March 09, 2005
This article was first published on :www.cooltechzone.com
Over the past few weeks, we have spoken about using Linux. One question which many of you will be asking is, “What about my documents?” This question is the basis of this article.
A drastic change is always traumatic. If you bite the bullet and move completely to Linux, you are sure to face many problems. We recommend that you make the transition in small stages. The first stage, and one of the most essential ones, is getting used to OpenOffice.org. Every Linux distribution worth it’s salt includes Openoffice.org as the default office suite. The two best things abut Openoffice.org are:
Both these advantages mean that you can download OOo and install it in Windows. Once you have done this, you can start using it and getting accustomed to it. At the same time, if you have problems, you can always fire up MS-Office.
OOo is about to release version 2.0. This is a great improvement over the previous version, and really makes it easy to shift from Ms-Office. Version 2.0 is still in Beta, as of this writing, but a final version is due to be released by the end of this month. We suggest that you try out the Beta, or, if Beta versions aren’t your thing, wait a few days for the Final version and use that.
We downloaded the Windows version of OOo 2.0 (1.9.79) from the website. At 82 MB, it’s a reasonably small download in these days of fast internet connections. Installation was like any other Windows Application. You can choose to make OOo the default program for the Ms-Office formats, or leave them to be opened by MS-Office. We suggest you make OOo the default.
OOo vs. Ms-Office.
OpenOffice is a fully featured office suite. For most small businesses, and homes, OpenOffice.org is more than enough. You can do everything that you do in Word, plus some things that you can’t, like export your documents as an Acrobat PDF. OOo uses floating panels to great effect. In each application, the Stylist and the Navigator make working with documents that much easier. The first controls the look of onscreen elements, such as fonts and pages. The latter is a god send for longer documents. It lets you quickly access specific parts of your document on the basis of content. If you work with long documents, it’s a must.
The previous versions of OOo were not very attractive. The new version changes all that, with complete integration into the underlying OS. On Windows XP, it will look like your XP apps, while on Linux, it will use the UI widgets that you have defined.
Let’s take a look at the individual programs in OOo, and how they stack up against the competition
Ooo’s word processor is called Writer. It has all the usual features that you would expect, plus a few uncommon ones. An example is the type-ahead feature. This examines what you’ve entered so far and then does its best to guess the rest of the word you’re typing.If you are a proficient typist, you won’t need this, but for slower typists, this is a welcome feature. Over time, it builds up a list of the words you use. This is a valuable feature.
The included Wizards, while not as extensive as the ones included with Ms-Office 2003, are sufficient for a SOHO setup. Also, the final release is expected to have more Wizards included. Writer also includes the expected range of autocorrect and auto text features to clean up your work. It politely pops up a light bulb in the corner of the screen each time it does this, which isn’t as effective as the smart icons used by Microsoft Office, but serves the purpose.
Compatibility with Microsoft Word is excellent, and is in fact even better than the previous version. OOo now includes support for Auto Shapes, and Nested Tables, which will improve compatibility. We opened many Word documents, created by different versions of Word, and OOo opened each one perfectly. Only one document had a small alignment mix up, which was easily fixed. Out of forty or so documents, that’s a pretty good ratio. In fact, even MS-Office has compatibility problems with older versions.
Previous versions of OOo were criticized for not including a proper word count feature. It was not possible to do word counts of a selected block of text. This has been fixed in ver 2.0, with standard word count features being added, and the word count feature being moved to the Tools menu.
The PDF export feature is beefed up, allowing you to choose only certain pages of a document, changing the compression options for graphics, andchanging the format in case you are exporting a form.
Writer is a very usable product. Unless you are using some esoteric features of MS-Office, or you have extremely complex documents that do not render properly in OOo, you can use it for all your normal needs.
In the presentation program, you do not have many templates to choose from. This may change with the release of the final version, but as of now, the range of templates on offer is underwhelming and probably best avoided. The New Presentation Wizard does help in organizing your thoughts, and to set common parameters such as transitions and speeds before you start. Impress also lets you save your presentation as a flash animations, which is extremely useful for putting up on a website. Impress has a new presentation engine, which makes it easier to use.
Impress is not as polished as Powerpoint, but is very capable nevertheless. The Flash import feature may turn out to be a great help to company webmasters. If you are used to using all the bells and whistles of Powerpoint, then you will probably feel limited by Impress, but if your needs are simpler, such as the occasional presentation, Impress is perfectly capable of handling them.
The spreadsheet application looks and works very much like Excel, and it uses almost identical formulas. It will be easy for switchers to pick up, since it puts almost everything in the same place on menus.
Calc spreadsheets are no longer limited to 32,768 rows. It goes up to 65536 rows, the same as Excel. This helps in compatibility, and companies who use large spreadsheets will be benefited.
Calc has a new feature called DataPilot which is similar to Microsoft Excel’s PivotTable feature it is now possible to create new groups, filter data based on values, show differences and percentages instead of absolute values, etc.
Calc is probably the easiest to get used to for people switching. Again, Excel wizards will need to learn to navigate, but for the vast majority of us, Calc is just like Excel.
In version 2.0, OOo includes a database application for the first time. This looks pretty good, but it was still a little unstable in the version that we tested. Due to this, we deferred testing this till the final version is released. Still, despite the crashing, the inclusion of a database product makes the Suite more complete. The bugs ought to be worked out by the time the final version releases.
The self-contained, portable database files are generated by the HSQLDB database engine, which is implemented in Java, allowing complete cross-platform compatibility between GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows and Sun Solaris users. What this means is easy portability of any database application developed using Base to any of these platforms.
OOo has shifted to the new open standard OASIS OpenDocument XML format. The OASIS OpenDocument format is a vendor and implementation independent file format, and thus guarantees freedom and independence. The downside to this is that you cannot open the files created in OOo 2.0 in any previous version of OOo, with the exception of 1.1.5, due to be released soon. You can of course save the files in older OOo formats and native Microsoft formats. The shift to the OpenDocument format should turn out to be a good decision in the long run, as many Office suites are bound to include support for it. KOffice has already announced support. We somehow doubt the Microsoft will include support, however.
OpenOffice.org has many features, but one of the most significant features for first time users has to be the cross-over between the various modules. The knowledge gained in Writeris easily transferred to Calc and vice-versa. This makes working with OpenOffice.org very comfortable, even more so than MS-Office.
OpenOffice.org has reached the stage of being able to competently and comfortably replace MS-Office as your main office suite. Consider the fact that it is free, and yet manages to beat MS-Office at it’s own game. The only thing that you have to do now is wait for the final version of OpenOffice.org 2.0 to begin your journey to the world of OpenSource. If you are impatient to begin, grab the beta and dive right in. The water’s fine!