Software

Creating an Outlook Express killer the StarOffice way, part 2

Bryan Pfaffenberger explores more of StarMail's hidden potential, focusing on the nonobvious capabilities of the quirky Address Book.

As you learned in the previous Daily Drill Down in this series, StarOffice has many more capabilities than meet the eye, which is a nice way of saying that the program's user interface has more than a few shortcomings. In particular, StarMail, the StarOffice e-mail module, provides no obvious way to perform tasks that any e-mail client ought to perform, such as inserting your signature in new messages automatically. Those who don't give up on StarMail in disgust eventually learn that the program actually can do most of the things that it ought to do; it's just that it's harder than the dickens to find out how. The previous Daily Drill Down spilled the beans on lots of carefully hidden or completely undocumented StarMail procedures, including ways to add signatures to messages automatically and much more.

Continuing with these themes, this Daily Drill Down explores more of StarMail's hidden potential. The focus this time is on the program's quirky Address Book. You'll learn how to import contact data from other applications’ contact lists, how to search LDAP servers and add retrieved records to the Address Book automatically, how to print your Address Book, and more. The theme throughout is the nonobvious nature of StarOffice procedures. Much of what follows required a good deal of exploring, fussing, newsgroup searching, and accidental discovery before I was able to perform the procedures successfully. Read on and you'll save yourself a good deal of time and trouble!
This Daily Drill Down refers to version 5.2 of StarOffice, which is much more stable—and capable—than previous versions. If you haven't already upgraded, visit the official site to download the new version.
Importing contact data from Outlook Express
StarMail's Address Book is difficult to love. It's implemented with StarOffice's quirky database module, StarBase, and isn't particularly easy to use. Worse, its native data format, dBASE, isn't standards-compliant. Most e-mail programs now store contact information according to the vCard standard, which is maintained by the Internet Mail Consortium, or the LDIF format, which is part of the LDAP protocol suite.

The nonstandards-compliant data format isn't a problem, necessarily, if the program can import and export standards-compliant formats. And here's the good news: StarOffice 5.2 can import and export vCard-compliant data, and most other contact-management programs can export data in that format, too. This means that you can import your contact data into StarOffice's Address Book from whatever application you're now using. You can make use of this capability to import contact management data from Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Outlook Express, Eudora, or any other e-mail program that can export to vCard files, which are automatically assigned the .vcf suffix. With Outlook Express version 5, you must export each contact individually; apparently, Microsoft wants to make it as difficult as possible to switch to another application. Thanks, Redmond.

This is an important plus for the new 5.2 version and reason enough to upgrade, if you haven't already. In previous versions of StarMail, importing vCard-compliant contact databases was nothing short of a nightmare. You had to convert the vCard database to dBASE format and import the database into StarMail. If this sounds easy, bear in mind that the unfortunate souls who attempted this found that they had to tweak the dBASE field characteristics so that they matched the StarBase database configuration. In other words, they had many hours of happy, diverting fun (I'm kidding).

To import your contact information into the StarMail Address Book, follow these steps:
  1. In your current application, export your contact information to a vCard-compatible file. Most e-mail programs offer this export option.
  2. In StarOffice, open Explorer, if necessary, and click the Explorer Group button.
  3. In the Explorer group, click the plus sign next to Address Book to reveal the available options.
  4. Click the plus sign next to Tables, if necessary.
  5. Right-click Address and choose Import vCard from the pop-up menu.
  6. Select the *.vcf file you want to import and click OK.
  7. To view the information you've imported, choose Edit on the StarOffice menu bar and choose Address Book.

Importing contacts from Netscape's address book
Netscape Communicator for Linux, version 4.7, exports contact data in LDIF (LDAP Data Interchange Format) files, which StarMail can't import. The Windows and Mac OS versions can also export in comma-separated value (CSV) and plain text files, but these formats won't do you much good with StarMail, either, unless you're willing to spend hours reformatting the data so that you can import it into the Address Book database. What's the solution? It isn't elegant, but it works: On a Windows system, use Outlook or Outlook Express to import your Netscape contacts, and then export them, as described earlier, in the vCard format.

Importing contacts from other sources
If you're using a program that can't export contact data in vCard format, check whether or not it's possible to export to a dBASE or CSV file. You can then open this file with StarCalc, convert it to a database, and save it with the .dbf extension. You'll have to fuss with field names and sequence, but once you've done so, you can copy and paste the imported records into the Address Book data file.

Getting contact data from an LDAP server
If you're working for an organization that maintains a “white pages” address server (also called an LDAP server), you can search this server's database and import retrieved contact data into your StarMail Address Book. LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) is a well-defined standard by which Internet or intranet clients can query contact information databases. LDAP World is an excellent place to learn more about LDAP.

StarMail can work with LDAP servers, but be forewarned: The Address Book's layout is sufficiently brain-dead (sorry, there's just no other word for it) that much essential information won't be downloaded from the server. You'll get names and phone numbers, and perhaps a little additional data, but that's it, generally. If you take a look at StarMail's Address Book, you'll see that the Business page—certainly the most important one for most users—omits the business address; space is provided only for the contact's home address. What's worse, you can't fix this problem by changing the structure of the underlying Address database; if you do, the Address Book dialog box, accessed via the Edit menu, won't work at all, and you won't be able to search for LDAP information. If you need more information than StarMail can import from your LDAP server, you may wish to access the information using Microsoft Outlook or Outlook Express and then export the complete records to vCard files, as described in the previous section.

