Calligra Suite does not suit me


Updated: September 18, 2017

If you happen to write or review products, I warmly recommend you go back and read some of your earlier stuff, especially if you happen to be doing a fresh article on a topic you've already covered. You may be surprised by your own findings. I sure know I was. Anyway.

Calligra Suite has never featured strongly on Dedoimedo. It just ... hasn't. No special reason. I did review the product in my 2013 office suite comparison run, and back then, it behaved reasonably well, even though it had a rather quirky, non-intuitive workflow. Now, with Kubuntu 17.04 staring at me, goading me, I decided to give the de-facto KDE office suite its full, proper run. Follow me.

Teaser

Installation & setup

Nothing to it. Very simple. Just punch in the write words on your teletype and watch the console text swirl as the office suite is installed. Now, simple does not mean intuitive. Looking through my application menu, I could only find evidence of the Words and Sheets programs, but not much of the rest. I know some of the many utilities in the suite have been removed, and others come with distinct non-Calligra names. In a way, Calligra is an opportunistic suite, as it packs a bunch of KDE software that you get anyway. For example, Karbon and Krita. Unlike LibreOffice, these can be easily decoupled from the suite, but that does not explain the distinct absence of Stage, the presentation program.

Words

I must say I was not pleased with the default look one bit. The interface has a horizontal rather than vertical hierarchy, and this is never a good thing. It comes with something that mimics the Ribbon interface, aligned on the right. The functions aren't replicated in the application menu, so you need to use the symbols and menus. This is more like Microsoft Word, but executed in a tricky manner.

Open document

The Ribbon occupies a fairly small portion of the interface, perhaps 10-15%, and you can largely ignore it as you type, making progress in writing, vertically, the way it's meant to be. The Calligra Ribbon-Equivalent Dose (CRED, trying to be funny) is distracting as it sits there, taking a good 35% of the screen equity - I did manage to make it a little bit smaller by hiding some of the stuff to my own ergonomic detriment - with a dizzying plethora of buttons and options, and a flat interface that makes it difficult to separate elements, one from another.

For instance, I've hidden the Add Shape toolbar, and after that, I wasn't able to add images into my document. You actually need to have it enabled, otherwise, you won't be able to add shapes (including pictures) to your text. The fact you can re-arrange the side pane easily and almost arbitrarily is also tricky, as it lets you harm your productivity through almost random actions.

Add shape

Right click menu

Ribbon like interface

Way, way too many abstract shapes and options.

Style manager

Style Manager - decent, but a bit clunky.

But that's only a small problem

Usability is important, but that wasn't the deal breaker for me. Sluggish performance was. Words was just horribly slow, and even worse, there were dreadful delays in using the program. Trying to add images took many, many seconds before I finally got the open file popup, and two out of four times, Calligra crashed while trying to select a file to add into the text. I haven't had an application crash in Kubuntu in months. Worst of all, even when it did add the image to the document, the actually graphics weren't showing, just an outline where the graphics should actually be. Weird. Sad.

Words crashed

In general, the GUI lagged heavily behind my actions and intentions, taking a good 1-2 seconds to highlight things, to open the right-click menus, to transition from any which action to a visual change on the screen. And sometimes, even this did not work. I had big difficulties making even simple things, like text and background color. I understood the mechanics, it's just that the interface wouldn't let me act as fast as I'd wanted.

Now, LibreOffice is no pearl either, and compared to Microsoft Word, it's leagues behind in terms of simplicity and crispness of use, even with the silly Ribbon interface thrown into the equation. But Calligra Suite was giving me a rough treatment beyond the expected, and if there's one thing I absolutely hate, it's when a GUI does not respond fast.

File format support

But the above can be forgiven. New work flows can be learned, performance will improve once the bugs get squashed, hopefully. All of that matters not one bit if the program does not offer the right level of support and compatibility, and in our cruel world, that means being able to read Microsoft Office files without a hitch. Say or feel whatever you want, wave whatever ideology banner you want, in the end, if you want to do a professional work in an office suite, you must use Microsoft Office. So it is the golden standard, and we must always compare to how it works, and what it does.

I created two files using LibreOffice, one in ODT format and one in DOCX, both with inline images, some text decorations, multi-line comments, a footnote, and a few other simple aesthetic elements. Then I launched these files in Calligra Words, to see what gives.

Document in LibreOffice

It wasn't good. The ODT file had most of its elements preserved, but the opening text was indented weirdly for no good reason. The DOCX file had lost the comments. Add compatibility problems to the list then. Sigh.

ODT support

DOCX support

Calligra Sheets

I decided to test the Excel-like functionality next. Again, the interface is crowded, overwhelming and counter-intuitive, with elements everywhere, left and right. There's really no reason for this plethora of toolbars and options. It does not impress anyone, nor does it follow any guideline on HMI, and it actually detracts by offering things that have no immediate use of value. Like the flowchart (Visio) elements. Why do I need them? I'm trying to do some basic table arithmetics and draw a couple of charts. This can definitely be a feature, but it shouldn't be enabled or offered by default.

I did manage to create a chart - again, it took forever for the chart to actually show up, and when it did, it completely ignored the actually values I've chosen for the X axis, even though I've clearly marked that they should be used and displayed in the chart options. This is such a trivial thing. Now, Calc is horrible, and it's three and a half light years behind Excel when it comes to basics, including things like Pivot, Vlookup, and just ordinary graphs, but Sheets was taking it to another level of not being good and useful.

Ignored my values

Ignored my values, zoomed

I asked for Column A to be X axis; instead it's a weird, non-numerical Y axis or such.

Conclusion

It pains me to say so, but the split from KOffice to Calligra has given this program only a temporary infusion of hope, and looking back at my 2013 trial, it's not made any progress since. On the contrary. Calligra Suite is slow, difficult to use, and it comes with less than ideal file format support. My conclusion here is much the same regarding different Linux software, be it distros or desktop environments. 90% of it just shouldn't exist, and the effort must be focused on just one or two select programs with the highest quality and chance of making it big. The infinite forking doesn't do anyone any good.

Calligra Suite has the potential, but it's far, far from realizing it, and the world of Plasma has left it behind. The interface split is bad, too much equity is taken by a confusing maze of options, the performance is dreadful, the stability flaky, and the rest does not scale or compare against LibreOffice, let alone Microsoft Office. I wish my findings were different, but it cannot be. Ah well. Like so many other flowers of the open-source world, this one must wilt. I'll keep an eye, but I doubt there is ever going to be enough focus or love to make Calligra into a serious competitor. Dedoimedo's sad prose out.

Cheers.

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