The world needs an ebook authoring program where a single master document can be exported to multiple common formats (ePub,kindle,html,PDF,doc,etc) with a click or two. I was motivated enough to endure about four or five crashes, when one crash is too many. The web site acknowledges that Author is an early release.
Sheets was the same — it seems more developed but had erratic behavior and a crash. Braindump worked well-enough but wasn’t what I need in a mind-mapping program. Mostly it’s just a drawing program when I need a program that guides thinking and adds structure to brainstorming. It does use an interesting-but-initially-confusing, expanding “white board” approach.
Krita — the stand-out in the suite
It worked perfectly with my drawing tablet, never crashed and the features were intuitive. I’ll write a longer review after I use it more.
See the Krita website for some impressive examples of what can be done with this module. The site includes some interesting interviews with artists using Krita.
Conclusion – an A for effort
I didn’t play much with all the other modules but I doubt my impression of Calligra would change — it’s not ready for work or school. If you use it, consider yourself a beta user. This may not be true for all the modules (like Krita) but others are just not ready. By the way, being a beta user is good citizenship in the open source community.
That being said, I want to affirm the Calligra development team. This project has impressive potential and should be developed to maturity. I’ll be checking back!