Tips & Tricks: Office Productivity with OpenOffice.org


OpenOffice.org includes powerful applications for viewing, creating, editing, and managing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and much more. Whether you are preparing for a business or school presentation, writing a formal letter, or opening a document from an email attachment, there's a tool that suits your needs.

This tip shows you how to get up and running with the OpenOffice.org suite of applications, how to do a couple of neat tricks with OpenOffice.org.

The OpenOffice.org Suite

Office productivity suites are collections of applications designed to save time and assist users at the office, at school, and at home. Usually, productivity suites are graphical and include such applications as word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation utilities. The applications that comprise a productivity suite are integrated - meaning that you can, for example, write a document with an embedded chart created by the spreadsheet application as well as a slide from a graphical presentation application. Integration of the software that makes up a productivity suite helps you to give impact to your presentations, lectures, or printed material.

Red Hat Enterprise Linux WS includes a powerful business productivity suite called OpenOffice.org, which incorporates several complementary applications into one integrated package. Using OpenOffice.org is much faster and easier than learning complex tags and code to format your documents and presentations.

The OpenOffice.org suite allows you complete control over the layout and content of your documents and lets you see the results as you edit it. This real-time, visual form of document formatting is called what you see is what you get (or WYSIWYG - pronounced wizzywig) editing.

OpenOffice.org Features

The OpenOffice.org suite contains several applications for creating and editing documents, spreadsheets, business presentations, and artwork. It includes templates, forms, and wizards for creating basic professional documents and presentations quickly. The OpenOffice.org suite is able to read, edit, and create files in several formats, including files that are commonly associated with Microsoft Office, such as Microsoft Word files, Microsoft Excel files, and PowerPoint files.

Be forewarned, however, that OpenOffice does not always import Microsoft Word documents perfectly. If someone sends you a Microsoft Word document, the document may appear differently to you than it would if you were using Microsoft Word. The differences tend to become more acute as the document formatting becomes increasingly complex. Keep this in mind if you decide to save the document and return it to someone using Microsoft Word - what they get back may not resemble what they hoped. If you intend to share documents with people using Microsoft Word, you might find it more useful to have everyone save documents in Rich Text Format. Rich Text Format is more portable, so you are less likely to lose formatting information as you pass documents back and forth between OpenOffice and Microsoft Word.

Table 7-1 shows the many different types of files you can use and tasks you can accomplish with the OpenOffice.org suite.


Table 7-1: OpenOffice.org Features

Application

File Compatibility

Document Types

OpenOffice.org Writer

OpenOffice and StarOffice Writer documents, Microsoft Word Documents, Rich Text Format, Plain Text, HTML files

Formal letters, business forms, school papers, resumes, newsletters, reports

OpenOffice.org Calc

OpenOffice and StarOffice Calc spreadsheets, xBase files, Microsoft Excel files, Comma-separated values, Silk, HTML

Spreadsheets, charts, tables, graphs, directories, address books, receipts and bills, budgets, small databases

OpenOffice.org Impress

OpenOffice and StarOffice Impress presentations, Microsoft PowerPoint

Business and academic presentations, Web presentations, lectures, slide shows

OpenOffice.org Draw

OpenOffice and StarOffice Draw files, exports to JPEG, GIF, Bitmaps (BMP)

Illustrations, line drawings, clip art, organizational charts

As you can see, the OpenOffice.org suite has many file compatibility features and allows you to accomplish several tasks for academic, business, or home use. The following sections show you how to use the OpenOffice.org suite.

OpenOffice.org Writer

Writing documents using OpenOffice.org is similar to other word processing applications you may have used before, such as Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, and so on. A word processor is like a text editor but has several additional features that allow you to format, design, and print your documents without the need to memorize complex formatting tags or codes. OpenOffice.org Writer is a powerful word processor that features WYSIWYG formatting - what you see in the OpenOffice.org Writer window is exactly what you will get if you print the document or if you give the document file to someone else for them to view.

To start OpenOffice.org Writer from your desktop panel, click the Main Menu button »Office »OpenOffice.org Writer.

