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October 26, 2005

Making OpenOffice.org Work the Way You Want It


Note: Here's a related article I wrote for TechTarget.com.

What's better, software that does what it thinks you want, or software that does what you tell it to?

If it's rocket-launching software, and I don't know much about rocket-launching, I guess I would let the software do what it wants. However, I know what I darn well want my office suite software to do. I know how I want it to behave. I know what features I want and I know, for instance, that I do not want it suggesting to me what word I am typing and offering to help me finish the arduous task of typing it.

OpenOffice.org has its default behavior and default settings just like any other software but is very cooperative in letting you customize those behavior and settings the way you want them. Which is refreshing. You just have to tell it how to behave.

Goldenrules_5So I've put together a list of the top  customizations I think are the most helpful and/or powerful. I make sure that everyone in my classes learns these by lunchtime, and review them afterwards. When the software behaves the way you want, that makes everything better.

(By the way, this is a little bit off topic, but I wanted to mention that the scroll graphic at the top of this blog is a drawing shape in OOo 2.0.  I'm a bit of a giggly schoolgirl when it comes to the OOo drawing tools, especially the new 2.0 features.)

1. Turn off the word completion.

I hate word completion, and it’s really easy to turn off. Choose Tools > AutoCorrect and click on the Word Completion tab. Make sure the Enable Word Completion option is unmarked, and click OK.


2. Turn off any automatic formatting that you don’t want.

Would you let people live in your house who you didn’t know? Then you don’t want automatic formatting going on that you don’t understand. Choose Tools > AutoCorrect and click on the Options tab. Unmark everything except the top option, Use Replacement Table. Then go back through and see if you really want anything.

(You can unmark the Use Replacement Table option too....but that table is handy, as you'll see in the next item.)

3. Use the automatic formatting to create handy shortcuts.

The same tab where you turned off word completion has a really great feature for creating shortcuts. Let’s say you type the word supercalfragilisticexpealidocious a zillion times a day, or your name and title, or anything kinda long. You can set up a shortcut for it. It's a much more reliable approach than word completion.

To do this: Choose Tools > AutoCorrect and click on the Replace tab.

A. In the left-hand field type your shortcut like sig and in the right-hand field, type the word you’re tired of typing all the time.

B. Click New, then click OK.


C. Click the Options tab and be sure that both checkboxes for the top item, Use Replacement Table, are marked. That just means "use the stuff in the Replace tab."

D.  In your document, type the shortcut, followed by a space, and your word will appear.

Note: You can also delete anything in the Replace tab that you don't want.

4. Display the icons that you want.

There are a zillion icons in OOo as with any software and you probably don’t use all of them. There’s also that dandy little result of having to click on the black arrow to get to the icons you want, while the ones you do want sit there taking up space and, quite frankly, smiling a bit smugly. So take off the ones you don’t want, leave room for the ones you do want, and add some other ones.

First step is to take off the ones you don’t want. Click on the dropdown arrow and choose Visible Buttons. Find the icons you don’t want, like double spacing, and select them. That’ll remove the checkbox by them, and that removes them from the toolbar.

Dropdown_1 Now add the icons you want. The first thing to try is to click the dropdown arrow again and choose Visible Buttons. If the icon you want is there, select it and it’ll appear.

If the icon you want isn’t there, click on the dropdown arrow again and instead of Visible Buttons, select Customize Toolbar. Find the toolbar you want to add icons to. Click Add, and in the window that appears just keep looking through the categories on the left til you find the feature you want in the list on the right. Select it and click Add.


Back in the customization window, you can leave the icon as is and just click OK, or change the icon by clicking and holding down on the Modify button and choosing Icon.


5. Get to know the choices under Tools > Options.

Choose Tools > Options, and you’ll see the big fat configuration window. Just as the items under Tools > Autocorrect were about default behavior, Tools > Options is about default settings, default values. Anything about the program, from icon size to language settings to where the program looks when you choose File > Open, is set here.

I suggest that you open the OpenOffice.org (or StarOffice as in this illutration) item at the top, then select Paths, and change the values for any paths you use a lot. Change the My Documents item, for instance, to change the default for where OOo tries to save documents. You’ll save a lot of time scrolling around in your Save windows.


To change the path, select it in the window, click Edit, and just point to the new location.

You might also want to expand the StarOffice Write item, select Default Fonts, and choose the ones you prefer.

When you’re done, just click OK.

You can turn off the Save for Autorecovery feature if you want--or increase the save interval
I find this feature entirely un-annoying, but you can turn it off easily if you want. Autorecovery means if OpenOffice.org crashes or you have to coldboot your machine, at least you'll have something recent to return to. If you're hypervigilant, increase the interval to every minute or 5; if you don't care about it, set it to every hour or just turn it off.

Choose Tools > Options > OpenOffice.org > Load/Save > General. You're looking for the Save AutoRecovery Information Every  option. Unmark it, or change the interval.

Click the thumbnail below to see a bigger image of the window.


Now OOo is more like a well-behaved pet and less likely to jump up at you, licking and biting inappropriately.

Those are not all the configuration steps you can do, by a long shot. But I like them, and students seem to like them. And they're an important set of steps in the general process of showing that OpenOffice.org does what you tell it to do.


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Hey Solveig!

You have the completion stuff. That's great!

I'll send everybody over.

Setting up a program to work my way is always the number 1 thing I do with new software. Your list of things to do is very similar to mine, except that I rarely bother to change the visible icons. But I hate software that tries to be helpful, almost invariably in ways that annoy me, so automatic this and that is the first to go. Fortunately OOo is easy to tame, and is very well behaved once you've got rid of all the "features" you don't want.

I'm aware that what I hate is often the feature that someone else loves the most, so I'm glad that the choices are easily available for people to have what they want and find helpful. One chapter in the Getting Started with OpenOffice.org 2.0 book covers the choices in Tool > Options and what they do. This book is written and produced by the volunteers at OOoAuthors (http://oooauthors.org) and is available in free downloadable PDF form from the OOo Documentation Project, http://documentation.openoffice.org/. (A printed copy is coming soon.)

Hi Jean,

You write some excellent, very detailed stuff that is rarely covered in the help. Anyone interested in this topic should definitely check out Jean's sites and books.

~ Solveig

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