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March 01, 2006


Solveig, what a great way to get ideas for a book!

These may be obvious, but they've been important to me as a LaTeX/J/beamer + OO.o + sometimes MS Office user.

First, how do you make OO.o 2.0 run quickly? My impression is that it uses more memory than the 1.x series, and that can challenge previously speedy machines. Saving seems especially noticeable.

Second, how do you use Base effectively? That's a great new addition, but I've gotten lost in it and seemingly had it hang up on a few occasions, and so I use it less than I'd like to.

Third, Draw is a great tool. Teach people about the importance of a vector drawing program as opposed to a bit-mapped program they may have used before.

Fourth, figure out a way to get people to use styles in Writer. That's the most important and productive part of Writer IMHO. While you can use styles in Word, it's harder, and I've read that fewer than 10% do. I created a simple, two-page document for my wife recently, and using styles rigorously made it go faster overall, with quick formatting changes and a pleasing look. If nothing else, get people to stop using white space as a formatting tool (blank lines between paragraphs, for example). 2.0 seems a bit less focused on styles than 1.x, but it's truly important.

Fifth, make it easy for people to find and install add-ins (templates and the like).

Good luck with your book!

Hi Bill,

"First, how do you make OO.o 2.0 run quickly?..."

Thanks for your many suggestions! I agree, the templates aspect is one thing I'll be hammering since you basically get all your MS templates working with OOo--just gotta put'em in the right spot.

I also will be glorifying the usefulness of styles--you should see me in class, I'm almost at faith-healer levels of enthusiasm. ;>

I will probably be giving Base short shrift since my experience is that 400-500 pages is very short. But I'll be making sure people know how to connect to simple databases like spreadsheets.


Suggested Articles/Clarifications for Your Book

1. JAVA - Suggested Java Parameters to improve Oo2, if that is what the Java parameters are all about. Otherwise give sufficient reason to disable the capability.

2. What are PACKAGES? Based on the Help file - I still do not know what a PACKAGE is about and when or where I would a PACKAGE.

3. How to update Oo2 without losing my USER DATA and having to re-enter after every upgrade.
4. Provide better Assistive Tools usage and setup with examples.
5. Tables - Definitely
6. Styles - Absolutely
7. Page numbering on every page except the first page.
8. Images and Frames - Talk about the most aggravating sequence of events to make work -- until I figured it out, partially.

Good luck on the book -- waiting patiently for the finished product.

Hi Mark,

Thanks for posting! Those things sound like they would make a wonderful troubleshooting section--are you free for a few months of volunteer work? ;>

I will take a look at what I can do to emphasize using images and frames.

Mostly though I'm looking for positive, cool things most people will use, like my blog on links and PDFs: how you can make a great web-publishable doc using the links and PDF features.

I won't have room to do topics like Java or much beyond a basic install since I'm looking for a book For Everyone. And it'll be half the size of the old book which as we know weighed about what an average baby weighs. ;>

I'm definitely working on providing examples, especially from the "why in the world would you use this feature" aspect.


Hi Solveig,

I stumbled across your Blog a few weeks ago and I must admit, have been hooked ever since and check it at least a couple of times a week.

My suggestion would be to highlight some of the cool tips you have in your Workbook. I found one just yesterday (not kidding) about using the Page Preview to print 4 pages of a document on 1 page. This is going to save a whole lot of trees in my little office alone (yes, I have an office now and no longer have to sit in the hallway!)

We're just starting to look at OO.o 2 and at first glance, we're having trouble with the merges. We are using lots of them for documents but very few for letters so we have to work out the kinks there. Hopefully we can move to OO.o 2 soon (but not before your new book is published!!!)

I think the really important things for average users are styles, templates, forms with fields and AutoText. These are the areas your typical office worker needs to be more efficient.

Legal Aid Manitoba

Hi! just fyi, our city just gave all its council members laptops with OO2 on them!:] Agendas & documentation to be uploaded, and the web to research things on. HOWTO 'File Cabinet' might be a good topic... especially for email.

Also, I've recently had two experiences with proprietary niche software- in screenwriting and antique mall sales database.

Both programs are creaky old DOS numbers that have been patched up to run in Windows. 'Upgrades' are very pricey, $200 & $500 respectively. The owners are so paranoid about these programs, which are essential to their businesses, that they won't upgrade the computers, and the formats are so intentionally proprietary they are unable to usefully import/export.

