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Extending OpenOffice.org
Date: 5 Jun 2010 / Author: SeanParsons / Views: 40476 / Comments: 7
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Everyone has heard the old saying "lies, damn lies, and statistics", well statistically OpenOffice.org is used somewhere between 0.2% and 22% depending as to where you live. (these statistics can be found at Webmasterpro.de). This leaves a lot of people saying, "Huh?!?". So I will resolve to discuss OOo adoption anecdotally. The first class of pharmacy students I taught 4 years a go had never heard of OpenOffice.org prior to me using it for a presentation, but this past month (May 2010) I had several students email me their pharmacy law papers as ODTs. The reasons for this increased adoption could be due to multiple reasons such as alternatives being perceived as bloated, slow, and expensive or the increased number of students I have using alternative operating systems where OOo has a native port or maybe even the fact that they find their pharmacy professor so darn cool that they want to be just like him and run OOo as well. As biased as I am towards myself, I seriously doubt it's that last reason but I am seeing more and more OOo use. My intention with this article is not to proselytize OOo, but instead to show some good ways to extend the use of OOo.

FONTS

At the heart of any document are the fonts. OOo will take advantage of whatever fonts you have installed both system-wide and locally under your specific user account. Pixel for pixel the best looking fonts out there for professional documents are the Red Hat Liberation Fonts. Some Linux distributions come with those fonts preinstalled (Liberation Mono, Liberation Sans, and Liberation Serif) and if they are not preinstalled check your repositories. If they are not in your repositories or you are using MS Windows or Mac OS X you can download them here.

If you enjoy Liberation Serif as much as I do, you may want to change it to be your default font for whenever you start a new document. You can set the default font in Tools > Options > OpenOffice.org Writer > Basic Fonts. Below is an animated GIF demonstrating this process.

ooofontdefault.gif

Another concern with using an alternative office suite is compatibility with MS Office. Overall, OOo does an excellent job of this, but you may need to install some common Microsoft fonts to make documents look correct. If you are using MS Windows or Mac OS X you don't need to worry about it as MS core fonts (Andale Mono, Arial Black, Arial, Comic Sans MS, Courier New, Georgia, Impact, Times New Roman, Trebuchet, Verdana, and Webdings) are usually preinstalled. Many Linux and NIX distributions have these fonts in their repositories (Ubuntu's package is called ttf-mscorefonts-installer) but if you still can't find them you can download them here. Also, with the introduction of MS Office 2007 there came some new fonts on the scene (Calibri, Cambria, Candara, Consola, Constantia, and Corbel). Only those running MS Office 2007 or MS Windows Vista or later gained these fonts. All other operating systems can grab those fonts here.

Additionally not everyone uses the same fonts in their documents. This can make for formatting errors and visually unappealing documents. There is an OpenOffice.org extension that can help with this problem called "TestFonts". TestFonts searches for all the font faces used in a writer document and compares it with the fonts available on the system. It provides reporting for missing font faces, all used fonts and provides statistics on available system fonts. You can look for font names from the report. The dialog is modal with a zoom button now. You can download TestFonts at: http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/project/TestFonts. To add the extension, you'll need to use the Extension Manager in OOo. Open the Extension Manager via Tools > Extension Manager. Click the "Add" button, select the extension in the file chooser dialog and click "OK". You may need to accept a license or agree to replace an existing version of an extension. Below is an animated GIF demonstrating how to install an extension.

oooextension.gif

Lastly, when it comes to fonts they can mean the difference between an average document/presentation or something that really grabs everyone's attention. There are a number of font collections out there. I have assembled a collection of my favorite fonts and simply call the package Fun Fonts. You can find this package in both TAR.GZ and DEB packages here.

DICTIONARIES

After obtaining some nice fonts to make your words look good, we should also be concerned with the words themselves. I used to get really frustrated with spell check in anything that I typed for class as all the medical terminology and medication names were underlined in red and I was constantly double-checking whether or not I spelled anything correctly. Then I discovered OpenMedSpel. OpenMedSpel includes nearly 50,000 medical terms ranging from abdominis to zygomatic, which allowed me to concentrate on my work instead of looking up words in my Taber's and the Drug Facts and Comparison. You can grab the OpenMedSpel extension at http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/en/project/OMS. There are also a number of other useful dictionaries available for OOo at http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/en/dictionaries.

linguist.png Even with OpenMedSpel, I still had quite a few words in my handouts and presentations that couldn't be found in the dictionaries I had installed. Any profession probably has enough of its own industry specific lingo that isn't found in a dictionary that it would be useful to add a large number of words all at once to your dictionary. The Linguist extension can help with this. Linguist was originally written to provide an easy way for users to create a list of new candidate words to the existing spellcheck dictionary for their language. Once installed it should show up on the main toolbar between Tools and Windows. If you go to Linguist > List unrecognized Words, you will get a list of all the words from your document that are not recognized during spellchecking. The extension has been enhanced with commands for making complete lists of all words in a text document - either as an alphabetical list or sorted after word frequency - and with a readability calculating function that expresses readability in a unit called Lix. I ran Lingust on a set of notes I typed up for a short 4 week class I recently taught and even with multiple dictionaries installed it came back with a list containing words like alligation, Ambien, and Aminosyn-RF all the way to troprostenil and ung. You can grab the Linguist extension at http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/en/project/Linguist.

