|OpenOffice.org Resource Kit|
|author||Solveig Haugland, Floyd Jones|
|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.