StarMail's shortcomings in this area provide ample testimony to one of the major underlying problems with StarOffice's architecture. Vital configuration settings are buried in binary code. There should be a text-only configuration file somewhere that enables users to specify the field names to use when searching LDAP databases. Often, LDAP servers implement their own nonstandard field names, so it's sometimes impossible to get all of the information out of an LDAP database unless you can tweak the search parameters. Netscape enables users to do this, albeit in a nonobvious way; there's a configuration file that must be edited manually—but once that's done, all of an organization's users can be given the customized file, and they can take full advantage of LDAP. According to Sun's StarOffice Knowledge Base, there's no way to alter StarOffice's LDAP search parameters.

Obtaining the LDAP server information
To configure StarMail to work with your organization's LDAP server, you'll need:
  • The Internet address of your organization's LDAP server (which will be something like ldap.mycompany.com).
  • The search root specification for this server. My university's LDAP server requires the following search root to be specified: o=university of virginia,c=us.
  • The server's port number, if it differs from the default LDAP port (389).

Configuring StarOffice to work with your LDAP server
To configure StarOffice to work with the LDAP server made available by your organization, do the following:
  1. Choose Tools | Options.
  2. Click the plus sign next to Internet, if necessary, to display the Internet options.
  3. Choose LDAP Server. You'll see the LDAP Server options.
  4. Click New to open the New LDAP Server dialog box.
  5. In the Description text box, type a brief description of the server.
  6. In the LDAP Server text box, type the server's Internet address.
  7. In the Search Root text box, type the search root, if any, that was given to you by your organization's support staff.
  8. In the Port Number text box, type the port number, if your organization's support staff told you that it differs from the default (389).
  9. In the Maximum Matches list box, choose the maximum number of matches you want to see for a given search. The default is 100. For unlimited matches, type 0.
  10. Click OK to confirm your LDAP options.

Adding addresses from the LDAP server
Once you've configured StarMail to work with your organization's LDAP server, you can quickly build up your Address Book by searching the LDAP database. When you find a match, you can add the displayed information to the Address Book by clicking the Add button, as described below.

To add addresses from the LDAP database, follow these steps:
  1. Choose Edit | Address Book.
  2. Click the Search button, and choose your organization's LDAP server from the drop-down menu. If you don't see the server listed, refer to the previous section.
  3. In the Name text box, type the name of the person you're searching for. You can also enter additional identifying information.
  4. Click Start to begin the search. If there's no match, you'll see the message "No matching records found." If one or more records match the search information you supplied, you'll see the records in the Address Book format. Note that these records are not automatically added to the Address Book!
  5. To add one of the retrieved records, display the record and click the Add icon at the bottom of the Address Book.
  6. Click End to close the search and return to your Address Book listings.

Adding Address Book entries from messages
Here's another nonobvious trick. When you're viewing a mail message, note that e-mail addresses are shown like URLs (blue text with underlining). To add any highlighted e-mail address to your Address Book, right-click the e-mail address and choose Add To Address Book.

Inserting e-mail addresses in a message
Once you've built up a good list of contacts in your StarMail Address Book, you can insert e-mail addresses into a New Mail header in several ways. Before inserting the address, choose the type of addressing (To, Copy, or Blind Copy) in the drop-down list to the right of the Recipient Address text box. Then use one of the following methods to insert the e-mail address into the header:
  • Start typing the e-mail address. StarMail will complete it automatically.
  • Start typing the person's last name. StarMail will complete the e-mail address automatically.
  • Click the Address Book icon to display the Address Book in the Beamer. Point to the row header button next to the address you want, and drag and drop the address into the Address Recipient text box.
  • Choose Edit | Address Book. Display the contact's data record, and click AutoMail.

Printing your Address Book
Here's another procedure that's quite possible to perform with StarMail, but virtually impossible to discover anywhere within the program's confusing interface: Address Book printing. The key lies in realizing that the Address Book is a database and that you need to create a database report to print your Address Book. If this procedure sounds difficult, rest assured; there's an AutoPilot wizard that makes the job a cinch, and it does a very nice job of formatting the records.

To create a report format for printing your Address Book, do the following:
  1. In Explorer, click the Explorer group.
  2. Click the plus sign next to Address Book, if necessary, to display the subfolders.
  3. Right-click Reports, point to New, and choose Report. You'll see the AutoPilot dialog box for creating reports. The data source, Address, is automatically selected.
  4. Click Next. On the Table Selection page, select the fields you want to print.
  5. Click Next. On the Structure page, you can organize the report format by changing the sequence in which fields print.
  6. Click Next. On the Sorting page, next to 1, choose the field to use as the primary sort key. Click AZ to change the sort sequence, if you wish. You can define up to four sort keys.
  7. Click Next to open the Style Selection page. You can choose the alignment (portrait or landscape) and style (table or column).
  8. Click Next. You'll then see the Format Style page, where you can choose from several preformatted styles.
  9. Click Next. On the Create page, check Save Report and click Create.
  10. In Explorer, double-click the report you just created so that you can view it on screen.

Every time you open the report format, you'll see an up-to-date list of the records in your Address Book. To print the report, choose File | Print.

Onward and upward...
You're on your way to creating an Outlook Express killer for Linux, and that means, eventually, you'll tackle the least-known and least-documented (arguably) of StarOffice's modules, the surprisingly capable StarSchedule. But you aren't finished with StarMail just yet. In the next Daily Drill Down of this series, you'll learn how to configure StarMail's rules so that they filter incoming messages to mail folders, along with some other neat tricks.
The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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