This post is for IT managers or people in similar jobs, in charge of determining whether to switch to OpenOffice.org, and then planning and implementing the conversion.
Many problems with switching to OpenOffice.org aren't, at heart, caused by actual problems with the software.
There are hiccups, there are things you need to rethink, but bugs or lack of features in the software itself really aren't the issue most of the time. It's people, processes, perception, planning, and so on.
Many problems can be preempted or solved with strategic use of setup options in the software.
I'm going to keep this blog topic going, as I think of and have time to add more items. Please add your tips through comments.
- See also this post for more of a sequential planning-through-implementation checklist.
- See also this post for important information about how really can't trust your own judgment when determining what users need for the transition. The same post also contains a draft email of how the CEO should tell users in a direct but respectful manner that the transition is happening and no amount of complaining will do any good.
Test, test, test. Before you even officially decide to switch, get a really solid representative sample of the current documents and processes that people complete with your current office suite software and database software (if you're going to be using Base) and make sure that everything essential works with OOo.
Users will tell you things that aren't true. In the test phase and during implementation, don't rely on users telling you that things don't work. Research it and make sure that it doesn't work; usually the item does work or is possible, just not in the way the user is used to. For instance, to import content into a database, you just right-click in the table area of a database window and choose Paste. Not something that you would guess. With OpenOffice.org, most things are possible; many things are not obvious.
Mail merge is very different. You'll need to concentrate some effort on educating users on how to do this. It's not inherently difficult; it's just not very wizardy. Don't go live with OpenOffice.org before making sure that at least one person in every department knows how to do mail merges, including with envelopes and labels, cold.
On a related note, consider using labels instead of envelopes. Unless your company pins its reputation on its ability to print addresses on envelopes, I'm pretty sure there isn't a business reason for using envelopes instead of labels. People will resist changing but, well, see the other sections of this blog for what to do about that.
Both envelopes and labels are certainly possible but envelopes have a few more tricky bits, especially because of how Word users are used to using them.
Publisher files aren't compatible with anything else. This is Microsoft's fault, not OpenOffice.org. Your Publisher users will need to create new documents in Draw or Writer, depending on the type of document. You might want to keep one or two Publisher licenses around if this is a big issue. Consider creating a few commonly used templates for brochures, postcards, etc. to make the transition easier. You can make tri-fold brochures in Writer using frames.
There are a lot of very nice Writer and Word templates out there; just open the Word ones in Writer and you can generally use them as is.
You might introduce the more advanced users to Scribus. Some former Publisher users absolutely love it.
Suppressing the page number on the first page is far more
complicated than it needs to be. You can train everyone, and/or you can create a template that
has the first page number suppressed already.
Understand what level of skills your users really have. It's often tough for an IT director to realize that many users have really core skills and aren't able to easily navigate up and down in an Open window; don't know to select first then format; don't know that there's a keyboard shortcut available instead of copying and pasting; etc. Knowing your users' skill level will help you plan training.
You MUST have the top brass on your side. This is essential, since you will get tremendous pushback from people who don't want to change. You will need a clear, definite message from the top telling people that this is happening and making a fuss won't bring their old office suite back. (This presumes that you did a good job in the initial evaluation and you turned up 90% of the issues, and know how to address them.)
See this post at the end for a draft email of how the CEO should tell users in a direct but respectful manner that the transition is happening and no amount of complaining will do any good.
Find the vocal people who don't like the software, and convert them. Show them the cool things they can do with the software. Tell them you value their experience with the previous software and would really appreciate their insight into how best to do tasks in the new software. Alternately, if they're a tough case, then it's time for their manager to get tough and tell them that using OpenOffice.org, and learning it, is now part of their job description.
Many people will tell you that things are so much easier in Word. This is not necessarily true. If you can, then politely ask the person telling you this to demonstrate the supposedly easier process in Word, preferably in front of a decision-maker or other higher-up. Also see above regarding users telling you that things don't work.
You might need to keep a few Excel licenses around if your financial people are addicted to macros or wield extraordinary power. This is OK.
There will be a period of unpleasantness. When you switch to OpenOffice.org, many of your users will be unhappy at first. Change is never popular, especially if you have WordPerfect users who have not had to change word processors since the 90s. You will need to tell a lot of people that yes, it is more complicated in OpenOffice.org to do X or Y, and that they'll just have to deal with it. Having support from higher-ups will help this go over, if not better, then at least with more effect. Remind people that their job descriptions do not include the right to use only Microsoft Office or WordPerfect, or at least that their job descriptions include the phrase "Other duties as assigned."
