Ok, why this lengthy introduction. Well, it's easy: FOSS programs didn't work for me. Ok, now I've said it. But it's the truth. You have to know that I'm a Configuration Manager and those guys do a lot of data crunching because their main job is to produce reports. And like it or not, but the main format they're processing and producing is MS-Excel. Users that want to have their data imported provide MS-Excel sheets and that's also the format they want to have in return.
The backend is an entirely different story. I've worked with Oracle, MySQL and SQL server backends. I use my own PHP toolkit and changing the backend is pretty trivial. I don't even care whether they're running IIS or Apache, Linux or Windows. Hell, if it doesn't perform there's always more hardware. Not my problem. I'm very particular about PHP for obvious reasons, since I don't want to throw away my code nor want to be tied to a single platform - don't get me started on Mono.
Anyway, where I'm currently working I have an entire LAMP stack at my disposal. Today, my schedule was empty so I decided to work from the comfort of my home. There were several odd jobs I had to do. The first one was to create three Change Requests on the CMDB datamodel. I always use LyX, so that job was quickly done. The next one was to produce two reports from four tables. I had dumped those into MS-Excel using PHPMyAdmin the previous day. PHPMyAdmin may have its quirks, but it works fast and reliable. No problems there.
Now I usually use MS-Access to produce those reports, but I don't have that one on my Linux box. So I decided to give OpenOffice Base 2.4.0 a go. It wanted me to load the spreadsheets in OpenOffice Calc and then paste the sheets into OOo Base. I found that a rather peculiar and somewhat slow procedure, but it worked alright. Making the reports was a little awkward, because I was not too familiar with the program, but went very well. When I was satisfied, I wanted to dump the reports into an MS-Excel sheet. And there it went terribly wrong..
My KDE 3.5 desktop froze. It froze even so bad that I had no control whatsoever. I waited for several minutes. Nothing happened. You have to know that I was a Configuration Manager at a major bank in the Netherlands for several years. I processed datasets with hundreds of thousands of records. This was a tiny dataset in comparison. Just a few thousand records. that's nothing. In the end I killed it - I still have an old skool Wyse serial terminal connected to my machine - and did something I never wanted to do: I put the OOo database on a memory stick and booted my employers WinXP laptop. That's the truth.
I hoped that maybe OOo on the WinXP desktop was a little better. No way. It froze again. I still saw some activity and waited. I waited a long time. It came back with 4096 rows. That's not enough, I needed 5150 rows (including the header). This would not do. In the end, I started MS-Access, read in the tables and produced the report. Nuff said. 20 minutes later I was done. It was infuriating!
First of all, if you spend so much time imitating MS-Access why can't you produce something that doesn't need a DDE server to export its files. It's easy! Even my 4tH compiler offers simple native MS-Excel export functions! Make it CVS, like Kexi or Knoda, I don't care! But just that? Impossible! Who produced that? Sun? IBM? Aren't they ashamed? If I were to work for government agencies that only offer OOo I couldn't get my work done! My goodness.. Microsoft saved the day.. I thought I would never see the day..
In the end, WinXP wouldn't release the memory stick. I found out why when I turned off the machine: the DDE server was still running for some reason. That's Microsoft behavior, folks! No, I won't blame Microsoft for that, I'm sure it was OOo which left that thing running.
On the other hand, I also had to create a presentation and used OOo Impress for that. It worked pretty nice, I exported the thing to PDF (I don't like presentation programs anyway, Acrobat Reader is so much easier) and I was done.
The verdict? I won't touch OOo Base with a pole anymore. It looks very nice, but it doesn't handle real world workloads. I have to try Kexi and Knoda and give this post a followup. I sincerely hope it will be much better than my latest experiences, because I can't allow myself to lose valuable time over this. When I'm working at home, I simply don't have the time for experiments: I need things that just work. Like LyX. Like OOo Impress. The only way to beat the system is to do better than the system. OOo Base just falls short.
Ok, it's true, I admit: I'm a Microsoft