New add-ons for OpenOffice.org Writer
After a slow start, add-ons for OpenOffice.org are finally starting to reach a critical mass. When I last wrote about add-ons for OpenOffice.org in September 2004, the examples were relatively limited, with extendedPDF the outstanding example. Today, extendedPDF remains a must-have -- so much so that Debian versions of OpenOffice.org include it as part of the basic packages -- but the choices have expanded dramatically. There is even a web page that is slowly beginning to rival the Firefox extension page.
Some of the most useful OpenOffice.org add-ons are those that extend or change the functionality of Writer. In no particular order, below are some of the Writer add-ons that are most useful.
Like all add-ons, they install from Tools -> Extension Manager, and can be installed either for the current user account, or globally on your system. After installation, you have to restart OpenOffice.org before the new add-on is available.
Newcomers to Writer often have problems learning how to add page numbers. The problem is that page numbers are tied to page styles in Writer -- a concept that is beyond most new users' experience.
You can get around this problem by creating a template that has page numbers built in, but, when you are doing a short document, you may find manual formatting easier. If so, then Pagination will be useful to you. Taking a hint, perhaps, from some of the changes to the OpenOffice.org code in IBM's Lotus Symphony, Pagination adds a Page Number dialog to the Insert menu.
The dialog gives you options for placing the page number in a header or footer, setting the number's alignment, and choosing a number format. You can also choose whether to make left and right pages mirror images of each other, or to omit the number on the first page. In short, Pagination gives you all the most common page number options in a concise dialog that should take you less than 20 seconds to go through.
Despite some first-rate drawing tools, OpenOffice.org lacks any means of cropping a graphic. CropOOo adds that functionality for Draw, Impress and Writer. Unfortunately, it's a finicky tool. To use it, you have to select a graphic, click the CropOOo button. drag the cyan-colored frame in the upper left of the editing window over the graphic you want to crop, resize the cyan frame using its handle, then press the Enter key to crop. To say the least, the extension takes a while to learn how to use.
You should also know that crops do not undo, so, if you make a mistake, your only choice is to import the graphic again. Still, despite such quirks, CropOOo does get the job done.
Ever had the problem of opening a Writer file on a new machine, only to find fonts missing? If so, then you'll welcome TestFonts. TestFonts adds a button to the left side of the toolbar that generates a report on the fonts used in the document and the available system fonts. The document results are divided into fonts used in manual formatting, and those used in character and paragraph styles, making it easier for you to track down problems. If you're a graphics designer, TestFonts will be particularly useful.
Text Clipboard is a second clipboard with controls in a floating window, or, alternatively using the Alt key instead of the Ctrl key for copying and pasting (that is, Alt+C to copy, Alt+V to paste). Using the add-on, you can copy and paste preserving tabs and line breaks, or replace the text in the second clipboard with a string of the same length. Unfortunately, it does not provide a multiple clipboard as such, but, since your desktop clipboard continues to function, you can maintain one string in each of the clipboards.
A common complaint among advanced users is that Writer has no direct way to change the template that a document uses. Instead, you have to open the Style and Formatting window, select the arrow in the upper right followed by Load Styles, then choose the styles to load from the standard dialog, drilling down so many levels that by the time you arrive where you want to be, you could almost have forgot your purpose.
Templates simplifies the task by placing an Assign New item in the File -> Templates menu -- where you might be expected to find it -- and opens a standard file manager on your desktop for you to locate another template. It's simple, but saner than the default.
Writer's Find and Replace is a versatile tool by default, but this Alternative dialog will make you wonder how you ever got by with it.
Its functionality includes searching for objects by name, for manual page and column breaks, and for text in notes. In addition, you can search by defining a block of text, regular and extended expressions or for multiple paragraphs. Perhaps most usefully of all, you can search and replace manually formatted text blocks that share the same characteristics, in effect editing manual formatting almost as though you were using styles. The add-on also lists the number of occurrences of a search expression, one of the few basic tools in the default dialog.
When replacing the Alternative dialog gives you even more functionality, including multiple and saved search and replaces, changing styles, modifications of page numbers, and the insertion of clipboard contents. If any of these add-ons makes it way into the standard build of OpenOffice.org, this one deserves to.
Like Firefox extensions, these Writer add-ons are a mixed lot. The amount of documentation that comes with them varies from exhaustive to non-existent, and, in some cases, you have to search the toolbars and menus to find them after installation. In several cases, too, you have to experiment to discover exactly how to use them.
They may not be compatible with each other, or with a particular build of OpenOffice.org -- for example, I could not get Alternative dialog Find and Replace for Writer to work when CropOOo was running in Fedora, or at all in Debian. However, you can experiment with disabling extensions until you find those that are compatible -- and, really, the nuisance is a small (if annoying) price to pay for the enhanced functionality of the best of these add-ons.