APPEARANCE

The most significant item when preparing documents, presentations, and spreadsheets is the appearance of the final product. While fonts are important you'll want more than that. You will want nice templates and good clip-art. The default templates may not cover the range of things you're looking for. I have created my own set of 18 templates (11 ooimpress, 1 oodraw, 4 oowriter, and 2 oocalc). These templates can be added as an extension making it very easy to integrate them. You can add my template pack from here.

Clip art is also a useful way to add some excitement to a document. Clker.com provides online royalty free public domain clip art and they have an extension to better integrate it with OOo. The clker.com OpenOffice.org addon provides tight integration with clker.com by linking the cliparts you choose and save to your clipart basket will then appear in the extension window inside OOo. Almost all their cliparts are in ODG, SVG, and PNG so you don't have to worry about compatibility issues. You may get this extension here: http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/project/clker_com.

Lastly, in the appearance category I would like to mention CropOOo. Sometimes you may have an image that needs cropped, but you don't want to use your photo manipulation software first. CropOOo allows you to crop images in oowriter, ooimpress, oodraw, and oocalc. You can download it at http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/node/460.

EDUCATION

As a health care worker turned educator OOo has a lot of potentially useful extensions with tools to increase the ease of inserting formulas, and tools to help students learn vocabulary.

Related to all that industry specific lingo I previously mentioned, I need my students to learn a lot of terminology and honestly flashcards are a great way to achieve that. Sometimes you need a good way to make flashcards more exciting and interactive. OpenCards is an OOo extension that does just that using presentation slides. The basic idea of OpenCards is to use slide-titles as flashcard fronts and the slide contents as their backs. Based on state-of-the-art memorization and scheduling algorithms OpenCards will help anyone learn a set of flashcards. You can grab OpenCards at http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/en/project/OpenCards.

I have always known that many of my readers are hardcore geeks and nerds; with that in mind I would like to talk about the Dmaths extension. If you have tried typing in formulas for people to read in math and science papers, than you have found the frustration that is the formula editor in OOo. Dmaths makes this much simpler, just look at the animated GIF below to get an idea of how much easier it is to enter formulas using Dmaths.

dmaths.gif

You can grab Dmaths at http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/en/project/Dmaths. To install it you'll first have to extract the ZIP file before installing it via OOo's extension manager.

MISCELLANEOUS USEFUL EXTENSIONS

The next couple of extensions are things that most people will find useful as both PDFs and barcodes are fairly ubiquitous these days.

We've all been sent a PDF from someone be it a professor, a student, or a business associate and we realize something minor needs changed. A good tool for handling this is Sun's PDF Import Extension. The PDF Import Extension allows you to import and modify PDF documents. PDF documents are imported in Draw to preserve the layout and to allow basic editing. This is the perfect solution for changing dates, numbers or small portions of text with a minimum loss of formatting information for simple formatted documents. No need to hug me for pointing out this extension, just buy me a draft the next time you run into me at a pub. You can grab this extension at http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/en/project/pdfimport.

isbn.pngBarcodes are so common today that nearly everyone has use for them. The barcode extension for OOo makes for an easy way to integrate barcodes into your files. To the right is an example barcode I made using this extension. You can grab this extension at http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/en/project/barcode. To use his extension you'll need to launch oodraw and then from the main tool bar go Insert > Barcode. From there you can choose your type of barcode and enter your barcode number.

THE CLOUD

Ordinarily I hold that anyone that wants to talk to you about cloud computing is trying to sell you something. Despite that I'm going to talk about a great way to sink your OOo files with the clouds. There are several good options out there; my better three-quarters and I share documents via Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com/). The Dropbox client enables users to drop any file into a designated folder that is then synced to the cloud and to any other of the user's computers and devices with the Dropbox client. Users may also upload files manually through a web browser.

Another good way to backup your documents in the clouds and ensure access to them anywhere you have a web connection is to use the OpenOffice.org2GoogleDocs extension. It allows you to export, update and import your documents to and from Google Docs, Zoho and WebDAV servers. Of great importance is how ridiculously easy this extension is to use. Check it out at http://extensions.services.openoffice.org/en/project/ooo2gd.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

OpenOffice.org has proven itself very extendable and configurable through extensions and various other add-ons. Hopefully, I've given you something to think about with respect to the things you can do with OOo, or at least provided a tip to simplify your life. I would love to know your thoughts about ways to extend OpenOffice.org, please leave a comment below.

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Comments: 7

1. Kokosh | 6 Jun 2010 - 07:51

This is a nice post, thanks for the info. I'm looking into Dmaths now, it was what I needed.

2. | 6 Jun 2010 - 11:11

Excellent post, thank you.

3. | 9 Jun 2010 - 08:56

I was looking for an article like this with some tips on openoffice. Thank you very much for sharing this article.

4. Dextar | 9 Jun 2010 - 22:55

Thanks for the tips, especially for the link for the new MS Office 2007 fonts! Made opening .docx and .pptx look a lot more like the original :-)

5. | 5 Oct 2010 - 21:41

It took me a while to search on the web, only your site unfold the fully details, bookmarked and thanks again.

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