The main interface is the document editing area (the white space in the middle of the window where you can type your text). At the top of the window are various functions collected into toolbars that control fonts, letter sizes, justification (to align the text of your document to the left, center, or right margins), and other text formatting buttons. There is also a text box that enables you to type in the exact location of a document on your machine and load the document into the editing area. There are buttons for opening, saving, and printing documents, as well as buttons for creating new documents (which will open up a new window with a blank document for you to add content).

Along the left side of the window, there is a toolbar with buttons for checking your spelling, automatic highlighting of misspelled words, word and phrase searching, and other convenient editing functions.

If you hover over a toolbar button, a pop-up tip (often called a tooltip) displays a brief explanation of the button's functionality. You can display more detailed tips by clicking the Help menu and checking Extended Tips.

You can immediately begin typing text into the document editing area at any time using the default settings.

While OpenOffice.org Writer is useful for general document editing, you can also add objects such as images, illustrations, charts, and tables to your document to complement your text or give impact to your documents. To add an image, click Insert »Graphics »From File, and choose the image from the pop-up file browser. The image appears where you placed your cursor and can be sized larger or smaller to fit your needs.

After you have created your document, you can save it in any format that you wish. To save your text, click the Save button (it looks like a little floppy disk). You can choose the file format from the File Type drop-down menu. The default file type is appropriate for files that you are working on exclusively with OpenOffice.org applications. However, for files that you need to distribute to Microsoft Office users, or if you are editing a file that was sent as an email attachment with the .doc extension, you can save the file as a Microsoft Word file type that others will be able to open in Microsoft Word.

OpenOffice.org Calc

From large enterprises to home offices, professionals in every industry use spreadsheets for keeping records, creating business charts, and manipulating data. OpenOffice.org Calc is a software spreadsheet application that allows you to enter and manipulate data in cells organized into columns and rows.

You can perform calculations on groups of cells (such as adding or subtracting a column of cells) or create charts based on cell groupings. You can even incorporate spreadsheet data into your documents for a professional touch.

To start OpenOffice.org Calc from the desktop panel, click the Main Menu button »Office »OpenOffice.org Calc.

OpenOffice.org Calc allows you to enter and manipulate personal or business data. For example, you can create a personal budget by entering data descriptions (such as rent, groceries, and utilities) into column A and the quantities of those data descriptions in column B.

OpenOffice.org Calc allows you to enter the data either in the cell itself by double-clicking the cell and typing your information or by using the Input Line (the text box on the toolbar). Then you can run arithmetic commands on column B to come up with a total.

OpenOffice.org Calc has several preset functions and calculations (such as =SUM() for addition/multiplication, =quotient() for division, and =subtotal() for preparing receipts).

Try this exercise to get a feel for entering numbers and functions in OpenOffice.org Calc:

  1. Click on cell A1 (column A, row 1). Type a number, such as 3000, and press Enter or the down arrow key to put the number in the cell and move down to the next cell.

  2. Type another number, such as 9000, and press Enter or the down arrow key. The value will be entered into cell A2.

  3. Type another number, such as 110, and press Enter twice (or the down arrow key twice) to skip a row.

  4. Now you are going to sum the values with the =SUM() function. Follow these next steps carefully. First type =SUM( and then stop, don't finish typing in the rest of the function yet.

  5. Press the up arrow key four times so that you highlight the first cell, A1. Note that Calc is automatically entering in the starting cell of your function.

  6. Hold down the Shift key and press the down arrow twice. Note that Calc is highlighting all the cells from A1 through A3 and is modifying the =SUM() function to include that range of cells.

  7. Press Enter. You should now see the total of your values appear in cell A5, where you created the function.

For more detailed information about creating functions for calculating your numerical data in OpenOffice.org Calc, refer to the OpenOffice.org Calc documentation by selecting Help »Contents.

Charts in OpenOffice.org Calc

If you need to create charts or graphs for class or business presentations, OpenOffice.org has several chart and graph templates available to choose from. Highlight the areas you would like to chart and then click Insert »Chart . . . . In the Chart window, the data ranges you chose are shown in the text box for you to customize further if you desire. Click Next to display the many different charts and graphs you can create using your data. Choose the style you want and click Create. The graph is displayed anchored within the spreadsheet window. You can move it anywhere on the screen for printing, or you can save the graph as an object that you can then embed in OpenOffice.org Writer documents or OpenOffice.org Impress presentations.

