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OpenOffice.org Resource Kit 239

Posted by timothy
from the hey-this-one-is-free dept.
Eater writes "With a 1.1 release imminent, this review may be of interest to users of Linux on the desktop. OpenOffice.org is a group of small projects that collectively make up the open source community's premier office suite. Based on code from Sun's StarOffice and maintained by a worldwide community of developers, the OpenOffice.org project provides a full-featured office application suite. It includes a language independent API and open XML-based file formats." Read on for the rest of Eater's review.
OpenOffice.org Resource Kit
author Solveig Haugland, Floyd Jones
pages 1040
publisher Prentice-Hall PTR
rating 9
reviewer Eater
ISBN 0131407457
summary An essential introduction to OpenOffice.org.

With a stable 1.0 release and spectacular cross-platform functionality, it's finally time to seriously consider putting this software to work in your company. Whether you are completely new to OpenOffice.org or just moving from its predecessor StarOffice, you'll want to take a look at OpenOffice.org 1.0 Resource Kit from Prentice Hall PTR.

The "kit" consists of a well written tutorial book and a companion CD-ROM. The book's authors (Solveig Haughland and Floyd Jones) are salty veterans in the technical training field, and it shows in the quality of the text. The CD contains the OpenOffice.org release itself, as one might expect. It provides builds for every supported platform, to include the Mac OS X developer alpha version. At the time this review was written, two minor upgrades have been made available since my book's CD-ROM was pressed. These are, naturally, available for free via the OpenOffice.org web-site. In addition to the releases, the CD includes templates, macros, and examples from the developer community. The authors provide additional templates and resources at http://www.getopenoffice.org

The first five chapters of the book are devoted to basic issues such as installation, migrating existing data, printer issues, and global setup tips. Special guidance is given to users switching over from StarOffice, or even that Redmond company's office suite. Speaking of that company, OpenOffice.org is superb at converting Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files into its own open formats. The book shows how to use the handy "AutoPilot", which can perform batch conversions of your existing data for use with OpenOffice.org's equivalent applications. Originals are kept safely intact-- AutoPilot produces converted copies. This could make a large office transition much easier, if not completely seamless.

The next six chapters cover the creation of written documents in fantastic detail. The organization of this section is quite intuitive; you'll easily learn how to create a simple letter. When you're ready to write your memoirs, you won't need to buy another book--it's all there: complex formatting options, page layout functionality, object manipulation, linking cross-references, and indexing. And don't forget office goodies like mail merges, label printing, and business cards.

Chapters 13-17 focus entirely on web-page development. Serious web designers may find this section bordering on useless, but the casual user will be able to create a home page without learning a single tag of HTML.

The next several chapters deal with Calc (a spreadsheet program), Impress (for creating presentations), and Draw ("the best drawing program you've never used," say the authors). The layout of each section follows the comprehensive example from the earlier chapters detailing OpenOffice.org's word processor, Writer. Basic topics are organized neatly along with the more advanced ones, and neither seem to get in the way of the other. Both the novice and the expert will find very little lacking from this material.

Organizations who deal frequently with databases will not be disappointed with OpenOffice.org, either. The final three chapters of the book explain how to incorporate data from any flavor database you're likely to be using in your network. Throw in an appendix on macros, and you've got one very complete tutorial masquerading as an all-in-one reference. I'm very picky when it comes to my geek shelf space, and this one gets high marks in all the important areas: comprehensive, well organized, and with a great signal-to-noise ratio.

We have learned that superior open source software alone isn't always enough to supplant the existing closed source way of doing things. However, "document it, and they will come!" The OpenOffice.org 1.0 Resource Kit will go a long way toward fulfilling that prophecy.


Reader Marcus Green sent in a review of this book as well. Here are some of his thoughts:

In addition to the document management features the book covers the more "Page Layout" style features of StarOffice such as the ability to manage columns and to place vertical text running up the page. These are features I was not even aware existed in StarOffice before I read this book.

The StarOffice companion has over 1030 pages, but it is really bigger than it sounds because it is very dense. Although it has many screen shots, plenty of use is made of text based instructions. Instead of repeating instructions, the text will often point you to the page where a concept was first explained. This does break up the flow of instructions but it also means that the book contains more information than if they had repeated the text every time it was needed.

I found the section on the graphics module useful because I had not realised how StarOffice has some slightly non-standard ways of working with menus and selections. For example I spent quite a bit of time trying to get the 3d shapes menu to pop out and show all the possible shape options. It was only on a closer reading of the text of this book did I appreciate that you need to click and hold down the mouse for a few seconds before the menu pops out.