Seems to me that there are all sorts of people with the same situation with older versions of MSOffice as well. A real strength of OOo is that being free, there is no need to run outdated versions.

All of which make me think that Import/Export & Design your own ... would be very important topics.

One other consideration- something I noticed is that proprietary software uses simplified entry windows which limit & control what a user can do. The lack of visual clutter seems to make non-power users far more confident, as well as preventing errors... Building such form windows ranges across databases, forums, and blogs. Is that how you are seeing Templates?
Hope this is clear & hope it helps!:] Tom

I use HTML for text; so far I have never needed to use Writer, and I shudder to think of using Base. What I use in OOo is almost exclusively Draw/Impress to make diagrams with boxes and lines and text and arrows, essentially instead of PowerPoint and Visio; this seems to me like one area where OOo has the potential to be better than other Open Source alternatives, but only if people do not have to try random permutations of keys and buttons to figure out what Draw/Impress can do and how to do it. As far as I can tell, Draw is sorely lacking in basic drawing capabilities, such as connection lines with fill patterns in them, but it seems to have enough that hopefully if enough people figure out how to use it productively, there will be enough demand to get the rest of the basics implemented that Sun or whoever will actually implement them.

Hi Carol,

Great to hear from you! Thanks for the printing suggestion--I think that's a good one, helpful without being overwhelming. Excellent.

Wonderful that you have an office. ;>

I think with merges--well, I'll have to look at it. Choose Tools > Options > Base > Database, if you haven't already, and make sure all the data sources are set up. Might need to re-create them under File > New > Database.

Good luck, and thanks for coming by!


Hi Tom,

>> Hi! just fyi, our city just gave all its council members laptops with OO2 on them!:]

That's great! Sounds like the laptops are new as well as OOo? I like that, bundling a new cool toy with OOo.

The upgrade angle is very powerful. I'll try to work that into another blog since it's not just this uggrade, it's upgrades over time. Using proprietary software is like renting your phone. And upgrading from Office 95, which many people still use, is a WEE bit pricey. ;>

You make a very good point about power versus simplicity. I try to stay out of the setup windows at first--I show features on the toolbar, then when we go into the setup windows in training I say, hey, this is just what you've been doing with the ___ icon--here it is again. Not sure how to deal with it otherwise--not until I learn to code and come out with my Easy Breezy version of OOo. ;>

Thanks for your suggestions!

Hi Larry,

Speaking of the web tools, I actually just redid my www.getopenoffice.org web site yesterday morning, using only OpenOffice.org tools! Image maps, designed the nav graphic in Draw of course, using the new beveled shape, and I created my own colors too. I edited in the normal Web editor and just did some cleanup of the HTML and wrapping the graphics in Netscape and an HTML editor. Anyway, random tangent and of course anything was an improvement over the stupid blue template but I was quite pleased with the results and how well it worked.

I LOVE Draw and definitely try to force it down people's throats. ;> Great for diagrams as you say. I'm not sure what you mean by connector lines with fill patterns. It's a bit annoying to try to position text where you want it along the line but you can design your own lines and line ends for all lines. Perhaps I'm not understanding the feature you need.

Thanks for your post,

By "connector lines with fill patterns" I mean, in essence, something equivalent to an "Area" option for lines with a "Hatching" tab. Some people use different color lines for the same purpose, which is fine for people only reading on a color screen or color printer, but for the many people who just print things out in greyscale, that approach is at least as bad as having all the lines be black. The option OOo does provide is some funky morse code line styles which I find to be pretty much useless.

Hi Larry,

"By "connector lines with fill patterns" I mean, in essence, something equivalent to an "Area" option for lines with a "Hatching" tab."

Ah, I see what you mean. Yes, it would definitely be nice to have that kind of flexibility. The line formatting isn't what it could be though one can put together reasonably distinguishable lines.


Thanks for your response,

I would love to see some strategies for interoperation with Microsoft Office. I've been trying to move one of my non-profit clients to OOo 2.0 and keep running into problems with things like inconsistent Page Breaks in Calc Docs when saving as .xls and opening in Excel. Knowing how to approach and diagnose where conversion issues are stemming from will dramatically ease migration woes.

Hi Samuel,

"I would love to see some strategies for interoperation with Microsoft Office."

I have actually just been writing some up over the past couple days and will be researching some more. It is somewhat a case of fiddling since all docs are put together differently. One thing to try is these two windows:

Tools > Options > OpenOffice.org Writer > Compatibility (Marking the Printer Metrics option can help a lot.)

