OpenOffice.org is a desktop suite that functionally resembles Microsoft Office. That is, OpenOffice.org can perform many of the functions performed by Microsoft Office and includes many of the familiar features of Microsoft Office, along with a few features not found in Microsoft Office. The distinctive advantage of a desktop suite is that its component applications are designed to work together. The applications of a desktop suite have a similar look and feel, which makes them easy to learn and use.
Linux users have long had access to applications that help them prepare documents. However, development of Linux desktop suites has lagged behind that of Microsoft Office. The applications and suites have tended to be somewhat clumsy to use, unreliable, and poor in features. OpenOffice.org sets a new standard for Linux desktop suites, providing features and capabilities that are adequate to satisfy most computer users, not merely Linux fans.
OpenOffice.org began as a commercial desktop suite known as StarOffice, created by StarDivision. When Sun Microsystems acquired StarDivision in 1999, Sun soon thereafter released a freely available version of StarOffice. More recently, Sun has made certain StarOffice technologies available to the open source community, which created the freely redistributable OpenOffice.org desktop suite. Sun plans to continue development of StarOffice, which is a component of Sun's Java Desktop System, as a commercial product. At the same time, the open source community plans to continue development of OpenOffice.org.
OpenOffice.org is a multi-platform product, and is currently available for Linux, PPC Linux, Solaris, Windows, and Mac OS X (under Apple's X11). Work is underway to support other platforms, including FreeBSD, OpenVMS, and IRIX. OpenOffice.org is also a global product, currently supporting 32 languages. Support for new languages is added regularly.
OpenOffice.org includes translation filters that let you share documents with users of Microsoft Office and other popular applications. It also includes convenient features such as Print to PDF (Adobe Portable Document Format); AutoPilot, which assists you in creating complex documents; and Stylist, which helps you take control of the look of your document.
OpenOffice.org includes word processor, spreadsheet, graphics, presentation manager, and drawing applications. The next several sections describe these applications. You can learn more about OpenOffice.org at http://www.openoffice.org.
Writer is available via the Office menu item of the GNOME and KDE menus and, still more conveniently, has its own panel icon, which resembles a pen superimposed on two sheets of paper. When you launch Writer, you'll see a window resembling that shown in Figure 6-1.
If you're launching Writer for the first time, a dialog box invites you to register as an OpenOffice.org user. Your registration is invited?and appreciated by the developers of OpenOffice.org?but not required.
If?as is likely the case?you've used Microsoft Word or another word processor, you'll find Writer's user interface intuitive and easy to use. You can type text in the middle area of the window. To style text, highlight the text and double-click on a style in the Stylist. The stylist is the window titled Paragraph Styles that appears in Figure 6-1. If the Stylist is not visible, you can summon it by pressing F11 or choosing Format Stylist.
As mentioned, Writer includes many impressive features, some of which are available to users of Microsoft Office only at significant cost. For instance, Writer makes it simple to create PDF documents. To create a PDF document, prepare and save your document as usual. Then choose File Printer Settings. The Printer Setup dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 6-2.
Choose PDF converter from the Name list box and click OK. Then, choose File Print. When the Print dialog box appears, review the Options and Properties as necessary and then click OK. The PDF document is created and stored as a file in your home directory. Launch Nautilus or another file browser and click on the file to view the PDF document.
Here are some other Writer features you may enjoy exploring and using:
Choose File AutoPilot. From the submenu, choose the type of document you want to compose, such as a fax, agenda, web page, or form. AutoPilot will assist you in composing the document.
Choose File Template Address Book Source. Writer can access your Netscape or Mozilla address book, an LDAP or SQL database, or other data sources and obtain names, addresses, and other information.
Choose Edit Navigator. The Navigator helps you find bookmarks, sections, hyperlinks, references, indexes, and notes. It's especially helpful when working on a large document.
To sample Writer's ability to work with documents prepared using Microsoft Word, I opened a draft version of chapter 4?which was converted from DocBook to Microsoft Word?in Writer. In editions of this book published prior to the advent of OpenOffice.org, Linux word processors were not fully up to this challenge. They generally mangled the manuscript and sometimes crashed.
Writer, however, did not balk. The only problem I found was that several unnumbered lists were erroneously converted to numbered lists. This problem took only a few seconds to fix.
Like Writer, Calc is available via the Office menu item of the GNOME and KDE menus. It too has a convenient panel icon, which resembles a pie chart superimposed on a tabular spreadsheet. Calc's main window appears in Figure 6-3.
Just as Writer resembles Microsoft Word, Calc resembles Microsoft Excel. In particular, the language used in writing cell formulas is similar to that used by Excel. Moreover, the resemblance between the products is not merely syntactic. If your fingers are so accustomed to Excel that they race to perform operations in the familiar way, disaster will not likely ensue: many of Calc's keyboard shortcuts are identical to those used by Excel. You may need to look up from the keyboard to realize you're using Calc rather than Excel.
Like Excel, Calc can produce tables, graphs, and charts. Like other OpenOffice.org applications, Calc can send your work product to a printer or write it as a PDF document. Again, like Writer, Calc can obtain data from databases and other external sources. Choose View Data Sources to view available data sources. To configure a new data source, right-click in the left pane of the window that appears. To return to the standard view, choose View Data Sources a second time.
Here are some interesting Calc features for you to explore:
Select a cell. Choose Tools Detective. Then, choose from the submenu. Calc will show you cells that determine the value of the selected cell (Precedents), cells with values determined by the selected cell (Dependents), or other relationships.
Select a cell. Choose Tools Goal Seek. Specify a target value. Specify a precedent cell as the Variable cell. You can do so by typing the cell's name or by clicking the cell. Click OK. Calc determines the value of the variable cell that causes the selected cell to have the specified target value and offers to enter the value in the variable cell.