The tone of the book comes across as being created by people who like the program rather than a creation of a faceless corporation. Thus in the graphics section they have included the amusing Moose with moving fly graphic that is used for the logo of the JavaRanch website. Here is an example of the text style from the section on macros. "Macros can do things like open a file when you do a particular task, process data, or take your grandmothers' credit cards and buy $3000 worth of cat toys." It also features a section titled "Turning Off Annoying Features," which of course is about the autoformatting and word completion.


You can purchase the OpenOffice.org Resource Kit from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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OpenOffice.org Resource Kit

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  • For anyone who doesn't know how to use an Office Suite...
    • by Hard_Code (49548) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @12:36PM (#6462306)
      And even if you don't...does anybody EVER read documentation on something as boring as an office suite? If it isn't intuitive, it should be fixed to begin with.
      • And even if you don't...does anybody EVER read documentation on something as boring as an office suite? If it isn't intuitive, it should be fixed to begin with.

        I agree to a point-- that the *basic* functionality of the office suite should be intuitive (font selection, etc). But you have to realize that many businesses rely on the advanced features of office suites. These features need to be focused around productivity (think vim, emacs) rather than intuitiveness.

        Also, look at http://www.microsoft.com/m
  • Too early? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Transient0 (175617) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @12:03PM (#6461891) Homepage
    With release 1.1 on the way, wouldn't it make sense to wait until after that release to buy a book about it?

    I wouldn't want to miss out on all the yummy 1.1 goodies and it sounds like it will be a pretty significant change.
    • With release 1.1 on the way, wouldn't it make sense to wait until after that release to buy a book about it?

      Not really.

      I use OOo and always upgrade to the latest beta releases. Several opinions. I think these are informed opinions of an OOo user...
      • From 1.1 Beta 2 to 1.1 RC1 there are unlikely to be any feature improvements.
      • From 1.1 RC1 to 1.1 final, there are unlikely to be any feature improvements.

      I have reported a number of bugs in 1.0.x and even in 1.1 beta 1, and have watched the iss

    • Re:Too early? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by javamutt (689572)
      I've had quite a bit of experience on the StarOffice side of things (which may as well be OO)... I think that while some things have changed signifcantly, the basic religion is similar enough that you culd still benefit from the book. For a lot of people brought up on MS Office, there are some new ways of ding things in OO/SO that having a book could help with. Especially page/paragraph/section/character styles. If you do complex technical writing, a bok culd definitely help make the transition.
  • Setup (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 17, 2003 @12:04PM (#6461904)
    I'd be happy with soem simple tips on scripting a setup so that "open file" points by default to a user's network drive and so that the display and toolbars are uniform within our firm. I do not relish setting up a dozen computers to make the settings match.

    Basically, scripts or config tools would be cool.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Back in the days, the Amiga had AREXX & OS/2 had REXX. These were for scripting ANY compatable application.

    Why don't we have these nowadays?!?!?!?

    Then we wouldn't need entire books like this, and could get better functionality from all our programs...
    • I don't know, but on the Mac you have AppleScript, which works great for scripting any Mac application. You can even create your own standalone applications using AppleScript and AppleScript Studio (free with Apple's dev tools).

      So maybe it's time to change platforms? ;) Especially now that OpenOffice is coming to MacOS X. It will undoubtedly support AppleScript as well (heck, it probably does already).

      • If you want to program OOo, you need to learn UNO.

        On Windows, you can program OOo from any application that works with automation. (i.e. Visual Basic, Delphi, MS Visual FoxPro, etc.)

        OOo can be programmed from any language for which a complete UNO bridge has been written. Recently Python was just added as a first-class language.

        AppleScript could have an UNO bridge written for it. (Perhaps as a scripting extension. You know what I'm talking about if you are a Mac user.) But AppleScript's typical
    • Not only was ARexx great for scripting any ARexx-aware application, but more importantly, it could be used to connect any number of such applications together (and not just with a simple pipe of data from one app to another either - a script could be performing some complex operation by tying together two, three, or more apps as a single unified whole).

      I always get the feeling that people who have never used an Amiga do not fully appreciate the kind of power that ARexx offers, so let me try to provide a s

    • Regina [sourceforge.net] is a Rexx [ibm.com] implementation for a variety of platforms, Linux included. It is very good: faithful to Cowlishaw's [ibm.com] language definition yet supporting of all the major extensions, ARexx included. Alas, *nix systems lack the AmigaOS hooks for universal scripting, but Regina does a nice job and can be used in place of all those ugly shell scripts :-)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 17, 2003 @12:07PM (#6461945)
    Heres all the possible trolls, rolled up into one mod point.

