Using OpenOffice.org

by John Mark Walker

Editor's Note: Linux in the Workplace, written by the Linux Journal Staff, was recently released under the GNU Free Documentation License (FDL). It is available at linuxpip.org, courtesy of No Starch Press.

This is my first article of a series that embraces and extends the book, Linux in the Workplace, which was written by several staff members of Linux Journal and published by No Starch Press. The purpose of that book, the same as this article, is to show new Linux users to do those everyday, ordinary tasks for which people use computers in the first place.

This particular article focuses on OpenOffice.org (the office suite formerly known as OpenOffice), in particular its word processor component. Please note that this article is from a KDE-centric viewpoint. Almost all of the items mentioned here, however, apply equally well to GNOME and other desktop environments.

Introduction to OpenOffice

OpenOffice.org is a feature-rich office productivity suite distributed and maintained by Sun Microsystems. Comparable to Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org includes a word processor, a spreadsheet application, presentation software and graphic program applications. OpenOffice.org is incredibly powerful; many believe that it is not only as good as MS Office, but better in many ways. OpenOffice.org is available for other platforms as well, including Solaris and Microsoft Windows, and it runs equally well on all of them. OpenOffice.org offers the ability to import many different types of documents and templates from a variety of other programs, including Microsoft Word. It can also export to a wide range of formats, including HTML, PDF and MS Office XP.

OpenOffice.org may be included on your distribution already. If it is not, simply visit www.openoffice.org, where you can download the latest version for free. This site also contains a list of distributors who sell CD-ROMs that install the software. On-line help also is available.

The default OpenOffice.org installation places an OpenOffice.org submenu in the K menu, for users of KDE. From there, you can launch any of the OpenOffice programs (Writer, Calc, Draw or Impress). You also can click on any existing OpenOffice document to open it within the appropriate OpenOffice application. Once the application is open, another OpenOffice program can be started from the open application's File menu. The menus and toolbars may look familiar to you, as they are similar to those of other office programs. The main menubar at the top and two tiers of toolbars are displayed by default. As usual, many of the most used menu items are available from the icons in the toolbars. You can discover the function of an icon by holding the mouse pointer over it.

Working with Text

Writer is a word processor that allows you to compose documents such as letters and articles, as well as import and export documents from other systems in a wide range of file formats, including HTML, ASCII, RTF and MS Word.

Using the AutoPilot

AutoPilot, often referred to as a wizard in other office programs, guides you through a series of document customization questions. To use this feature, select AutoPilot from the File menu. Then choose the type of document you want to create. Options include memos, faxes, letters and web pages. Once selected, the AutoPilot Agenda dialog box appears. You are instructed to customize your document by choosing a layout style, including a logo or graphic, and naming your file. Click Next to select your desired options, and continue clicking Next each time you are done with a set of customization questions. When you are finished, click Create, and your document loads.

Formatting Your Document

Formatting allows you to choose the font and page styles to apply to your document, and many options are available in Writer. Here we review standard formatting tools. Advanced users can feel confident that other formatting features, such as those that let you apply text styles, add tables and create indices, are all available. They generally are located in the same places you would find them in other word processing applications. All of these formatting options can be set before beginning a new document or applied to existing documents.

Increasing and Decreasing Indents

To increase or decrease the indentation of text, click one of the two indent icons, featured just above the document to the right of the numbers and bullets icons. The icon featuring text and an arrow pointing left decreases an indent, whereas the icon featuring text and an arrow pointing right increases an indent. Click the appropriate icon more than once to add more or less indentation.

Applying Color

Color can be applied to text characters or added as a highlight over a string of text. The color icons are found next to the indentation icons. Select the text you want to color or highlight by clicking and dragging your mouse pointer over the desired text. Then click the icon featuring a yellow background behind the A character, and your text is highlighted. Color also can be applied to the background of a document. The icon that features a complete palette of colors (positioned next to the character color icons) performs this task for you. When you click the background color icon, a dialog box appears and prompts you to select a color. Once you have clicked on the desired color, your background changes to the new color.

Advanced Formatting Tools

Advanced page formatting tools are available in a central dialog box titled Page Style. To access it, select Page from the Format menu, and the Page Style dialog box appears. Here you are given the opportunity to select the background color, size and margins of the document; apply headers, footers and borders; and even set columns. Advanced paragraph and character formatting tools also are available. Select Paragraph or Character from the Format menu, and the Paragraph or Character dialog box appears. From here you can apply drop caps, tabs and alignment, among other advanced paragraph formatting tools. To add page numbers to your document, choose the Footer tab from Format -> Page, check the Footer On box and select OK. Next, from the Insert menu choose Fields and then Page Numbers. A 1 appears in the footer. If you want the page numbers to appear as 1 of 10 or 1 of 18, and so on, select Fields and then Page Count. Next, under Footer, edit the text to add the word "of".

Inserting Graphics into Your Document

From the Insert menu, select Graphics and then From File, and the Insert Graphics dialog box appears. Select the graphics file name just as you selected an existing document file. Once your graphic appears in the document, you can double-click it at any time to pull up the Graphics dialog box. Here you can crop, make the image a hyperlink or add a border. Once you have selected the options you want, click OK to proceed with the changes or Cancel to cancel any changes. To delete the graphic, simply select it with the mouse and select the cut icon, or right- click the image and select Cut from the pull-down menu.

Saving Your Document

To save your document, select the floppy disk (save) icon from the top toolbar or select the Save or Save As options located on the File menu. The Save dialog box appears, instructing you to name your file (if it is not already named), designate the directory to which you want to save the file, and choose the file format you want your document to be saved as (click the arrow next to File type to see a list of file format options). This is where you can prepare your document for exporting, as mentioned previously.

Creating Document Templates

Although the current version of OpenOffice.org does not come with existing document templates, it is possible to create templates. Start by opening a new document. Create a set of styles and give it the desired structure, and then simply save the document as a template from the Save As dialog box.

Printing Your Document

Printing your document is easy. Simply select the print icon from the toolbar immediately below the menubar or select Print from the File menu. In either case, a Print dialog box opens, giving you the option to print to your printer or to a file. Options are presented to print a range of pages, if you don't need the whole document, or to print multiple copies.

For the next article, I will go into more depth for advanced OpenOffice.org functionality, including fun with contact managers, mail merge and printing pitfalls.

John Mark Walker is the Marketing Manager for No Starch Press.

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