Issue #11 September 2005

Coming soon: 2.0 2.0

Gone are the days of clunky, standalone word processors with less than a megabyte of memory. Today, most people opt to use a computer for their word processing needs, along with their needs for a spreadsheet, presentation program, and software to create diagrams. These programs combined are referred to as an office suite. is a freely available, open source office suite available for multiple platforms including Linux.

It began life as a closed source product made by StarDivision. They were acquired by Sun Microsystems in 1999, and the office suite was released as an open source project.

The latest version of the free office suite is soon to be released, and a beta of this 2.0 release is currently available.

A great deal of emphasis has been placed on compatibility with Microsoft™ Office in this release, and the import and export filters for this have been greatly improved. Along with Writer, Calc, Draw, Math, and Impress, there is a new component called Base which provides an easy interface to the built-in database.

Also with 2.0 release there is a new native file format called OpenDocument (the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications). OASIS is the organization that publishes the specifications for a variety of XML formats including DocBook XML. This XML-based format started life as the 1.x XML file format (used for SXW files). The new format, with the file extension ODT for text documents, aims to be a common file format that any office suite can use.

Of course it is still possible to write files in the 1.x XML file format. You might even want to stick with that format for the time being if you exchange documents with other users. To make the old file format the default, select Tools -> Options... from the menu, then Load/Save -> General from the Options dialog box, then adjust the Default file format settings.

Much has been written about 2.0 being reliant on Java for more of its functionality than in previous releases. In the Fedora Core package of this is handled by using the GNU Compiler for Java (GCJ). Some examples of the functionality implemented using Java are the new wizards (for creating different types of document) and the DocBook XML filters.

Tips on using

There is no doubt that is a powerful office suite, but as with any large application, it can sometimes be difficult to find out how to make it do what you require. Here are a few tips.

Folded brochure printing

When two pages are printed on each side of a sheet, and several such sheets are folded and stapled together, the resulting document is said to be comprised of folios. In it is known as printing a brochure, and it is simple enough—when you know how.

This style of printing lends itself particularly well to A4-based paper sizes. This is because an A4 sheet, folded so the two short edges meet, has the same dimensions as an A5 sheet—it is perfect for folio pamphlets.

One way of compiling a brochure would be to use A4 pages in landscape orientation and have two columns on each sheet, one for each brochure page. This is tricky to get right because it is not easy to work out which pages should go in which columns.

The alternative is to let do the working out for you.

First, set the page size to A5 by selecting Format -> Page... from the menu and choosing A5 in the Format field.

Proceed by writing your document as normal. The clever bit comes when you print the document.

  1. Select File -> Print... from the menu.
  2. When you have chosen your printer, click on the Properties... button.
  3. For Paper size choose A4 and for Orientation choose Landscape, and then click OK.
  4. Click the Options... button.
  5. In the Printer Options dialog box that appears (see Figure 1, “Printer Options dialog box”), select the Brochure checkbox in the Pages section.
Printer Options dialog box
Figure 1. Printer Options dialog box

If you have a duplex printer (one which can print double-sided) click OK to print. Otherwise you need to print each side separately. In the Pages section of the Printer Options dialog box, select the Left pages checkbox but not the Right pages and click OK. This prints the side of the page you see when the pamphlet is open at the middle. Then, feed the pages back into the printer the other way up and print the Right pages.

Landscape pages in portrait document

Although the Format -> Page... menu item allows you to make your entire text document landscape or portrait, the way to make only a few pages landscape in a mainly-portrait document may not be obvious.

Styles and Formatting window
Figure 2. Styles and Formatting window

The secret is to know that you can apply page styles to individual pages of the document. To make a page style for pages in landscape orientation, here is what to do:

  1. Press F11 to get the Styles and Formatting window.
  2. Click on the fourth icon from the left at the top of that window (with the tooltip "Page Styles").
  3. Right-click on the page style named Default and select New... (see Figure 2, “Styles and Formatting window”).
  4. In the Page Style window that appears, give this new style the name "Landscape."
  5. Click on the Page tab and change the orientation to Landscape.
  6. Click OK, then press F11 to hide the Styles and Formatting window since we no longer need it.

Now you have a page style named Landscape ready to use. At the point where you want the next page to be landscape, select Insert -> Manual Break... from the menu. Set the Type to Page break and select Landscape as the style (see Figure 3, “Inserting a page break”).

Inserting a page break
Figure 3. Inserting a page break

To switch back to portrait orientation later in the document, select Insert -> Manual Break..., set the Type to Page break and choose the Default style.

Usability shortcuts is full of shortcuts for particular tasks and configuration that can be tweaked.

Window docking

The Styles and Formatting window is very useful but sometimes gets in the way if the main document window is maximized on the screen. The solution to this is to dock the Styles and Formatting window into the main document window and you can do that by dragging it to the left or right edge. The area of the window that will be used is highlighted when the window has been dragged to the correct place: stop dragging at that point and the window will become docked.

To undock the window, click and drag it from the empty area between the Styles icons at the top.


To change the page magnification in the document window so that you can see as much of the page as required, select View -> Zoom... followed by the appropriate option. Sometimes you will find it useful to switch between being zoomed in quite close and being able to see more of the page. A shortcut is to hold down the Ctrl key while scrolling the mouse wheel: up zooms in and down zooms out.

Automatic column widths

In an Calc spreadsheet, you may already know that you can set a column's width to fit the text it contains by double-clicking on the right-hand separator in the column headings. The column width is adjusted so that the cell containing the longest text just fits. For example, to set the width of column A, double-click on the vertical line between A and B in the spreadsheet.

However you might not know you can set the width of the column based on only a few cells in it, rather than all of the cells. Often it is convenient to have a spreadsheet title in cell A1. It is not then desirable for that cell to be taken into account when automatically setting the column width.

The way to achieve this result is to highlight the cells you do want to be used for determining the width. Then double-click on the column separator and those cells alone will be altered.

About the author

Tim Waugh is a Systems Engineer at Red Hat, primarily responsible for printing, DocBook, VNC, and some shell utilities. He has been using Linux since 1995. He lives with his wife in Surrey (England).