    1) OpenOffice is slow
    2) No font config support
    3) Ugly paper clip clone (the lightbulb)
    4) Uses a non standard printer library
    5) Won't work on my 386SX running Slackware 1.0
    6) I don't wan't to start a holy war here, but my linux box is taking 20 minutes to.....
    7) join the GNAA
    8) Mirror [goatse.cx]
    9) Openoffice has no footnote support
    10) My Mom says linux dosen't have any decent solitare games
    11) ???
    12) -12, troll.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      How can you forget that one? It is an alltime classic.
    • Re:Here we go again. (Score:3, Informative)

      by po8 (187055)

      2) No font config support

      I know you were just funning, but folks may want to know that the OOo and fontconfig developers are working together, and fontconfig [fontconfig.org] support is likely to appear shortly. This would be a Good Thing: many of my remaining problems with OOo are font-related.

  • by aussersterne (212916) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @12:10PM (#6461990) Homepage
    While we're on the subject of StarOffice/OpenOffice, I'm going to post a question about it here because Slashdotters are more likely to be able to anwer than those kids over at the OO forums.

    OpenOffice is able to inherit and use the toolkit/widget colors that I select in Linux/KDE. i.e. if my widgets are all brown in other apps, they are also brown in OpenOffice. However, when I am using WindowMaker or another simple managed environment rather than KDE, OpenOffice comes up in Windows NT gray and I can't seem to change that.

    I've done an "xrdb -all -edit myrsrcs.txt" from within KDE to grab all the krdb stuff and then an "xrdb myrsrcs.txt" from within WindowMaker, but that didn't help. All of my GTK/GTK2 apps look the way I want them to at this point because my .gtkrc and .gtkrc-2.0 files and relateds are all configured correctly for my color preferences... but OO doesn't seem to see these either (I haven't checked to see if OO is a GTK app at all).

    I even tried "kfmclient file:/opt/OpenOffice.org/progrms/swriter" to see if I could get the KDE colors into OO that way without actually having to be logged in to KDE, but it didn't help.

    Does anyone know how to change the widget colors in OpenOffice without having to simply log into KDE or GNOME?

    P.S. final hint: using the Tools menu is not the right answer, it contains color options for a great many things, but the menu and toolbar widgets are not among them.
    • Last I checked OpenOffice wasn't a kde application. This means that it does not use any of the kde configuration tools, nor will it be manipulated by any KDE specific configuration methods.

      I believe that OpenOffice is a java application, but I'm not going to waste too much time in verifying this. If it is JAVA, then it probably uses Swing which can be customized, but not nearly as much as say, Motif. Swing uses a pluggable look and feel, but if you wish to "roll your own" PLAF, you'd better be in it for
    • It is probably reading the KDE settings from the file ~/.kde/share/config/kdeglobals. Older versions of KDE stored them in ~/.kderc so look there as well. The file is text in the "INI" style format, so it should be possible to edit it with a text editor.

      You can also run the "kcontrol" program without running KDE and mess with the color settings in there.

  • Upgrade (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HogGeek (456673) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @12:12PM (#6462006)
    Do they mention a manner in which to upgrade an installation vs. re-install?
  • // you probably won't believe my review, so please
    // read this guy's
    #include otherreview.c
  • The more I use it (on both Linux and Windows) the more bugs and crashes I see. Granted, the more you use any particular application the more bugs you'll see - but OpenOffice Writer is the only application that I use that always seems to suprise me with an amazing crash or wild bug every single time I use it. Take for instance what happened about 5 minutes ago - when printing a document the window resized itself wildly, crashed, and the system locked up.

    It needs some real work.

    • by ebuck (585470) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @01:08PM (#6462686)
      Please respond to the OpenOffice team with your problems. Often they are already fixed, and updating your installation is all you need. However, you cannot expect them to fix something you never tell them about.

      I like open source software. I like how it works. I like how I work when I'm using it. But using open source software is a bit of a social contract. Either pay back the developers with bug reports, or it shouldn't be important enough to complain about (to anyone).

      Sometimes the bugs won't get fixed. Now THATS when you should REALLY complain!
  • by Mr. Bad Example (31092) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @12:28PM (#6462206) Homepage
    ...salty veterans...

    Worst snack food ever.

  • by squashed (664265) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @12:30PM (#6462235)
    In a revolution compared to 1.0, the new 1.1 OpenOffice RC apps open almost instantaneously, offer much improved Word import, and process some of my day-to-day recursive spreadsheets about 10x faster than before.

    Don't judge OpenOffice besed on 1.0.

