The Small Picture: More OpenOffice.org Extensions
Every few weeks, I like to browse the OpenOffice.org Extensions site to see what is available, and what people are using.
New extensions that are both useful and well-designed seem to be getting few and far between. However, if you search patiently, you can still find extensions worth trying.
Below, in no particular order, are the extensions that I have explored in the past couple of months. None radically transform the office suite, and some work better than others, but all of them show some aspect of what can be done or needs to be done to make OpenOffice.org more efficient or convenient.
One of my most frequently used Firefox extensions is Session Manager, which allows you to save and open groups of tabs. Last Session is the OpenOffice.org equivalent of Session Manager, and, as someone who regularly works with multiple documents open, I have found it just as essential.
Last Session (not to be confused with Last Session Multi, a Windows-only variant by the same developer) installs two buttons -- one labeled "S" for "Saved" and one "L" for "Load" in the Standard Toolbar. As you exit, you can press the S button to save your current session. then, when you start OpenOffice.org again, you can press the L button to reload all the files you had opened the last time you were in the program. Last Session will open windows from all OpenOffice.org applications.
Unlike Session Manager or Last Session Multi, Last Session lacks the ability to store multiple sessions. It also does not open in OpenOffice.org's initial menu, requiring you to open at least one file before you can load the rest. Still, within these limitations, Last Session is an extension well worth having.
You can easily forget the fact that OpenOffice.org uses personal data about you. If you fill out Tools -> Options -> User Data, adding your online and real life information, OpenOffice.org will access this information and automatically identify you as the creator of the file in File -> Property or when you edit a collaborative document.
However, if a document is posted on-line or passed along to someone else, you might prefer to guard whatever's left of your privacy these days and not have your name associated with a document -- especially one that's no longer in your control.
That's where Magenta Anonymous comes it. This extension adds a Remove User Information item to the File menu that you can press to remove your name from a document.
This is a useful idea, but, unfortunately, it doesn't go far enough, since the document's location -- presumably your home directory -- remains. Nor does Magenta Anonymous remove your personal data from any notes or fields where it was inserted automatically. In other words, the idea is sound, but the implementation could use a little work.
Tags for Templates is a tool for generating key words to a template to identify and locate it. This is a useful extension, especially at the end of a work session, when you're too tired to think of keywords yourself, but it uses an overly elaborate structure for what it does.
Tags for Templates works by examining at word frequency in documents and using the most common words as keywords. It works better if you go to Tools -> Add-On -> Tools for Templates -> Settings and change the minimal number of characters to four, so that you eliminate most prepositions and definite articles, but, even so, you probably need to edit its suggestions.
When you are ready to add the tags, you can select Fill in template properties from the same menu, and Tags for Templates will step you through the steps in adding the properties in a kind of rough and ready wizard consisting of dialog windows. However, the process is not that difficult -- nor the help that helpful -- and, essentially you are doing nothing that you couldn't do from the existing File -> Properties -> Description tab.
What is useful in Tags for Template is the generation of keywords. This process is useful, not only for templates, but as a writing tool to see what words you might be over-using. However, the extension would be even more useful if it dropped the redundant interface and focused on making the keyword generation more efficient. Just a list of words to ignore would probably do wonders.
One Size is one of the few extensions designed specifically for Draw. As its name suggests, One Size takes all the currently selected items in a Draw document and makes them all the same size. If no items are currently selected, it resizes the last item created or selected. The only decision you need to make is what you want resizing to mean: the same in area, or the same in height and width.
If you use object styles, then One Size could be redundant. However, if you want to resize objects of different shapes, or a document created manually, then One Size is a handy to have. It is especially useful if you are doing charts and diagrams, and want to give them a unified look.
One of the weaknesses of OpenOffice.org is that you have no control over how graphics are exported; you can only use the default settings. Enhanced export options for bitmap files corrects this limitation by adding an extra dialog window when you export selected objects or Impress and Draw pages to .png, .jpeg, or .gif formats.
The extra dialog allows you to resize, and to change the units of measurement.You can also change the resolution and compression. In addition, you can change the color mode of a .jpeg, and whether a .png or .gif file loads interlaced or not.
There's nothing fancy in this extension, just some much-needed functionality. Of all the extensions I mention here, this is the one I'd most like to see become a standard part of OpenOffice.org.
In the last half year, the number of new OpenOffice.org extensions appears to have dropped considerably. Why, I'm not sure -- perhaps because the most obvious shortfalls in the office suite are already covered by extensions. Whatever the reason, to a surprising degree, the extensions on the site seem limited to the suite of extensions Sun released a couple of years ago (which should be standard parts of OpenOffice.org, especially the Sun PDF Import extension), new language modules, clipart, or commercial plugins.
However, some gaps remain. In the big picture, an efficient font manager for the entire suite and more efficient data pilots for Calc are just two of the extensions that OpenOffice.org needs. And, in among the details, there must be dozens of small bits of functionality like the ones I've mentioned here that could be added.
But, for the time being, innovation seems to be scarce. If these extensions don't suit you and your work flow, spend some time browsing among some of the older offerings. The chances are, you should find something to make your work a little bit easier.
Bruce Byfield (nanday)