Customizing general OpenOffice.org settings

OpenOffice.org includes dozens of options for how it behaves. Available from Tools > Options, they are divided into general settings for the entire office suite and settings particular to each application. General settings are available under the general headings of OpenOffice.org, Load/Save, and Language Settings.

Frankly, the logic with which options are arranged in tabs under these headings is a little elusive. For that reason, when looking to customize OOo, you should not just look at any tab whose name seems related to your purpose, but scan all of them for additional features. This necessity becomes obvious when you consider four common use-cases: setting automated features, reducing memory requirements, setting security options, and enabling assistive options -- although none of these by any means exhausts the array of options that OpenOffice.org makes available.


Setting automated features

Users are divided about OpenOffice.org's automatic features. Some, especially inexperienced users, rely on them heavily. Others can't wait to turn them off. Many of the automated features, such as AutoCorrect, are controlled from within the applications, but you can control a few of them from the general office suite settings.

One of the most contentious automated features is the automatic spell checking. It is controlled from Language Settings > Writing Aids > Options > Check spelling as you type. While you are at the list of options, you can also set other characteristics of spell checking, such as whether words that include numbers are checked (probably not, if you work anywhere in the computer industry), or whether all paragraphs are checked regardless of language (probably not, since for most people, checking in one language at a time makes concentration easier).

Load/Save > General also has some automation, in the Save pane. In this pane, you can set whether the document properties window opens each time you save, whether a backup copy is saved, and whether -- and how often - AutoRecovery information is saved. One that I always prefer to turn off is the warning when you save in a non-native format, such as MS Office, but others with less experience may prefer to turn that option on.

However, by far the most controversial automated feature is the Help Agent, which is controlled from OpenOffice.org > General. The Help Agent, as you may know, is the indicator that opens in the bottom right corner whenever you perform an action for which help is available. In OOo, the Help Agent is toned down considerably from the infamously obnoxious Clippy of MS Office that performs the same function, and some beginners may find it useful. However, there are lots of actions that have entries in OOo Help, so many people soon tire of even OOo's subdued version.


Reducing memory requirements

OpenOffice.org has a reputation for slow performance. QuickStarters that load part of the office suite into memory when your desktop opens and the last couple of releases have improved the situation considerably, but OOo really requires at least 1 gigabyte of RAM to perform well. However, on less-well equipped machines, you may want to reduce the memory requirements and boost performance slightly by turning off options that enhance but are non-essential.

A useful place to start is with the automated features mentioned above. Once you have turned them off, your next stop should be OpenOffice.org > Memory. This tab contains the settings for the number of Undo steps that OOo uses, as well as the number of objects cached, the memory allotted to each, and the time that objects remain in the cache. By turning all these settings down, you should be able to improve performance considerably, especially if you are working with large, graphics-heavy documents.

In addition, on the memory tab, you can choose whether to enable the QuickStarter for your desktop. Enabling it will make OpenOffice.org load faster, but if reducing memory requirements is your main consideration, you may want to endure the slower load time in favor of zippier performance overall.

Another place where you can reduce memory overhead is OpenOffice.org > View. Icons in the menu, font previews and font history -- the placing of recently used fonts at the top of the list -- are all convenient, but each adds to the memory requirements. You can also turn off font anti-aliasing by setting it to 0.

You can further augment your memory savings by carefully selecting your work methods, such as linking to graphics when you insert them, instead of embedding them. Linking graphics sometimes makes for slower scrolling through a document, but keeps the file size small. In the same spirit, if you are writing documents of over 15 pages, use the master document feature to divide it into smaller sub-documents, so that you are working with smaller files, then only combine the sub-documents when you are ready to print.

Admittedly, none of these configuration choices or work methods is likely to alter OOo's performance drastically on low-end machines. However, the cumulative effect just might make OOo bearable when it otherwise wouldn't be.


Setting security features

OpenOffice.org > Security includes settings for warnings and actions when saving or printing. Of these options, the most useful is probably the one that recommends password protection when you save a document. The tab also includes settings for opening documents in read-only format and for recording changes automatically.

However, most of the security settings control how documents with macros open. If you click the Macro Security button on the tab, you'll notice that the default setting, which asks for confirmation before OOo opens a document containing macros, is only ranked as medium security. If security matters to you -- and it should -- you should consider other settings. Maintaining a list of trusted sources is better than the default, and enabling only macros from trusted file locations better yet. Needless to say, the lowest setting, which enables all macros, is a triumph of convenience over wisdom, and should not be used at all. In fact, since the interface stresses that the lowest setting is not recommended, I wonder why it is even offered.