    • I would echo this endorsement. The 1.1RC release is significantly more polished. Font handling seems to be much cleaner, and the package is much faster overall.
    • I'm using OpenOffice 1.1 on an optimized gentoo linux installation running on an Athlon XP 1900+ 256MB and 80GB Western Digital special edition harddrive and it still takes about 50 seconds to load for the first time if no quickstarting is used.Even after loading it still feels like a java app with slight delays in menu appearance, although I'm sure whatever parts of OO are written in java have been compiled to native code.In short, performance is STILL a major issue not to mention the UI could use some twe
      • 50 seconds to load on an Athlon 1900+? Well, there's your problem. I'm using an Athlon 2000+ and it takes me about 4 seconds, again without quickstart. I think you need a faster processor.
      • by MarcQuadra (129430) * on Thursday July 17, 2003 @01:49PM (#6463172)
        I have a similar (but lower in hardware) setup:

        Athlon 1400
        512MB RAM
        10GB Quantum Fireball IDE HD
        Gentoo Linux "-march=athlon-tbird -O3 -pipe"

        OOo takes about 5 or 6 seconds to load for me. It's a bit laggy if I leave it for a while, but it picks up to speed as I use it. I think that something is wrong with your configuration/setup since mine _should_ be about 20-30% SLOWER than yours and it's 900% faster.

        BTW, my memory usage is about 75MB with OOo loaded, not including cache or buffers.
        • I've just emerge the latest Abiword 1.99.1, and I am going to switch completely from OO to Abiword. It is lightening fast (takes well under 1 second to open, often is instantaneous), handles Word fine. OO is too slow and too sensitive to changes in JVM every time I upgrade. procman tells me Abiword is taking 13.7MB with empty document, and 20.4MB with a 2.5 page CV open. Perfect for my lightweight WP needs.

          Phillip.
      • Really? I was thinking of upgrading my K6/500, which loads it in about 25 seconds, but maybe those new-fangled CPU's aren't really faster after all.
  • We use this book (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rindeee (530084) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @12:32PM (#6462251)
    for our OpenOffice.org training classes and it is quite good. The customers/students have really given posotive feedback about it not only as a classroom textbook, but also as a reference for ongoing use. For what it's worth.

    ER
  • Some solutions. (Score:5, Informative)

    by pmsr (560617) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @12:45PM (#6462422)
    For those that complain about documents not looking the same in OO as in Microsoft Word because of the fonts, please think out of the box and consider that you don't have the exact same fonts available. The same happens with Microsoft Word if someone uses a special font you dont have in your system. Complaining about this is like complaining that water is wet or fire burns. I mean, isn't it obvious? You are replacing software, not a stinking china tea set. Now, having vented my anger, please look at

    http://avi.alkalay.net/software/msfonts/

    for a solution. Hint, just get Microsoft fontpack.

    One more thing, Microsoft supplies free viewers for Word, Excel and Powerpoint. They even run inside Wine. Google for them. I run OO with Windows 2000 and have these viewers installed, plus the fonts. What can i say? It works.

    /Pedro

  • by soullessbastard (596494) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @12:46PM (#6462434) Homepage Journal
    Mac OS X (X11) 1.0.3 Final has been out for three weeks now, and it's been out of alpha since last October. If the review is correct and the CD contains the alpha version, I think the book is just a tad out of date.

    If you're looking to get OpenOffice.org for the Mac, you should get the GM from the official download site [openoffice.org] and not use what's on the CD with this book. As the "GM" implies, there were lots of bugs fixed between the "Final Beta" and "GM", and definitely lots of serious issues were fixed since the alpha.

    If you're on another platform, you should probably check the version on the CD as well. Even though it's now being called a "legacy build", the latest stable version is 1.0.3.1 [openoffice.org] which fixes nasty printing errors in 1.0.3 on other platforms (didn't happen on the Mac! woo hoo!). The "RC" in 1.1 RC stands for "Release Candidate", so if you're thinking of going the whole way to 1.1 you may want to wait until the RC is dropped from the name.

    I guess, in short, don't buy this book just to get OpenOffice.org on a CD since you'll probably have to download a newer version anyway.

    • by ebuck (585470) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @01:18PM (#6462794)
      Considering that it usually takes months to get a book on the shelves after the last word was written, I hope we can excuse the inclusion of old software and old reference to "upcoming items" which have already been released.

      Remember, there's marketing, proofreading, typesetting, printing, binding, warehousing,
      distribution, and shelving which all have to be done before you invest your time and money by buying it and reading it. Technology continually speeds up some of these steps, but it will never be automatic. It's just the price you pay for a printed book.

