This page talks about OpenOffice.org — the word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation manager1 — and any issues I had with it, and/or extra steps needed to get it up and running.
Any time I see Open Office referred to on their web site, it's always fully written out as “OpenOffice.org.” However, I've gotten in the habit of simply writing it as “Open Office” or “OpenOffice.” No offence intended to Open Office nerds.
If you use a computer at work, you're probably using “office” software more than any other software: a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation application, maybe even a personal database application. And, in 9 cases out of 10 — or maybe even 99 out of 100 — the office suite you're using is Microsoft Office. In fact, Microsoft Office is so common that most people don't consider it realistic to get any other suite; they feel they need to use Microsoft Office because everyone else is — if you need to interchange documents with others, then you have to both run the same office suite.
OpenOffice.org is a set of open-source office programs, which is directly comparable to the Microsoft Office suite. And, for me, it's biggest selling feature is that it's able to read and write documents in the Microsoft Office format! In other words, I can save a document from Microsoft Word, open it up in Writer, and read it with no loss of information. Better yet, I can make changes, and re-save it back to the Microsoft Word format, and Word will still be able to read and write the document.
There are some other selling features that I found very good, at first glance:
- Ability to save to PDF files. In order to save Office documents in PDF format, you have to find some third-party software, which normally works by installing a fake printer driver — you print to this special driver, and it outputs to a PDF file instead of to a printer. But Open Office can write out PDF format “out of the box.”
- Ability to export files as Flash animations. This is especially for Impress, because you can save your presentation as Flash, and put it right up on the web. No special viewer required. Other Open Office applications, such as Draw, can also export Flash animations.
- Ability to save documents in HTML or XHTML format. I know that Microsoft Office programs can do the same, however, the source code that they spit out is extremely hairy; if you just want to look at the Office documents as HTML, then it's probably fine, but if you ever want to use the HTML for anything else, you won't be able to. The HTML/XHTML that gets produced by Open Office is much more standard.
Open Office's ability to understand Microsoft Office documents is the main thing that allows me to use Ubuntu at work. If a colleague sends me a document for review, I can do so in Ubuntu without having to reboot into Windows.
There are four applications included in the Open Office suite, with Ubuntu:
- A word processor — Writer
- A spreadsheet app — Calc
- A presentation manager (comparible to PowerPoint) — Impress
- A personal database app (similar to Access, but not quite the same) — Base
- A drawing app — Draw
When I first install OpenOffice — or when I first install Ubuntu — there are a couple of things that I tend to do immediately:
- Install a JVM
- Turn on “SmartQuotes”
- Download a localized dictionary
For some functionality, Open Office uses Java, which requires a Java Virtual Machine (JVM). For example, Writer needs a JVM to be able to export to XHTML format (because it's using a Java-based XSLT processor). Unfortunately, if you don't have a JVM installed, you won't get any kind of warning when the suite loads up — it will just have problems. (For example, in Writer, if you try to export to XHTML format, and there is no JVM, it will start the save process, and then just hang.)
In order to get this functionality working, follow the instructions on the Java page. Then open any of the Open Office applications, and go to Tools->Options. Go to the OpenOffice.org/Java section, and make sure that the “Use a Java runtime environment” checkbox is checked. Then, in the options below, choose the Sun Microsystems JRE. Once you've changed this setting, you'll have to restart any Open Office applications, for the change to take effect. (i.e. close all of your open Open Office applications, and then open them up again.)
By default, OpenOffice will AutoCorrect double quotes in your text — in other words, if you're in the word processor, and type in text surrounded by quotes "like this" it will replace those quotes with smart quotes “like this” as you type.
However, for some bizarre reason, OpenOffice will only do it for double quotes, not single quotes. I say this is bizarre because it means that words like don't and can't won't have their apostrophes changed. But it's easy enough to fix.
- Open OpenOffice Writer, the word processing program
- Go to the Tools->AutoCorrect menu
- Select the Custom Quotes tab
- In the Single Quotes section, check the Replace checkbox.
That's it. Smart Quotes will now be turned on.
As a Canadian, I prefer to use Canadian spellings for words, rather than American spellings. e.g. I prefer to type “colour,” instead of “color.” However, by default, OpenOffice doesn't come with the required dictionaries I need, for Canadian spelling.
To fix this, and install the required dictionaries, I go to the File->Wizards->Install new dictionaries menu, which will open up a special document which will allow me to choose my language.
You'll notice that it opens right in OpenOffice Writer; it's simply a word processing document, with some macros installed.
Since I'm installing the Canadian English dictionary, I click English. This will automatically scroll the document down to the English section, which has a large button to click.
Clicking this button will start the wizard.
When the wizard starts, you'll get a screen which simply notifies you that you have to be connected to the internet to proceed. Click Next.
The next screen will allow you to select the dictionaries you want to install. On the left will be a list of dictionaries — however, the list is initially empty. You have to click the Retrieve the list button, to have it actually get populated. (At this point, the macro is going to the OpenOffice.org website, to find all of the available dictionaries. The screenshot below shows the dialog, with the dictionaries filled in — that is, after I've clicked the button.
Select the dictionary — or dictionaries, if you want multiple — and click Next.
The next screen in the dialog is similar, and works the same way; it allows you to select a list of hyphenation dictionaries — that is, if you turn on hyphenation, these dictionaries help OpenOffice figure out where it's allowed to break up words, from line to line.
The next screen is also similar, and works the same way; this one allows you to select a list of thesaurus dictionaries.
Once you've gone through these screens, and selected your dictionaries, you'll be presented with a confirmation screen, letting you know that OpenOffice is about to download the dictionaries you've selected. Click Next.
When OpenOffice is finished downloading and installing the dictionaries, it will let you know. Click Finish, to exit the wizard.
I found a few Easter Eggs on the Wikipedia site:
- Open Calc and put =Game("StarWars") into any cell. A version of Space Invaders will be playable. If you try to play it again too soon you will be greeted with the message “oh no, not again!” To play again, you must fully close Open Office.
- Open Calc and put =Game(A1:C3;"TicTacToe") into cell A4. A version of Tic-tac-toe will be playable.
- Open Calc and put =StarCalcTeam() into any cell. The names and picture of the OpenOffice.org Calc developer team are shown. To view it again, you must fully close Open Office. Any following times which it is placed into a cell, the cell shows a bold number 42.
- In the about window, hold down Ctrl and type sdt. It will display the build number and a list of credits.