Make sure everyone knows that free doesn't mean bad. It's not easy to explain, but talk to users about how OpenOffice.org is not about making money; it's about people working together to get the features they need, and sharing them with others. Also, many people will think that your organization is just being cheap by refusing to spend money on software. You of course are trying to save money, at least that's a common goal, but reinforce that you now can spend money on things that are more important like benefits, smaller class sizes, or whatever is more important in your organization.
Specific Software Features to Use to Your Advantage
Don't teach them to fish if it's easier to give them reusable fish. Spend some time getting to know what you can do with templates and styles. Much of the formatting you can do is possible, but challenging for users who only have core skills. For instance, a common formatting feature is a left-hanging indent. Users might not be able to do this easily. Another item is text that is indented from both the left and right an inch or so. You could create styles with this formatting, call them OurOrg_HangingIndent and OurOrg_LeftRightIndent, for instance, and add them to a template that everyone can access. Here's a template with those two styles.
In particular, consider setting the default template for each user. Incorporate all styles that they might need, such as the ones I mentioned in the above paragraph, plus a page style that has no page number on the first page, and automatically uses a page number on the second page.
Customize menus and toolbars Consider customizing the menus and toolbar. If you get a lot of calls from users looking for page setup under File > Page Setup, it might be easier for you to just add that option under the File menu rather than telling everyone several times that it's under the Format menu. Or create a new menu called Month-End Procedures that will open various windows users need to use for month-end procedures.
Along the same topic, consider removing some icons that might be confusing or lead users to try things you don't want them using. My 89-year-old father, not computer savvy, uses Calc to track financial information for taxes. I made it easier for him by taking off most of the icons.
Create keyboard shortcuts for tasks and for styles Set up keyboard shortcuts for people, or show them how to do it themselves. This will help especially with WordPerfect users who have memorized the keyboard shortcuts and find it difficult or slow to switch to a new program. If it takes three mouse clicks to get to the feature on the mouse, someone who's been getting there with Ctrl G is going to be annoyed even though it really isn't that much work to do the menu selection. (Again, as I said at the beginning, it's not about the software causing problems.) So show them how to use Tools > Customize, Keyboard to set keyboard shortcuts. My blog on that topic is here.
Set up menu items to bring up templates or other documents. For instance, you might make a new menu called Personnel Department Templates and add items like Job Description Template, Org Chart Template, and so on. A blog on how to do this is forthcoming; I've got the macro but haven't fiddled with how to do it.
Add fun and convenience with the picture Gallery. Some users find it difficult to navigate a file system to find clip art or pictures to include in their documents. In addition, pictures are just fun and can help change attitudes surprisingly quickly. I highly recommend configuring the Gallery so that there are vast numbers of graphics available. Users can simply choose Tools > Gallery, select a category, then drag a picture into their document. My blog on adding graphics to the Gallery is here.
Show everyone PDF and the File > Send features. It's a very slick easy feature, people like it, and it's great for reducing issues you encounter when working with people who use Microsoft Office or other office suites.
Show advanced users the automatic TOC feature. So many people still manually type their tables of contents. Agh! Just be sure that you've used the paragraph styles Heading1 through Heading 10 (or as detailed as you need, maybe Heading3) on the appropriate headings. Then Insert > Indexes and Tables > Indexes and Tables, and click OK. Bam, instant TOC . You can also make a linked one and the links remain when you export to PDF. Any links that you create in any way in the OpenOffice.org document will remain when you export to PDF. Just be sure to choose File > Export as PDF, and in the first tab of the PDF options window, be sure that Tagged PDF is selected.
Here's the PDF/Publishing blog, including how to make the linked TOC. Advanced users or web people will love this.
Test, pilot, rinse and repeat. You absolutely must do a long research process. Test documents. You might discover that several departments are using Quattro Pro and have documents created in the 80s. Be sure OpenOffice.org can open these and if it can't, then have a plan for outsourcing re-creating them. (Before you do that, be sure that these documents even need to be conveted in the first place.) If your company uses an app that produces a spreadsheet or CSV file, be sure that OpenOffice.org can open it. Talk to every department and give them an exhaustive list of questions. Make sure they know that it is crucial they give you complete and accurate information.
Trust, but verify. With emphasis on the verify part.
Do one thing at a time. If you're switching to Linux, OpenOffice.org, Firefox, and Thunderbird, switch to one application at a time. Once everyone's solid, then switch your OS. (Thanks to Dave Richards of the City of Largo for this one.)
Create a plan, publish the plan, and stick to it. Give people a transition time when they can learn and start using OpenOffice.org, and a cutoff time when you take MS Office or WordPerfect off their machines. For you and your IT group, of course, you have a public cutoff date and an internal cutoff date maybe 1-4 months later, to give yourselves some flexibility.