      The web can provide you with the latest info, distro, whatever; however, it is a rare website which pours as much effort into one of its articles as a good author / editor / publisher is willing to put into a book.
  • by r_j_prahad (309298) <r_j_prahad AT hotmail DOT com> on Thursday July 17, 2003 @12:52PM (#6462508)
    ...we use OpenOffice to repair hopelessly munged-up Microsoft Word documents - which happens more often than anybody is willing to admit. I used to fix all the formatting fubars with WordPerfect but the two products have diverged so much in the last two years that we've discontinued using WordPerfect for anything. Anyway, everytime I get a user who asks me why she can't get her headers and columns to do such-and-such I snarf a copy off his/her server, import it into OO, undo the hideousness (sp?) and export it back out. And it generally stays fixed, even after subsequent exposures to MS Word, plus it's a lot smaller.

    Thanks to Microsoft, OpenOffice looks pretty damned good.
    • After flirting with the old staroffice, and code-weavers wine-office I decided to install
      the newopenoffice and I was amazed at how mature the suite is.

      You mentioned that you import from word and then export back to word and that
      it stays fixed without any problems. Now, that sounds impressive. I couldnt figure out
      how to export back to word (export doesnt have MS-format option). How do you do it?
      I am using the Beta2 version .. maybe this feature is only in the 1.1rc ?
    • I gained major kudos at work for fixing a 3MB spreadsheet that caused Excel to crash on opening. I loaded it in OOo, saved it, and then it would load in Excel.
  • by Percy_Blakeney (542178) on Thursday July 17, 2003 @01:19PM (#6462811) Homepage
    Am I the only one who is sick of completely non-critical reviews of books? Many of the book reviews seem to be "this is what the book said," rather than "this is what I thought of the book."

    This review, in particular, almost seems like it was copied straight off of Amazon or something. Some of the quotes seem to come from a marketing firm rather than an independent critic:

    Whether you are completely new to OpenOffice.org or just moving from its predecessor StarOffice, you'll want to take a look at OpenOffice.org 1.0 Resource Kit from Prentice Hall PTR.

    If only there were some sort of meta-moderation for book reviews...

    OpenOffice.org Resource Kit Review (Score: -1, Uninformative)

    • I typically don't waste time reviewing books I don't like. I suspect most reviewers share this behavior.

    • I think reviews like this are not so much uncritical as inept [slashdot.org]. If Eater was out to con us into buying books, he'd write the ignorant BS you see in press releases and on dust jackets. Instead, he tried to endorse a book he likes, but was unable to explain why he liked it.

      OK, not everybody's cut out to be a book reviewer. But what are the Slashdot editors for if not to filter out content-free submissions? They seem less and less concerned with doing this.

  • Speaking of that company, OpenOffice.org is superb at converting Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files into its own open formats.

    Superb? Uh...no. I recently built a new computer and rather than pay for (or try to bootleg) a copy of Office, I downloaded and installed OO 1.0.3.

    I've since tried to open several different Word 2000 documents in OO and not one has converted properly. The worst one was a brochure I did for my wife's jewelry business--a standard two-page three-column brochure with some imbedded

    • Every vendor of an MS Office alternative has set of documents that convert easily and "prove" that interoperability is not an problem. But converting a few samples proves nothing, even if the samples are "typical". In the real world, you can't interoperate unless you have a foolproof filter that's general. And people refuse to see how difficult that is. It'd basically require a breakthrough in AI!

      I'd like to see OpenOffice succeed, I really would. It's got so much about it that's cool. I'm particularly an

  • I find the OO draw program nigh unto useless. This doesn't mean that I know of a good replacement, just that it's so bad it's unuseable.

    I feel guilty about panning this module so strongly when I'm not offering to help fix it. But my attention is elsewhere. I have, however, bought a separate machine and Deneba Canvas, so I don't have a real need for the OOo drawing module. But if I had to use this, I'd be quite desperate indeed.
  • Holly crap is it the most complex thing I have ever seen with the exception of VTK. THis review does not lie when it says the material feels like its more then 1033 pages and is very dense. Its more complex then even the whole entire java2 api.

    Their is a VB like macro language and uno(unified network object )set of api's for use in OO's VB, C++, and Java. Uno is talked about most. Also com/ole is supported on the windows version and the online version of the book at openoffice.org has great detail into it.
  • Can you please spare us "reviews" that are just a list of chapter summaries? Yes, we need to know what the book covers, but a very short list of topics is actually more informative. A technical book review should cover not just what the book explains, but how it explains, and why the reviewer thinks this is good or bad.

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