Using Open Officeorg

OpenOffice.org, shown in Figure 7.1, and its commercial twin, Sun's StarOffice, are the closest the Linux world has to Microsoft Office, short of running Microsoft Office in an emulator. One of this suite's strengths is its cross-platform nature—it's available for Linux, other Unix-like OSs (most notably Sun's Solaris), and Microsoft Windows. A Mac OS X version is available, but it requires an X server to run. Older versions of StarOffice were also available for OS/2, but OS/2 has been dropped with recent versions. Like Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org is a big package that supports a wide array of features.

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Figure 7.1: OpenOffice.org's components resemble those of Microsoft Office.

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Figure 7.1: OpenOffice.org's components resemble those of Microsoft Office.

Major OpenOffice.org components include:

Writer This is the word processing component of OpenOffice.org. It's a very powerful tool that supports all the usual features—fonts, styles, tables, macros, embedded graphics, and so on. OpenOffice.org Writer also features some of the best Microsoft Word import/export filters in existence. StarOffice includes additional import/export filters that are missing from OpenOffice.org.

Calc This spreadsheet is quite powerful and complete, and users who are accustomed to Microsoft's Excel should have little trouble adapting to this program.

Draw The OpenOffice.org graphics package is a vector graphics program, meaning that it deals with shapes—circles, triangles, rectangles, lines, and so on. You can embed a bitmap graphic, such as a digital photo, but for the most part you deal with vector objects.

Impress The Impress presentation manager helps you create material to support a presentation such as a lecture or sales pitch. You can combine elements created with the other OpenOffice.org components on slides—individual screens that can be displayed from a computer (if it's hooked up to the appropriate projection equipment) or printed on overhead transparencies, photographic slides, or plain paper.

OpenOffice.org has earned a reputation, based largely on its StarOffice 5.2 and earlier predecessors, for being a hugely bloated program. The program is indeed the largest office package for Linux, but OpenOffice.org 1.0 and StarOffice 6.0 are slimmer and quicker than the earlier StarOffice 5.2. Either is an excellent choice if you need a full-featured integrated office package for Linux, and especially if you need the best compatibility with Microsoft Office (and especially Microsoft Word) files. Although OpenOffice.org Writer's file import/export features are not 100 percent perfect, they're better than any other program's Microsoft Word import/export filters. In fact, some people say they're better than Microsoft Word itself in this respect, because Word sometimes has problems handling files created by earlier or later versions of itself.

Note OpenOffice.org is derived from Sun's StarOffice. Like Netscape and its

Navigator, Sun decided to open the source code to its StarOffice product (which it acquired from a company called StarDivision). OpenOffice.org 1.0 was the result, and it's nearly identical to StarOffice 6.0, although the latter includes a database component, extra fonts, clip art, and a few other odds and ends. The peculiar OpenOffice.org name derives from the fact that "OpenOffice" was already taken by another product.

Many Linux distributions, including Mandrake, Red Hat, and SuSE, ship with OpenOffice.org. For others, you must obtain the program from the main OpenOffice.org website, http://www.openoffice.org. Alternatively, you can buy the commercial StarOffice package, which comes with support and a few additional components and import/export filters. Unlike most Linux programs, OpenOffice.org comes with a GUI installation program; unless you install a package that ships with a distribution, you run this program to install OpenOffice.org. OpenOffice.org can be installed in two different ways:

Single-User Install After you unpack the OpenOffice.org files, run the setup program as an ordinary user. This program will step you through the installation process. Typically, you'll install the entire OpenOffice.org package in your home directory.

Network/Multiuser Install A more typical installation method for Linux involves a multiuser installation, often called a network installation in

OpenOffice.org documentation. To perform this installation, run the install program as root, passing the -net parameter to setup. The installer puts the OpenOffice.org files wherever you specify (typically under /usr/local). You may want to create links in a directory on your system's default path to the program files (swriter, scalc, sdraw, simpress, and setup) so that users can most easily run these programs. Alternatively, you can add the OpenOffice.org program directory to the system's path. Individual users then run the setup program to enter their personal information and create OpenOffice.org configuration files in their home directories.

Single-user installs of OpenOffice.org are uncommon. You could conceivably install OpenOffice.org this way on a single-user workstation, but performing a multiuser install is generally preferable for all the reasons that make Linux's multiuser security system desirable in general. For instance, you're less likely to accidentally destroy the OpenOffice.org installation when you install it as root.

Once they're installed, OpenOffice.org components are run by typing their names. Distributions that ship with OpenOffice.org often create desktop icons or menu entries that launch OpenOffice.org. Therefore, the package can be easy to run, at least from the popular GNOME and KDE desktops.

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