OpenOffice.org Draw: Objects and Their Problems

OpenOffice.org Draw is all about objects -- items inserted into a document, each of which can be edited independently. In fact, whether you insert a picture from a file or create an object selected from the primitives (basic shapes) in the Drawing toolbar, everything in Draw is a frame. Even text in Draw is an object, and behaves differently from ordinary text in Writer. For this reason, knowing the basics of objects is essential for all work in Draw. Learning more than the basics, however, can be next to impossible because of several ongoing problems.

Fortunately, the basics are straight forward enough:

All objects are contained within a frame that allows you to edit and manipulate them. If you select a primitive from the Drawing toolbar and add it to the current document, or if you click an existing object, you will see the frame: a black line around the object with eight handles for moving or reshaping the object, three down each side and one in the middle of the top and bottom.

Handles can be one of three colors. When the object is newly added, the handles are cyan. This color can be useful in picking out the new objects in a crowded document, so that you can immediately modify it by right-clicking or by changing its object style in the Styles and Formatting floating window.

When the handles are cyan, you can also manipulate the selected object. If you click in the center of the object, the object moves without changing shape. But if you drag on a handle, instead of moving, the object is reshaped in the direction that you are dragging. For instance, click on the top center handle of a square and drag it upwards, and the square becomes a rectangle.

However, if you press the Shift key while dragging on a handle, the object changes size without changing dimensions. Using this keystroke, you can create a square or a circle (instead of a rectangle or ellipse) when you add a primitive.

If an object is older, the handles are green when you click anywhere in its middle. You can then use the handles in the same way as when they are cyan.

When the handles are red, you can rotate the object. You can change the handles of any object to red by selecting Modify -> Rotate. In addition, if an object is three dimensional, you can change the color by clicking any handle; a second click returns the color to green.

To rotate an object, click any handle to make it the center of the rotation. You will probably find rotating to get the exact results you want to be a matter of trial and error, so keep the Undo button in mind.

Object tools in the Modify Menu

Even when you start manipulating objects in Draw, many matters remain more or less clear, but problems do start to creep in. Besides using the handles, you have two ways of manipulating objects. The first way is by creating a graphic style. The second is by using the tools in Draw's Modify menu when an object is selected.

With a complicated document full of objects, the first thing you should do after adding an object is to select Name to give it a unique identification. This identification displays in the Navigator below the Slide or page's name, so that you can jump directly to it. If a name is not enought to identify an object, consider choosing Description to add a title and description. The title and description is not part of the document properties (although it probably should be), but you can read them again by choosing Description with the object selected.

Other items in the Modify menu might be familiar if you have used any other graphic format, such as Rotate, Flip, and Alignment -- although Alignment is not much use unless you are using Draw as a basic desktop publisher.

Similarly, when objects overlap, you can use Arrange to arrange objects in a stack, bringing them forward to make them more visible or back to make them less visible. Needless to say, the transparency of the objects will affect what is visible.

Another familiar tool is Group, which allows multiple objects to be treated as one as you move them around. However, the objects remain separate, and you can use Enter Group to edit a single object in a group without breaking the group, followed by Exit as you finish. If you no longer need to treat the objects together, select UnGroup.

Using the tools in the Modify menu, you can actually combine multiple objects into a single one -- for instance, combining two rectangless to form a cross, an opeation that is much easier than trying to draw one freehand (although you could just select one from the Basic Shapes library of primitives in the toolbar). You can use Merge and Subtract in the Shape Menu to form a single object, or Intersect to subtract all but the places where they overlap, or Combine / Split to eliminate the areas in which objects overlap. To get more complicated, Connect / Break connects similar points within two objects with a line.

However, probably the most interesting sub-menu in the Modify menu is Convert. In this sub-menu, what you can do depends very much on the object currently selected. For example, you can convert a series of overlapping lines into a polygon, or a two-dimensional object into a three-dimensional one, which can then be edited by right-clicking on it.

The Problems with Object Features

Probably, this overview is enough to orient you to objects. However, some of the ways of manipulating objects can be tricky to learn in their own right, and require a williness to experiment, but you should be able to figure them out through trial and error.

Some features, however, are going to give you trouble. To start with, some have names that are almost indistinguishable from other features, and seem to do almost the same thing. For instance, what is the difference between a 3-D Rotation Object and a regular 3-D object in the Convert sub-menu? A 3-D Rotation Object certainly does not appear to rotate any more easily, as you might expect.

Then, just to make matters more difficult in your exploration, some features appear to be broken. Selecting the 3-D Rotation Object, to give one example, invariably produces a 3-D cylinder, regardless of the original shape.

Still other features appear obsolete or obscure. When would a modern graphics design want to produce a bitmap or Windows? And what, exactly, does Convert -> To Contour do? You can search in vain in the online help for answers, because it (in the time-honored fashion of technical writers trying to document what they do not understand), simply assumes that you already know.

Fortunately, few users are likely to want the features that are apt to be difficult. Even so, for those who would like to go beyond the basics, some attention to these problems from developers and documenters would improve matters immensely.

______________________

-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)

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Shame on you! 3D etc

Lewis Smith's picture

I second MadTom's reply. I was surprised at the author's 'Problems'. Yes, there *are* quirks in Draw, frustrating ways of doing things, enigmatic options; but you win by reading the Help & *experimenting*. In particular, 3D is one of Draw's strengths. Once you have got into it, it is addictive!
[1] The "3D Objects" toolbar button provides a few ready-made 3D thingies to play with.
[2] Modify>Convert>To 3D produces an extrusion of a flat object, like a shape or text. Great for 3D text.
[3] Modify>Convert>To 3D Rotation object produces a 3D object made by whirling the original object around its edge. Stunning. But ignore this, for...
[4] The toolbar Effects>In 3D Rotation button does similar but more, by allowing you to adjust the rotation axis beforehand. Even more stunning.
To do everything with a 3D object, you need to have the 3D Effects *window* visible, by *right-clicking* the object. The View>Toolbars>3-D-Settings toolbar is apparently a cut-down version, but (quirk) seldom active. I admit that finding out how to do exotic things like combining 3D shapes is difficult: dig deep in the help, search forums; but that is true of much software.

Lewis Smith

What do the menu items do?

Madtom's picture

Its amazingly easy to find out - try them!
As for making a bitmap - really handy for texturing 3d objects in other packages without having to get the 'designer' trained up on the 3d package. As for a metafile - there is still antediluvian software about - it hardly gets in the way as a menu item - or are you using this on an iPhone?
And as for 'convert to contour' hit F1 and type 'contour' in.
Or perhaps find a package limited to your capabilities - like a pencil but watch out for paper cuts?

3D Rotation object

Rob Hooft's picture

To a CAD designer, a regular 3D object is quite different from a 3D rotation object. A 3D rotation object circles a 2D sketch around an axis to create a solid object. This function works fine in my version of OpenOffice.org!

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