Tools > Options > OpenOffice.org Calc > General

I've seen good things happen also with fiddling with default tabs, though of course that doesn't affect Calc. Tools > Options > OpenOffice.org Writer > General.

Thanks for your suggestion! I'll look into that page break thing.


I'm tracking suggestions for tips for the book. Miriam emailed me this great suggestion re envelopes. So I'm just posting it here.

"I just read your envelope printing tip. Instead of constantly changing and checking the printer settings, I add another instance of the printer, configure it for envelopes and name it "envelope." When I want to print an envelope I choose this printer instead of the default one. That way my settings are always the same. "

My company is in the process of switching to OOo, and I have been one of the key migration handlers. One key feature that many users here need is the mail merge. I made up two mail merge tutorials; one that covers the wizard, and one that uses the hidden "Mail Merge" tool. I say hidden, because you have to add it to your menus manually. I found that it is very easy to create a document with data fields, then use the "Mail Merge" tool for a simple, three step merge. While I do realize that the wizard offers lots of nice features, most of our users prefer the simpler "Mail Merge" tool method. I will gladly forward both tutorials to you, and you may use them however you like.


I am trying to a G-rated way to express my shock that that mail merge feature is still around, just hidden like that. Amazing. The Mail Merge is so nice and simple, and the Mail Merge Wizard, while powerful, is freakin' complicated. Not to mention, why leave any of the mail merge tools off the toolbar/menu????? I couldn't even find it in the online help.

Thanks! I feel another Nancy Drew themed article for techtarget coming on. ;>

I would love to see the tutorials, thank you. Would love to hear any migration tales you want to share, as well.

Everyone out there--add the Mail Merge tool this way.

1. Choose Tools > Customize.
2. Select the toolbar where you want it.
3. Click Add.
4. Select Document in the left category and Mail Merge in the right category.
5. Click Add.
6. Click OK.
Relax and enjoy!


Haha! Adding this valuable tool back to the File menu is now a step in our standard desktop installation procedure. I like to put it right under "Wizards." In the tutorial, you will see that it assumes the tool is already there. I have the tutorials saved at work, and I will send them to you on Monday morning, along with any other tips I can come up with between now and then. Thanks.

I just have several comments :)

Avoid teaching users bad habits from the very beginning. Keep your techniques consistent with the work models built into OOo. Avoid tick-tac methods that seem to work, but aren't tranferrable to other similar purposes in a general way.

Apply the same evangelism that you use for Styles to every other core concept, such as Frames. Pages, columns, headers, footers, are frames with certain fixed attributes.

Frames can be nested to create complex layouts. Combine with tables for regular layouts.

Build and reinforce the user's understanding of the model at every opportunity.


I sent you an email today from work. I attached some PDF files. I just wanted to make sure that you got it, because we just changed email servers, and there have been some hiccups. I have had success reaching you here :-) Please drop me a line so I know if I should try to resend them. Thanks.


Hi Louis,

Yes, received your email and all those tutorials, thanks. Will respond soon.

Also have written up "The Mystery of the Missing Mail Merge" ;> for techtarget.com so it should be posted sometime soon. Will link to it from this blog.


Hi there. I am trying to get the mail merge to work without any success. I want to move away from Word. I have letters in word that I use with a CSV data set. I was hoping to use the existing word documents that I haved used for mail merge in the past and link the existing csv data set.

Any help would be appreciated.


Hi Brian,

You won't be able to use the existing Word documents without redoing the connection to the data source. However, mail merges work relatively well in OOo.

To do a mail merge with CSV data, first choose File > New > Database, choose to connect to an existing database of type text file, then continue through the wizard. That creates the data source.

Then create your mail merge document, whether it's labels or envelopes or a letter. To use your existing Word doc, open the main doc with all the existing canned text, in Openoffice, and delete the mailmerge fields since they won't work anymore.

To get mail merge info into the doc, the simplest thing is to choose View > Data Sources, expand the data source and table you want to use, and drag the field name (the field name, not the data) into the document. (I know I've documented this a lot with pictures, but I can't find a really obvious place to point you to so I'll make that a goal for next week.)

For more detail, see this article to create the data source.

You could also use the simple mail merge wizard, to create your mail merge document.

This is also in the book.


Thank you SO much, Louis and Solveig, for the "Old" MailMerge tip. The "New" Mail Merge / Form letter wizard stinks by comparison!

You saved me a lot of trouble today.

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