Enabling assistive options

If you are visually impaired, OOo includes several options, most of them available from OpenOffice.org > Accessibility tab. The options in the tab include a setting for having a cursor in read-only documents to aid reading, but the most useful ones customize OOo for high-contrast viewing. From the Accessibility tab, you can set whether OOo uses your operating system's high-contrast mode, as well as its automatic font color when displaying documents. In addition, you can choose to use system colors when opening File > Page Preview.

OpenOffice.org > View has further assistive options. From there, you can increase the scale of OOo's menus and widgets -- although, practically speaking, at a scale much beyond 175%, jagged edges become obvious and everything becomes harder to read. You can also combine the scale with options for large or high-contrast options.

If you are a regular help user, you might also appreciate the option in OpenOffice.org > General for setting the help formatting to one of several high-contrast modes.


Conclusion

The general options for OOo don't stop with these use-cases. Regular users of fields will find that filling out the personal information in OpenOffice.org > User Data gives them more options. Other useful options include OpenOffice.org > Print > Print to file, which creates a postscript file when used with a postscript printer driver, and OpenOffice.org > Color, which allows you to add to the default colors available in OOo -- a feature that is especially useful when you constantly need a company's standard colors for branding purposes. Another useful option is the Paths window, which you can modify to ensure or prevent the saving of resources such as graphics and templates. And, personally, whenever I'm setting up OpenOffice.org, I soon go to the Appearance window for the sole purpose of changing the default color for notes to something bright and garish so that I can quickly find them in the editing window.

When you first starting using OpenOffice.org, the general options may seem so numerous as to be overwhelming. Fortunately, the defaults are mostly intelligent -- or at least acceptable -- ones, and most users can safely ignore them at first. However, once you feel comfortable with the software, take the time to become familiar with them. Chances are, you'll find at least a couple of options that are exactly what you're looking for.


Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for the NewsForge and Linux Journal websites.

______________________

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Bruce Byfield (nanday)

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Customizing general OpenOffice.org settings

natalie1981's picture

Thanks for the tips. I have a hard time getting used to OpenOffice. Our company is migrating to opensource software and the new computer I got is loaded with OpenOffice instead of the usual MS office.

Nat

I agree, grillo

Pamela's picture

Although i have just used OOOo for 4 months, a 480mb does fine with my filing, audio streaming and research...maybe its user based if you'd need a bigger memory or just like those muscle cars...guys just got to have 'em big...

Running OOo with 1Gb RAM

Renato S. Yamane's picture

OOo run under machine with 128MbRAM? Yes, OOo run!
OOo run under machine with 1Gb RAM? Yes, MUCH BETTER.

Can you go from New York to California under a horse? Yes, you can!
Can you go from New York to California in a Porsche 911 Turbo? Yes, more faster and more comfortable than a horse!

If you run OOo in a machine with 1Gb RAM, you never more said that OOo run under 128Mb RAM :-)

Microsoft "Flight Simulator X" can run in a Intel Celeron 1Ghz + 256Mb RAM + 64Mb Video Card? Yes it's run!

Microsoft Flight Simulator X can run in a Intel Core2 Duo 6800 + 2Gb RAM + NVidia 8800GX? Woooowwwwwwwwwwwwwww, this is great!

I run OOo in a Toshiba M45-S355 (Pentium M 1.86Ghz + 1Gb RAM) and it is started in 3sec under my OpenSuSE 10.2

You can start OOo in 3 seconds in a machine with 256MbRAM? :-)

Best Regards,
Renato S. Yamane
BRAZIL

memory requirements

Guy's picture

You wrote: 'OOo really requires at least 1 gigabyte of RAM.' This is not true. I am comfortably running it on a Ubuntu dapper PIII with 500MB (& previously 256). I have run it fine on a Win98 machine with 256MB, apart from a slightly slow start on the first document.

If there is bloat taking up your memory may I suggest it is elsewhere than OOo?

Please be careful about comments like that as it may put potential users off. Linux & OOo work *great* on old low end machines which is brilliant for families like mine that cannot just go out & buy new ones.

Memory requirements

Bruce Byfield's picture

I've used OOo on more than a dozen machines, and I stand by my comment. Although I've run it on as little as 128 megabytes, I've consistently found a significant difference in performance once you're using 1 gigabyte or more of RAM. Anything less, and performance can be sluggish, especially with large files.

This performance has nothing to do with bloat elsewhere, since OOo is the only program affected, and there is no difference between its performance on a fresh, minimalist install and one that has been steadily accumulating overhead after several years of adding programs.

