KSpread vs. OpenOffice.org Calc

I've been using OpenOffice.org Calc for a while now, but I recently decided to give KSpread a try after getting frustrated with Calc's slow load times. It rarely bothered me on my desktop system because I have 4GB of RAM and usually leave the program open, but my work laptop runs Windows XP, forcing me to run Kubuntu in a virtual machine. Unfortunately disk access is significantly slower and memory capacity is much smaller so the Calc startup time is painfully slow. KSpread is very fast, but are its other features good enough for me to stick with it?

For this testing I used Kubuntu Edgy running in VMware Player on my laptop and Debian Etch on my desktop.

Format Compatibility

I started out my investigation by taking an .ods spreadsheet that had been created in Calc and opened it in KSpread. It opened very quickly and on first glance appeared to have interpreted the data correctly. Then I noticed some strange results.

The first is that $ had disappeared for currency cells and were replaced with USD. Digging in a little further I discovered that the format had been read as American Samoa (US Dollar) instead of Dollar (United States). That seems a strange mistake to make.

Another problem is that justification settings didn't always import correctly. It was hit or miss. Same with other cell formating like bold or underlining. This was better, but not perfect, in version 1.6.1 that Debian Etch uses.

Taking my new KSpread ods spreadsheet and trying to open it back up in Calc results in a complete mess. The primary issue was that blank cells now showed zeros. Again version 1.6.1 was better, but the document formatting compatibility still has a long way to go.

This holds true to Excel's xls format as well. Calc could handle my test files properly while KSpread could not. In some cases KSpread even lost some formulas and just imported values. Clearly unacceptable.

General Use Impressions

My first small nit is what KSpread displays in the taskbar and title bar. Instead of listing the file name, the entire file path and extension is listed. My biggest issue with this behavior is that when I have multiple spreadsheets open simultaneously I can't tell which is which with a quick glance. Calc gets this right.

With its default settings, KSpread shows three more rows than Calc, but one less column. The former is due to less clutter in the toolbars and is very helpful, but the latter seems unnecessary. Why does the row number need such a wide area? It's mostly blank space that can't be resized.

For some reason vertical scrolling in KSpread while clicking the up and down arrows with my mouse actually scrolls the screen by 3.5 rows. I'm not sure why this is done either. Horizontal scrolling only moves one cell at a time. Vertical should be the same.

Two other annoyances are that clicking the edge of a column heading doesn't automatically resize it to best fit and any cell with a formula has a blue triangle in the bottom left corner. The former is a feature that I use frequently in other spreadsheet programs and the latter makes the spreadsheet very difficult to read. Financial spreadsheets end up looking like a sea of blue triangles.

At first I couldn't figure out how to freeze a row or column in KSpread, but that's because it gives the ability to create a Split View instead. It's a nice feature that can accomplish most of the same end goals, and in some cases it is even a more powerful tool. Calc has the same freeze behavior that Excel uses.

I've been mostly picking on KSpread so far, but Calc has a couple annoyances of its own. First off, it doesn't allow me to select text from the function bar and right click on it. I find myself wanting to do this very often when copying data from a spreadsheet to another program. KSpread gives me the exact behavior that I expect. This is such a big deal for me that I have one spreadsheet I use in KSpread for this reason alone.

Another missing feature in Calc is the ability to do a Paste or Paste with Insertion from the right click menu. This means I have to insert a row before selecting another to copy. One extra step may not sound like much, but I'm usually thinking of what I want to copy first and end up doing that before realising my mistake. KSpread makes this easy.


As I mentioned previously, KSpread is significantly faster on first load. Once the spreadsheet is loaded the performance is mostly equalized. KSpread still feels a little faster overall, but Calc is pretty quick as well. The lone speed deficiency for KSpread vs. Calc is when saving a file. For some reason it takes a few seconds before the file really starts to save. Hopefully the KSpread team can fix that in a future version.


The answer, as with many things, depends upon your needs. If speed is important and spreadsheets don't contain many formulas or formatting then KSpread is a good solution. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave much else.

Frustrated with Calc load times, I was really hoping KSpread would be my answer, but I can't recommend it right now. The lack of compatibility with formatting files when switching between different spreadsheet programs is a big deal. As it stands today, I could only use KSpread for files that I never intend to use in Calc or Excel.