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Gnumeric Crunches Numbers Like a Pro

By Jack M. Germain
Nov 14, 2012 5:00 AM PT

Gnumeric is a lightweight spreadsheet program that is fast and feature complete.

Gnumeric Crunches Numbers Like a Pro

Gnumeric can create a calendar or perform any other numbers-based task.
(click image to enlarge)

Much like its chief open source competitors OpenOffice and LibreOffice, its graphical user interface is nothing fancy. What it lacks in colorful design or exciting visual menu displays, however, it surpasses with its format flexibility and easy operation.

It might seem counterproductive to use a spreadsheet application outside a business suite, but no real reason justifies not doing so. Word processing and calculation functions are foreign to each other, and no integrated link exists between programs within an office suite. So launching Gnumeric rather than the OpenOffice or LibreOffice equivalents takes the same click on a menu entry.

The Gnumeric spreadsheet is part of the Gnome desktop environment, but you do not have to run the Gnome desktop to use it. Gnumeric runs just fine in Ubuntu's Unity, Linux Mint's Cinnamon shell and the KDE desktop as well. I have yet to find a Linux distro that could not handle the package.

Do not think of Gnumeric as a clone of other spreadsheets. Gnumeric's strength is its ability to import and export files saved with other spreadsheets. If you use it in business, Gnumeric has an added benefit of minimizing the costs of transition.

Few Issues

The Gnumeric spreadsheet is unique in that it has very little overhead. Substituting one app for another often carries a trade off in functionality, or ease-of-use or file compatibility. I have used Gnumeric for several years with both OpenOffice and LibreOffice. The only snag I ever had was in earlier versions.

Every so often, a file created in one of the other two heavyweights that contained comments embedded in cells would be lost if I edited one or more comments and resaved the file. I have not noticed that issue in Gnumeric 1.11.6, the latest version.

Never did I encounter a problem reading or saving spreadsheet files created in other spreadsheet programs. Similarly, no one who received a spreadsheet file I created in Gnumeric and saved in Excel or Lotus or ODT formats ever complained about not being able to use it.

Format Fundamentals

Gnumeric works well with other spreadsheet files. It has an ample library of built-in plugins for commonly used spreadsheet file formats. These are pre-installed and active To turn off any unwanted plugin, just uncheck it the Tools / PlugIn menu.

Included in this hefty list is Microsoft Excel formats xlt/xlw, Lotus 1-2-3 formats wk1/wks, and the generic Comma/character Separated Values CSV formats. As noted, it also easily handles OpenDocument's ods/odt and Star Office sxc/stc files.

Among the less-common file formats Gnumeric handles effortlessly are Data Interchange Format (.dif), Applix version 4 (.as), gnu oleo (.oleo), Linear and integer program expression format (.mps), The Microsoft Multiplan Symbolic Link Interchange (.sylk), Wordperfect family "plan perfect" (.pln), Quattro Pro (tm), Xspread (sc) and Ashton-Tate programming language dBASE (.dbf).

Admittedly, you will never encounter some of these legacy file formats. The point is that Gnumeric handles them and thus is an ideal replacement or conversion tool. Gnumeric can export to Latex 2e (.tex), troff (.me) and .html formats as well.

Accuracy Assured

I often find a attitude of distrust among new Linux users regarding the use of third-party programs. Some people tend to view spreadsheet apps bundled with office suites as more reliable. So they consider more obscure substitutes to be riskier to use.

Gnumneric handles spreadsheets as well as the heavyweights.
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Not so with Gnumeric. It is far from an obscure program, and it is very much part of a suite of software associated with the Gnome project.

That said, the Gnome community cites accredited reports that certify the accuracy of calculations Gnumeric performs.

The bottom line regarding match computations with Gnumeric is that this spreadsheet app gets the same answers as its competitors, but does so faster.

Feature Frenzy

Gnumeric is more than a simple and limited calculation program. It is a fully-functional spreadsheet capable of manipulating and analyzing numeric data. Its uses include keeping track of information in lists and organizing numeric values in columns.

While it is defined by developers as lightweight, Gnumeric is not short on features. For example, it offers 100 percent of the worksheet functions in Microsoft Excel, plus it has 154 functions not found in that commercial business spreadsheet.

It also comes with basic support for financial derivatives (Black Scholes) and for telecommunication engineering. It is adept at handling analytics and advanced statistical analysis. If you need it, this app can implement complex optimization modeling or perform tasks involving numbers, dates, times, names or other data.

Gnumeric handles extensive random number generation and performs and updates complex calculations by defining each step of the calculation and modifying particular steps subsequently. Also, it can create and display or print graphical plots of data using bar plots, line graphs, pie charts or radar charts.

No Frilly Interface

If you are familiar with Excel or OpenOffice and LibreOffice spreadsheets, you will have no trouble opening an existing file and continuing where you left off in these other programs. Similarly, starting a new spreadsheet calculation in Gnumeric is no different than beginning a project in these other applications.

Microsoft's ribbon menu style is not replicated in Generic. Instead, you will find the same standard menu interface that works in traditional spreadsheet apps. Many of the typical tasks such as inserting a chart involve highlighting the data cells and clicking on the Charts button in the tool bar

Even the location of menu options is fairly consistent. All of this contributes to making Gnumeric easy to use. If you are familiar with the spreadsheet environment, you can expect little to no learning curve.

I found that the only significant adjustment in using Gnumeric is an occasional anomaly in how to construct a formula. But for standard math functions, the integer strings are easy to follow.

The bottom line is, Gnumeric is an interesting and easy to use alternative to more complicated spreadsheet programs. It comes with an impressive array of graphs and advanced functionality.

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear.

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