As for performance on Windows, that's really beside the point, if you look at the masthead on this site. ;)

Nor am I particularly interested in whether I "put potential users off." I may mistakes, but, for all my advocacy of free software, I'm not going to lie for the cause. In the long run, doing so would be a much greater dis-service than the short term advantage of lying.

In other words, I stand by what I said. Sorry.
--
Bruce Byfield (nanday)

--
Bruce Byfield (nanday)

How fast is 'fast'?

Grillo N's picture

Hi. I use OOo in a 256Mb machine with Win2k. The only times I can complain at all is when opening and closing documents, and still it's all about a couple seconds wait. There are times, when many documents are open at the same time, and many applications are running too, it can take another couple of seconds to alt between documents. Is this slow? Well, not for me, my work doesn't lag for this. It would IF I was a heavy user, who wanted to work on several huge documents at the same time most of my day.
With this conclusion I want to make a point on this memory requirement of OOo: it doesn't need 1Gb to perform well. It needs a Gb to work with lots of big files simultaneously well. So, for the average user, 256 can be enough for good fun, as I'm having.
Sure, if I had a 3.0GHz 1Gb 64 bit machine, it would be quite different. But it's not a requirement at all.
Best regards

Open Office Memory Requirements

KernelPanik's picture

My vintage 1999 Dell Dimension 4100 (Intel 933 mhz pentium) runs Oo superbly with 512 MB of ram. It literally flies on my wife's four year old 2600 Sempron with the same memory. In fact she still gets it confused with Word 2002 which is on the Win 2K dual boot side of her desktop. She's a school teacher and must use Word format by default which of course is no problem with Oo. She uses Oo on top of Suse 9.3 with an Internet connection to her Microsoft Exchange Server at school. Win 2K is disconnected from the Internet for obvious reasons.

KP

memory requirements of OOo

Mord's picture

I totally agree - I successfully run OOo on a laptop with Celeron III 700Mhz and 128Mb memory (Debian unstable) and performance is more than adequate other than for graphically heavy documents. Your 1Gb minimum must be a confusion with some other product ?

OO-Speed and memory reqs.

DirkS's picture

Hello,
you are discussing from different points of view:

  1. Does it work at all? (objective)
  2. Do I think it is fast enough for me to work comfortably? (which is highly subjective to persons and their kind of documents)

OO.o will run with 128 MB, okay.
For me, it's fast *enough*, but I would appreciate a quicker startup and an improved overall performance.

Lets come to comparing OO.o:

  1. Linux vs. Windows: I have heard from different sides that OO.o-performance (especially startup time) is a lot better under Linux than under Windows. Maybe this is due to the many-platforms-design. I haven't tried it.
  2. OO.o against other word processors: I've used a lot of them so far. Start OO.Writer under Windows, open the Task Manager and look at the memory consumption of soffice.*. You will see that it defintely needs more MByte than, say MS Word 2000. Oh, if you want to argue about "hidden MS functions", take Lotus Smartsuite: WordPro 9.5 Millenium. As OO.o needs more memory by default under Windows, there's a bigger probability that Windows has to swap between RAM and harddisk.

So, on Windows I have felt that more memory is more comfortable for the OO-speed. On my PIII-500, 256 MB are okay, but with browser, mailer and more programs open, OO.o has to swap more to harddisk than some other writers.
But this doesn't stop me from using it. It has some flaws, but it will improve.

Bye.

Java

Anonymous's picture

Most will find it will be even quicker if they install the latest java runtime and then go Tools => Options => Java and select the latest install.

This has shaved a few seconds off the initial loading for my Linux and Windows machines.

no java

linux java's picture

I am a OO.o fun, linux is a better desktop because of OO.o but the java thing is just tooooo slow, I am a java programmer mysql and love java, java makes programming a lot easier. but OO.o + java = slow * very

Thank God for OO!

Anonymous's picture

I want say first that OO is the 2nd best app i have (after-e-sword Bible), and first in it's class. I have run OO versions on a Win98se 650mhz, 320mb ram PC for years, and it runs fast on it. It loads in about 12 seconds (first time, w/out a document or Quickstarter)and only uses about 12 mb of ram (iniitially). I use OO 1.15 as i want the autosave, and have tried 2., which takes about twice the initial time and memory. I use FreeRamXP which does a good job of recovering memory (and also warns of low sys. resources for 9x pc's). Though i hope to get more memory, this k7 pro mobo will only take 750 max, and I think Firefox would like to get a hold of that more than OO! But for modern OS's, i am sure 1GB ram is best, esp. with Vista.

May God bless you.

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