Many folks may be a bit apprehensive about making the switch
from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice.org because of the learning curve. Sure the
cost difference, several hundred bucks vs. free, is very, very attractive! But
is that savings going to be eaten away by training costs and lost productivity?
Fortunately, the answer is no! OpenOffice.org 2.0’s cadre of open source
developers has spent a great deal of time in an attempt to make the two office
suites as alike as possible in both the feature set and more importantly in the
user interface. And, they’ve succeeded!
Realistically speaking, it will take some time to make the
transition as many features and settings are named differently and are in
different locations, but the names and locations aren’t too far of a stretch of
the imagination and it’s easy to make the connections. As such, it won’t take
nearly as much time as you might think for seasoned Microsoft Office users to
train themselves how to use OpenOffice.org 2.0.
One of the most commonly used applications in an office
suite is the word processor and while Microsoft Word has all but tied up the
top spot in this application category, OpenOffice.org 2.0’s Writer could very
easily unseat Word and take over the throne. In the arena of word processing tasks,
feature by feature, Writer can match or better Word in every way really
matters. With this challenge in mind, let’s take a look at performing some
common Word tasks in OpenOffice.org 2.0’s Writer.
Creating custom templates and styles
In most business environments, all documents are based on
templates, which can contain font settings, formatting, or boilerplate text, so
that they all have a similar look and feel. For example, you might use a
letterhead template for your company correspondence to make sure all letters
from your company have a standard look. Similarly, you might use templates for
memos, faxes, legal documents, or marketing materials. To ensure that the
formatting in the document based on your templates remains consistent you can
create styles and save them in your templates.
As such, creating templates and styles is a pretty common
task that you’ll want to perform in Writer. Fortunately, this operation is
quite straight-forward in Writer.
To begin, just open a new document using the default
template. Once you have a blank document open, create a complete mockup of the
type information that a document based on this template should contain. For
example, you should include titles, headings, sample body text, as well as any
boilerplate text. As you do, go ahead apply all the formatting you’ll want to
each element such as font settings and spacing.
Now, pull down the File menu, select the Templates | Save
command. When you see the Templates dialog box, as shown in Figure A, type a
name for your custom template in the New Template text box and click OK.
|When you see the Templates dialog box, you’ll type a name for your custom
To create the styles based on the formatting that you’ve
applied to the elements in your template, pull down the Format menu and select
the Styles and Formatting command. When you see the Styles And Formatting
dialog box appear, you’ll see that the default display is showing the Automatic
And Paragraph Styles category, as shown in Figure B.
|The Styles and Formatting dialog box allows you to create new styles as
well as see and edit existing styles.
To create a style, select the element in your mockup from
which you want to create a style. Then, click the New Style From Section button
(see the pointer in Figure B) and select the like named command to bring up the
Create Style dialog box, as shown in Figure C. Then, type an appropriate name
in the Style Name text box and click OK. Repeat these steps for each element
and close the Styles and Formatting dialog box. Then, save the template
again–overwriting the previous version in the process.
|Since you’ve already formatted the element, all you really have to do to
create the style is give it a name.
To complete the template, you may want to remove the mockup
text while leaving any boilerplate text in place. To do so, position the cursor
at the beginning of a line of mockup text that you want to remove and carefully
press the delete key to delete each character one-by-one, but do not delete the
line. (If you delete the line you’ll remove the style from the template.)
To complete the operation, save the template again by
pulling down the File menu, and selecting the Templates | Save command –you’ll
again overwrite the previous version in the process. Then, close and discard
To use your new template and styles, go to File | New |
Templates And Documents. Select the Template icon, double-click the My
Templates category, and then select your template, as shown in Figure D.
|Once you’ve created your template, you can access it easily from the My
templates category in the Templates and Documents dialog box.
Creating tables with the Table toolbar
Tables provide you with a way to create spreadsheet-like
items in word processing documents. Tables can also be used to improve the
layout of a page. Regardless of how you plan to use tables, you’ll discover
that Writer provides you with everything that you need on the Table toolbar.
Of course, you can create tables by using the Insert | Table
command on the Table menu or by clicking the Table button on the toolbar and
using the miniature grid; however, you can make the entire operation a breeze
by enabling the Table toolbar. To do so, go to View | Toolbars | Table.
Once the Table toolbar is visible, use its Table button to
create your table. You can then use the buttons on the Table toolbar, as shown
in Figure E, to easily perform many of the common table operations, such as
inserting and deleting rows and columns, sorting, formatting, merging and
splitting cells, as well as adding borders and color. You’ll still find the
same commands as well as additional commands on the Table menu.
|The Table Toolbar provides you with one-click access to most of the tools
you’ll need to create and format your tables.
Performing a Mail Merge operation
Sending a form letters to a large number of clients either via
a paper copy or e-mail is another common task that you’ll want to perform in
Writer. To help you manage this type of operation, you’ll want to take
advantage of Writer’s Mail Merge Wizard, which you access from the Tools menu.
The data source, which contains the list of names and
addresses the letter is to be sent to, can be a database, a text file, or even
a spreadsheet. Let’s assume that you’ll be working from a spreadsheet and see
how the Mail Merge Wizard works.
Once the Mail Merge Wizard appears on the screen, as shown
in Figure F, you’ll be prompted to select the starting document, or form
letter, which in most cases will be the current document. You’ll then select
the document type, Letter or E-mail message.
|You can use the Mail Merge Wizard to automate bulk mailings.|
When you get to the third screen in the wizard, as shown in
Figure G, you’ll perform three operations: First you’ll pick the data source by
choosing the Select Address List button. If you’ve already selected a data
source, this button will be titled Select Different Address List.
|You’ll perform three individual steps in the Insert Address Block page of
the Mail Merge Wizard.
While it’s listed as number 3 on this page, you’ll next want
to click the Match Fields button in order to make sure the address data in the
data source correctly matches the address elements that the Wizard has
selected. As you can see in Figure H, the Match Fields dialog box provides you
with drop-down text boxes and a preview window, to make this task easy as
|The Match Fields dialog box makes it easy to make sure the address data in
the data source correctly matches the wizard’s address elements.
You can then specify how you want the address block to be
formatted by clicking the More button and then clicking the Edit button to
bring up the Edit Address Block dialog box, as shown in Figure I.
|You can insert address elements and then use the arrow buttons to set
That’s pretty much all there is to the setup of the mail
merge and if you’ve created a well thought out form letter to begin with, you
can click Next several times to move down to Step 8, as shown in Figure J. At
this point you can save or print the mail merge document.
|In the last step, you can save or print the merged document.|
Exporting to PDF format
If you want to electronically share the document that you’ve
created in Writer with anyone in your business or on the Internet and don’t
want to allow then to alter the layout or text, You can take advantage of
Writer’s ability to export the document as a standard Portable Document Format
(PDF) file. Just click the Export Directly As PDF button on the standard
toolbar, type a filename in the Export dialog box, and click the Save button.
You can then copy the PDF file to any location you want.
If you’ll be e-mailing the PDF, save yourself a step and
select the Send | Document as PDF command from the File menu. You’ll then see
the PDF Options dialog box, as shown in Figure K, and can optimize the PDF file
for sending via email. Writer will then launch your email application, create
new message, and then attach the PDF.
|Writer makes it easy to save your text document as a PDF file and attach it
to an e-mail message all in one step.
A good Word replacement
When it comes to creating documents, you’ll discover that
Writer provides you with everything that you’ve come to know and love in Word.
In this article, we’ve taken a look at performing some other common Word tasks
in OpenOffice.org 2.0’s Writer.