Eleven Tips for Moving to OpenOffice.org

Replacing a complicated piece of software like an office suite can be a major undertaking. But, if you apply a few simple rules to make sure your needs are met, you'll be ready to be productive on the new software right away.
8. Learn to Use Styles

If you're the type of user who manually applies formatting, mark your switch to OOo by learning how to use styles. Styles save you time in any word processor by allowing you to make formatting changes once and have them ripple through the document. Styles are especially important in OOo, because they give you templates not only for paragraphs and individual characters but also for pages, text frames and lists. Go with this flow and you not only minimize difficulties, you increase your efficiencies.

The key to styles in OOo is the Stylist, a floating palette found at Format→Stylist. You can use the Stylist to apply styles quickly as you type and to modify existing styles or create new ones. It lists styles using several different filters, so you can locate the ones you need quickly.

9. Learn to Use the Navigator

The Navigator (Edit→Navigator) is another floating palette. Like the Stylist palette, it is a key feature in using OOo effectively. As the name suggests, one of the functions of the Navigator is to help you move quickly to different parts of the document. Tables, OLE objects or pages—you can jump to almost any element in the document you want. Elements are numbered as you create them, but if you also give them descriptive titles, the Navigator can display them, making jumping around even easier.

Don't let the name mislead you, though. The Navigator is far more than a map of your document. Switch to Headings and it becomes an outlining tool, with the ability to move entire sections and raise or lower the level of headings with the drag of the mouse. Open a Master Document, and it becomes a table of contents. You even can use the Navigator to add a Reminder to the text.

In short, you probably will come to spend a lot of time with the Navigator. And, it is something for which your experiences with other office suites doesn't prepare you.

As an aside, the default size of the Navigator may be too small. Drag its sides until the Navigator is at least half again as large as the default, and you can use it without eyestrain.

10. Look for Hidden Functionality

Unexpected features or shortcuts can be found in any software. These aren't quite Easter eggs but half-hidden functions that rarely are emphasized or mentioned in the Help. For example, I quickly found Edit→Undo. Because I generally use the menus or keyboard, though, it took me several weeks to realize that if I selected the Undo button on the taskbar, I could choose the exact level of Undo to which I wanted to revert. Similarly, if I want to insert text automatically each time I use a style, I can use the Before field on the Options tab for list styles and attach that list style to a paragraph style. Then, every time I use that style, the text in the Before field appears without me having to type it.

Such surprises do three things: they give you confidence in your knowledge of the program, they encourage you to keep learning and they offer shortcuts for your daily work. They're well worth seeking.

11. Take Time before Making a Decision

The first few times you start OOo, your impression simply may be that it's new. It doesn't look the same as your old word processor, it isn't arranged in the same way and it does some things differently. For some people, the newness alone is enough to make them cut the experiment short.

Instead of jumping to conclusions, however, wait and learn the program before making a decision about OOo or any of its features. Forget about your sense of being overwhelmed with the new and try to get on with your daily tasks. Spend at least 10–15 hours doing routine work before you even start to make a decision. Then sit down and list the pros and cons of using OOo. If you decide against OOo, keep it in mind and try another version in a year or two. In the future, you may find that it fits your needs better. If you're a decision-maker at a company, you also might consider contacting the OOo community to see whether your company could sponsor the development of the features you need. If you do decide to keep OOo, congratulations. You did your preparation, and you're making the right choice.

Bruce Byfield was product manager at Stormix Technologies and marketing and communications director at Progeny Linux System. He also was a contributing editor at Maximum Linux and the original writer of the Desktop Debian manual. Away from his computer, he listens to punk-folk music, raises parrots and runs long, painful distances of his own free will.


-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)


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Largest Single Impediment

Arthur Fuller's picture

From what I have seen, the largest single impediment to persuading my clients (and myself) to making the move is the absence of VBA or some equivalent language. On the Windows platform I have invested years of programming to achieve Offic Automation, combining Word, Excel, Access and SQL Server to deliver integrated apps that work brilliantly.

I would love to port these apps to OOo but as far as I can see, there is no available path to get from here to there.

I'm talking about LOTS of VBA code. 50K lines per application, at a casual guess. Simple formula-translations are just that, simple, but complex code is difficult if not impossible.

Lots of my clients would love to make the move, but until I can provide a conversion path, then it's a non-starter. And by this I don't just mean that OOo can read an Excel or Word file and save it natively -- I mean that the VBA part is the most important, and without that we have a non-starter.