OpenOffice Tips: Writer, Calc and Impress

By Drew Robb | Posted July 20, 2004

Making the switch from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice can save you a lot of money on licensing fees, and it isn't difficult &#151 most people get used to the changes quickly. But if you've been using MS Office for the best part of a decade and learned a few of its tricks along the way, you may find yourself baffled about how to do certain tasks in OpenOffice. Here are a few tips on using Writer, Calc and Impress.

Writer
Writer, the word processing program in OpenOffice, is similar to MS Word in most respects. Take a look at all the icons at the top of the page. You'll the same familiar faces &#151 print, save, open document, new, undo, fonts, type size and so on. But Writer includes a few additions, too, with the best being Easy PDF Conversion. It's a snap to convert a document into a PDF that the recipient can open with Acrobat Reader.

Writer handles a few tasks differently, though, like the examples listed below. Here's how to deal with them:

  • Word count: Go to File and click on Properties and Statistics, you'll see the word count.
  • Highlighting: Change a highlighting color or un-highlight something by right clicking on the Highlight icon. Hold the pressure down for a moment, and a selection of colors appears.
  • Fonts: OpenOffice gives you a decent selection, without getting extravagant like MS Office. OpenOffice offers the key ones such as Times New Roman, Verdana, Arial, Courier New, Garamond and Tahoma.
  • Finding features: OpenOffice lists most features in the same place as MS Office, but not all. For example: You'll find templates in the File menu, tables in the Insert menu and collaboration features in the Edit menu.
  • Numbering/font corruption: Anyone who's ever used Word is familiar with hassles with numbering and fonts. For instance, you cut and paste text into a document and then as you edit the document, the fonts change, the text goes bold and so on. OpenOffice reduces this confusion significantly, and also cuts down on trouble related to automatic numbering sequences.
  • Grammar: don't bother looking for a grammar checker. OpenOffice doesn't have one.
  • Paste: One problem with Writer is that when you paste text from the Web into a document, it automatically puts it in a separate box. There's probably a workaround for it, but we haven't found it yet.

Calc Spreadsheets
Calc, the spreadsheet program in OpenOffice contains most of Excel's familiar functions. With it, you can make lists; calculate groups of numbers and sort data. It's simple to manage columns and rows, sort data, take care of addressing, inserting graphics, creating charts and formatting. Still, there are a few differences you need to know:

  • Calc has a row limit of 32,000 rows, about half the limit of Excel.
  • If you want text to wrap within a cell, click on Format and then Cells. Right click the cell, find Properties then the Alignment tab. You have to then check Automatic line break.
  • Formulas from Excel worksheets often don't work in Calc. The usual reason is that Calc uses semi-colons between arguments, instead of commas.

OpenOffice Calc
OpenOffice Calc replaces MS Office Excel's spreadsheet capabilities.

Impressed by Impress
Impress is the OpenOffice presentation alternative to PowerPoint, and if you've used MS Office, you'll find the transition to Impress fairly straightforward. This program makes it very easy to create slides, outlines, notes, handouts and slideshows. Here are a few differences and tips:

  • If you want to share your documents or use them at tradeshows, save them in Microsoft PowerPoint format. Go to File and Save As and choose .ppt as the document type.
  • If you create presentations in OpenOffice, save it as a .ppt file and open it in Microsoft Office, you may lose a couple of features. In particular, you may have to fix the slide number at the bottom corner as well as the line spacing, which sometimes gets scrambled.
  • If your presentations don't need to be revised by others, the easiest workaround is to click the PDF conversion icon at the top of the page and send people your presentations in PDF format.
  • Some new users create a slide and then can't figure out how to start the next one. Click Insert Slide or click View Toolbars Presentation so you have easy access to the necessary icons.

OpenOffice Impress
Create business presentations with OpenOffice's Impress.

You'll find a great introduction to Impress from the OpenOffice site. You can find answers to any other questions you have using Impress's built-in Help system. For more advanced information, try this Linux Migration site. It'll help you learn to add animation to slides, create fancy slide transitions and how to print multiple slides per page.

R U Compatible?
In general, you won't find many compatibility issues between Microsoft Office and OpenOffice. But you should be aware of certain issues such as bullet points translating strangely, slight formatting glitches or unusual characters appearing differently. Here are a few suggestions and cautions to avoid such issues:

    • Do not use the native OpenOffice file format. If you do, and you need to share documents, most people will not be able to open them, since MS Office does not yet support OpenOffice files. Maybe one day it will, but until then, use the Save As function to save your documents in the MS Office equivalent. In Writer, for example, save documents as Word (doc) or Rich Text Format (rtf).
    • MS Word forms don't translate well into Writer &#151 particularly when it comes to fonts. If you have a database full of forms and want to open them in OpenOffice, beware. Perform trial runs first and see how it works out.
    • Macros don't translate well, either since OpenOffice doesn't support internal macros. If you use macros frequently and can't live without them, consider sticking with MS Office.
    • Keep your format similar to Office. If you do, you will experience relatively few issues moving files from OpenOffice to MS Office. In Writer, for instance, use fonts that you know to be in MS Office. Otherwise you can expect paragraph length, page justification and general document formatting to change.

Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow's Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.

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