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June 24, 2006


I'm a technical writer who used MS Word for most of my work until I got the chance to switch to OOo. For the work I do, OOo does as good a job as Word but I find OOo easier to use; it suits what I do and how I do it.

In my work I often have to deal with large books containing chapters written by different people, so I use master documents a lot. In general, they work well but have some quirks that the Help doesn't adequately cover, and the quirks differ depending on exactly what you're trying to do and what other OOo features you're using (such as a complex mixture of custom page styles).

I've got a long description on my website of how I got master docs to work for me, and more info about them is given in the master docs chapter in the Writer Guide produced by OOoAuthors (http://oooauthors.org/ and available on the OOo Documentation Project's website, http://documentation.openoffice.org/. Alas, master docs have some problems if you use custom page styles and list styles; these bugs have been reported and I hope will be fixed before too long. But in general they work well, once you figure out just how to use some of the trickier features.

Hi Jean,

You've got an amazing site with some excellent detail. I use Frame (never Word) to create my OpenOffice.org books and workbooks because of conditional text, existing content, and a host of other reasons, but you dived right in and took the bull by the master documents.

I encourage anyone using OpenOffice.org for heavy-duty publishing to look at Jean's site and other links referenced in her comments.

~ Solveig

This is a somewhat old post, and I'll make a somewhat out of topic comment. Excuse me.

I love to use styles, but I'm unable to create beautiful ones. I can tweak already done styles, but I can't do one from scratch. What I really miss in OO are professional styles with the application. Word comes with some very good ones, and if I don't like them, I can download others from Internet or even buy. I've searched a lot but never found good styles for OO. Do you know if they exist?

Hi Paulo,

I've been wanting to do a post on styles, and you've provided me with the push I needed. I'll post this coming week on how to create styles from scratch.

As for where to find nice styles, there are templates out there for Openoffice.org, notably at http://documentation.openoffice.org/Samples_Templates/

But remember that you can open any Microsoft Word document in OpenOffice.org. So if you have Microsoft Word templates or documents containing styles you like, just start OpenOffice.org, choose File > Open, find the file and open it. And there you go; the styles you like in the software you like.

Click in the text that you like and the paragraph style will be shown in the styles dropdown list at the top left of the work area, next to the font dropdown list. You can also choose Format > Styles and Formatting to see the list.

HTH--and come back to the blog to see the styles post.

~ Solveig

Thanks for the great styles post. But my problem isn't really the technical side, but with the artistry one.

I'm not a designer, but I can easly adapt a style for my needs. I've been creating simple sites, like the one that announces my newborn son (http://www.leonardoneves.com.br ), with the web styles from Open Source Web Design (http://www.oswd.org ). It's easy to do professional looking pages.

What I really miss are good report styles to make professional documents. Today I just use Microsoft Word styles, but I feel like cheating. I also believe that finding word styles, copying, and importing them is a task too big for the casual user.

I just would love to see beaultiful document styles included with Open Office.

Hi Paulo,

>> "But my problem isn't really the technical side, but with the artistry one. "

You might try the WorldLabel templates at

I agree, there's a big difference between just how to do it, and how to do it beautifully. I can do clean-looking templates but am not a designer. For now, we just have to keep an eye out for OOo templates, use Word templates if necessary, and maybe browbeat our designer friends into creating some beautiful OOo templates. ;>

~ Solveig

There's a great article by Bryce Byfield called "Replacing FrameMaker with OpenOffice.org" that can be found here:

I've used them. I have yet to see anything that can touch the combination of Vim and LaTeX. It excels no matter how you look at it. Name any feature you want about any word processor or similar GUI software, and it can do it, usually better (for me anyway). It may not be for everyone -- it may just be that I'm a programmer and I am already fluent with both. But for me, it's absolutely unbeatable.

Hi Xaprb,

Those two features are very powerful. As you know, most people aren't as advanced and/or prefer a GUI. I have a friend who swears that LaTeX can do everything plus answer the door, sew you a nice suit, and cook dinner. I've researched enough to know it's almost true. ;>

Thanks Scott--I had this article in the post originally, I think, but lost in in some bad HTML (one of the reasons for the repost).


I've never used Framemaker, but people who have seem to love it.

OpenOffice is quite capable of "making books". I wrote, edited, and produced press-ready final .pdf files for my latest book using OO 2.0 beta.

Sure there were glitches and gotchas, but most were probably just user error.

Check it out if you'd like at http://www.smartguypress.com or the Amazon page here:http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0977310507/sr=8-1/qid=1150204102/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-0418162-8304168?%5Fencoding=UTF8

BTW, great blog! I often refer folks with OO questions to it.

Michael Shannon
Author "Computer Secrets I Taught My Mom" ISBN 0-9773105-0-7

Hi Michael,

I'm glad Writer works for you! Lots of people have a lot of success with it--for me, one thing is that I'm so used to the power and easy of Frame cross-references, and use them so extensively in many books. For regular ol' content, without the 1% of published docs that need the uber features, OOo rocks. (Esp with the PDF and the kickin' diagramming capabilities.)

Love your book title!


So, the original blog entry was written in 2006, and it's now 2008, and big, popular open-source projects move fast. Does the essential recommendation still stand, or is OOo now "close enough" that you'd use it for most techpubs work?

How about in the situation where FrameMaker is available (or the company would pay for it), but literally every other document in the company (that's not end-user instruction or reference) is created and endlessly fondled in Word?

Is it time, yet, to be an open-source hero?


I would very much like to import .odt files into FrameMaker (started a new job and much prefer to work in Frame). I keep coming up with errors or Frame crashes. Would you have any tips about that?

thanks so much,

I would very much like to import .odt files into FrameMaker (started a new job and much prefer to work in Frame). I keep coming up with errors or Frame crashes. Would you have any tips about that?

thanks so much,

Hi Edith,

Frame can't handle .odt, but if you export from OpenOffice.org to rtf, then you'll be able to open the file. Alternately try just copying and pasting, regular or Edit > Paste Special, and choose unformatted text.

Framemaker can print a rotated page with normal headers and footers, which means that the text can be in Landscape mode whereas the headers and footers are in Portrait mode, which i think ms-word (xp) can also. is it possible in ooo 3.0 ? or earlier versions ?


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