OpenOffice.org is a free office suite that provides all of the core tools a business or home office user needs to be productive in a day-to-day work environment.
OpenOffice.org includes five core applications: Writer, for creating text documents; Calc, for spreadsheets; Impress, for presentations; Draw, for creating graphics; and Base, a database application.
OpenOffice.org is Open Source software, and is available for many computing platforms. We will review OpenOffice 3.0.1 for the Macintosh.
OS X Aqua Interface Comes to OpenOffice.org
It’s about time. For years, OpenOffice.org used the X11 windowing system to create and run its graphical user interface. X11 may have been a good choice when OpenOffice.org’s primary role was to provide office applications in Unix/Linux OSes, where X11 was a common windowing system. It also allowed the developers to more easily run the application on multiple computer systems; essentially any computer that could run an X11 windowing system could run OpenOffice.org. This included Unix, Linux, Windows, and Mac, as well as others.
But the down side to X11 is that it is not the native windowing system for most platforms. That means that users not only had to install X11, they also had to learn a new user interface that was markedly different than the native windowing system on their computers. To put it bluntly, the older versions of OpenOffice.org that required the X11 windowing system would have earned a big fat one star rating from me. The applications worked well, but it makes no sense to force individuals to relearn basic window and mousing styles just to use an application.
X11 was also slow. Menus took time to appear, and because you were operating in a different windowing system, some of the keyboard shortcuts that make an application easer to use wouldn’t work.
Thankfully, OpenOffice.org replaced X11 with a native OS X Aqua interface that ensures that not only does OpenOffice.org now look like a Mac application, it works like one as well. Menus are now snappy, all keyboard shortcuts work, and the applications simply look much better than they did before.
Writer: OpenOffice.org’s Word Processor
Writer is the word processor application included with OpenOffice.org. Writer can easily become your primary word processor. It includes powerful capabilities that simplify day-in and day-out use. The AutoComplete, AutoCorrect, and AutoStyles features let you concentrate on your writing while Writer corrects common typing errors; completes phrases, quotes or words; or senses what you’re doing and sets your entry as a headline, paragraph, or what have you.
You can also manually create and apply styles to paragraphs, frames, pages, lists, or individual words and characters. Indexes and table can have a defined structure made up of formatting options such as fonts, size, and spacing.
Writer also supports complex tables and graphics that you can use to produce compelling documents. To make it easier to create these documents, Writer can create individual frames that can hold text, graphics, tables, or other content. You can move the frames around your document or anchor them to a specific spot. Each frame can have its own attributes, such as size, border, and spacing. Frames allow you to create simple or complex layouts that move Writer beyond word processing and into the realm of desktop publishing.
Two of the features of Writer that I really like are slider-based magnification and the multi-page layout view. Instead of selecting a set magnification ratio, you can use a slider to change the view in real time. The multi-page layout view is great for longer documents.
Calc: OpenOffice.org’s Spreadsheet Software
OpenOffice.org’s Calc reminded me almost instantly of Microsoft Excel. Calc supports multiple worksheets, so you can spread out and organize a spreadsheet, something that I tend to try to do. Calc has a Function Wizard that can help you create complex functions; it’s also handy when you can’t remember the name of the function you need. One drawback to Calc’s Function Wizard is that it’s not all that helpful; it assumes you already have a pretty good understanding of a function.
Once you create a spreadsheet, Calc offers most of the tools you’ll find in other popular spreadsheet applications, including Data Pilot, a version of Excel’s Pivot Tables. Calc also has Solver and Goal Seeker, a handy set for tools for finding the optimum value for a variable in a spreadsheet.
Any complex spreadsheet is bound to have a problem or two when you first create it. Calc’s Detective tools can help you find the error of your ways.
One place where Calc doesn’t perform as well as the competition is in charting. Its charts are limited to nine basic types. Excel has umpteen gazillion charting types and options, although you may find the smaller selection in Calc meets your needs and simplifies your life.
Impress: OpenOffice.org’s Presentation Software
I have to admit I am not a presentation maven, and I don’t use presentation software very often. That being said, I was impressed by how easy it was to use Impress to create slides and a presentation.
I used the Presentation Wizard to quickly create a basic background as well as the slide transition effects I wanted to apply to the entire presentation. After that I was taken to the Slide Layout, where I could choose from a gallery of slide templates. Once I chose a slide template it was an easy matter to add text, graphics, and other elements.
Once you have more than a few slides, you can use the viewing options to display your presentation in different ways. The Normal view shows a single slide, which is good for making changes and creating each slide. The Slide Sorter allows you to rearrange your slides by simply dragging them around. And the Notes view lets you see each slide with any notes you may wish to add about the slide to help in your presentation. Other views include Outline and Handout.
Wendy Russell, the About Guide to Presentations, has a nice set of 'Beginner's Guide to OpenOffice Impress'. I followed her ‘Getting Started with OpenOffice Impress’ article to create my first presentation.
Overall, I was impressed with how easy it is to use Impress, and the quality of the presentations it creates. By comparison, Microsoft PowerPoint offers a great deal more capabilities, but at the cost of a higher learning curve. If you only occasionally create presentations, or create presentations strictly for in-house use, then Impress may fit your needs nicely.