Select a block of cells in which the left column designates an entity (such as a department) and the right column or columns designate characteristics of the entity (such as sales, sales returns, and net sales). Ideally, the top row of the block should contain a name for each column. Choose Data Subtotals. On the 1st Group tab, enable the checkboxes associated with the right column or columns. Click the left column name and choose the function count. Click each right column name and choose the function Sum. Click OK. The block now includes subtotals and a grand total.
Select a cell. Choose Data Validity. On the Criteria tab, specify rules that govern valid cell values. On the Error Alert tab, enable Show error message when invalid values are entered. Optionally, specify an action, title, and error message. Click OK. Enter an invalid value for the cell and press Enter. Calc presents a dialog box warning you that the value is invalid.
Draw is the OpenOffice.org drawing program, available via the Office submenu of the GNOME and KDE menus. Unlike its sister programs Writer and Calc, Draw has no panel icon. Launch Draw by choosing Office Draw from the main menu. Figure 6-4 shows Draw's main window.
Draw enables you to draw two- and three-dimensional objects, and specify their color and other characteristics. Using Draw, you can move, align, and manipulate your objects to arrive at a complete composition. You can use Draw to create graphics that you incorporate into documents prepared using other OpenOffice.org applications, such as Impress, the presentation manager. You can save your work product as a GIF, JPEG, PNG, or in many other popular graphics formats.
The GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program), also included in Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Fedora Core, is a more sophisticated drawing program. However, Draw integrates smoothly with other OpenOffice.org applications. So, you may find it the more convenient tool for graphics of everyday complexity.
Here are some fun operations to try out:
3D manipulations are impressive but can be challenging to create. Here's a sample 3D manipulation you can perform. On the drawing toolbar on the left edge, select the 3D tool, which resembles a cube. Don't confuse the tool with the 3D effects tool, which has a different function. The 3D effects tool appears at the bottom of the toolbar. Drag twice within the document window to create two solid cubes. Convert one solid cube to a wire frame cube by choosing Format Area and specifying None as the Fill and by choosing Format Line and specifying Continuous as the Style. To see other 3D effects, select the other cube and choose Format 3D Effects. Experiment with the effects to see what's possible. The Favorites tab is particularly fun when working with solid objects.
On the drawing toolbar, select the text tool, which resembles the letter T. Click in the document window and type some text. Choose Format FontWork. Click one of the arcs visible in the list at the top of the FontWork dialog box. The text is bent in the direction indicated by the arc. Click other buttons and specify other values as desired. As you'll quickly see, you can easily create dynamic and attention-grabbing visuals using FontWork.
Impress is OpenOffice.org's presentation manager, which functionally resembles Microsoft PowerPoint. Impress is available via the Office submenu of the GNOME and KDE menus. Impress has a convenient panel icon, which resembles a slide superimposed on a bar chart. Figure 6-5 shows Impress's main window.
When you launch Impress for the first time, it fires up AutoPilot to lead you through creating a presentation. You can manually launch AutoPilot from the File menu. AutoPilot lets you specify the presentation medium (paper, slides, and so on), and select a presentation template, slide design, and slide transition appropriate for your presentation. Currently, Impress is distributed without templates. A few templates are available on the OpenOffice.org web site, http://www.openoffice.org. However, Impress also lets you model a presentation on an existing presentation. Until a variety of templates is available, you'll likely find this capability useful and convenient.
When the AutoPilot is finished, Impress pops up a small dialog box titled Presentation. To create a slide, click Insert Slide, which brings up the Insert Slide dialog box shown in Figure 6-6. This dialog box is the main means of creating the slides that comprise a presentation. Select the desired layout and click OK. An empty slide appears in the window, ready for your customization.
Impress is not as featureful as Microsoft PowerPoint. In particular, it lacks support for video clips. However, many experts believe that overly sophisticated presentations can work to the disadvantage of the presenter. Impress is more than adequate to create simple and clear presentations that help you communicate persuasively.
Impress includes the FontWork and 3D Effects tools explained in the section on Draw, as well as other facilities common to many OpenOffice.org applications.
Here's some fun you can have with Impress:
Create a geometric shape, such as a filled circle, within a slide. Select the shape and choose Slide Show Effects. Choose the Favorites menu and click one of the effects that appear in the large selection box. Click the Assign button, which resembles a green checkmark. Then, click the Preview button, which appears to the right of the Assign button. A preview window appears. Click the preview window to see how your effect looks. Choose Slide Show Slide Show to view the slide show. During the slide show, click the slide to trigger the effect. A single slide can contain multiple effects, which play sequentially when triggered, in the order they were created.
Create a geometric shape, such as a filled circle. Choose Slide Show Interaction. Use the Action at mouse click list to associate an action, such as playing a sound, with the shape. Depending on the action you selected, Impress may present additional options from which you can select. When you're satisfied, click OK to exit the Interaction dialog box. Choose Slide Show Slide Show to view the slide show. During the slide show, click the object?not merely an unrelated part of the slide?to trigger the interaction.
Create a series of shapes that, when quickly viewed in sequence, will resemble a cartoon. To assemble the shapes into an animation, select the first shape and choose Slide Show Animation. Click the Apply Object button that appears at the left of the middle row of the Animation dialog box. You can identify the Apply Object button by briefly idling the cursor over a candidate button until the button's label appears. Then, select the second shape and click Apply Object. Repeat this procedure for the third and subsequent shapes. Click the VCR Play button to view your animation. When you're satisfied with the animation, click Create to place it in your slide as an animated GIF. Delete the component shapes and choose Slide Show Slide Show to view the slide show. When you click the slide containing your animation, the animation will play.