Copying Objects Between Documents

You can copy and paste practically anything from one document type to another. For example, you can highlight the chart you created in the spreadsheet and then select Edit »Copy from the menu or press Ctrl+C. Then paste a copy of the chart into an OpenOffice.org Writer document. Open a new or existing Writer document, place the cursor where you want the chart to appear, and then select Edit »Paste from the menu, or press Ctrl+V.

Web Tricks with OpenOffice.org

Here's a nifty trick that takes advantage of the fact that OpenOffice.org can load pages from the Web if you have an Internet connection. You can use OpenOffice.org Writer to load a Web page and copy data from the Web page into a spreadsheet.

In the upper left-hand side of the toolbar, you'll find a drop-down box that usually displays the name of the file you have loaded (assuming you have saved the file - it will be empty if you are starting with a new document or haven't saved yet). In this space, type in the URL of a Web site that contains a table full of useful information. For example, the following URL should provide you with a list of the most recent earthquakes:

http://wwwneic.cr.usgs.gov/neis/bulletin/bulletin.html

Once the page loads, use the mouse to select (highlight) some or all of the earthquake information in the table. Then select Edit »Copy from the menu (you can also press Ctrl+C).

Now open up a spreadsheet, and select Edit »Paste from the menu (or press Ctrl+V). Now the earthquake data appears in the spreadsheet .

If you know in advance where you will paste data and how it will fit into your spreadsheet, you can design a spreadsheet in advance to manipulate the data. You can use this technique to load stock or other time-sensitive financial data from a Web page into your spreadsheet and then examine and analyze the information.

OpenOffice.org Impress

Visual aids can give your presentations an added impact that catches your audience's attention and keeps them interested. OpenOffice.org Impress is a graphical tool that can help you make a more convincing presentation.

To start OpenOffice.org Impress from the desktop, click the Main Menu button »Office »OpenOffice.org Impress.

OpenOffice.org Impress contains several AutoPilot features that allow you to create presentations from a collection of style templates. You can make slides with itemized lists, outlines, or images. You can even import charts and graphs from OpenOffice.org Calc into a slide.

When you first start OpenOffice.org Impress, you are presented with a presentation setup screen, which prompts you for basic information about what type of presentation you want to make. You can choose the style of your slides, the medium with which you will present your slides (plain paper, transparent paper for overhead projectors, slides, or a display monitor), and any visual effects you want to apply to the slides during presentations from your computer.

After you have chosen your preferences with AutoPilot tool, you can choose the type of slide you want to create. You can select a pre-formatted slide from the list or start with a blank slide and customize the layout yourself. To create new slides for your presentation, click Insert Slide. . . in the floating toolbar, and a pop-up window appears allowing you to choose the layout of the new slide. You can have as many slides in your presentation as you need.

You can also preview your presentation at any point by selecting Slide Show »Slide Show from the pull-down menu. The presentation will be in full screen, which you can exit by cycling through every slide until you reach the end or by pressing the Esc key at any point in the slide show.

You can save your presentation in several file formats: the native OpenOffice.org Impress format, the Microsoft PowerPoint format, or the StarImpress format. You can also print your presentation to plain or transparent paper formats by clicking File »Print.

To learn more about OpenOffice.org Impress, click Help »Contents from the File menu to access the help browser.

OpenOffice.org Draw

If you would like to create graphics to include in your documents and presentations, you can use OpenOffice.org Draw. Using your mouse as you would a pen or a paintbrush, OpenOffice.org Draw allows you to make illustrations and save them in several formats that you can add to printed documents, place on Web sites, or attach to an email.

To start OpenOffice.org Draw from the desktop, click the Main Menu button »Office »OpenOffice.org Draw (to start OpenOffice.org Draw from a shell prompt, type oodraw).

For more tips like this pick up a copy of the Official FedoraTM Companion