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501 Things You Wanted to Know About Switching to OpenOffice.org from Microsoft Office

16 million downloads to date for this OS replacement for MS Office

Title: OOo Switch: 501 Things You Wanted to Know About Switching to OpenOffice.org from Microsoft Office
Author: Tamar E. Granor
Publisher: Hentzenwerke Publishing
ISBN: 1-930919-36-0
No. of Pages: 305

OpenOffice.org (OOo) is an open source replacement for the Microsoft Office suite. From all accounts, OOo is gaining significant momentum with over 16 million downloads recorded and countless installations from CD-ROM according to the OOo Web site.

OpenOffice.org is often mentioned along with the web browser Mozilla and the productivity application Evolution as a key component to the adoption of open source on the desktop. Thanks to OOo's popularity, good OOo reference books are starting to arrive in book seller's inventories.

I've been a user of OOo for about 4 months now – trying it out after an install of RedHat 9 included it. I found OOo impressive the first few times I used it and very quickly realized that it's a complete, and often enhanced, replacement for Microsoft Office.

Even though I had a few teething problems with OOo, my initial documents were seamlessly read by fellow users of MS Word, Excel, and Powerpoint – failure here would have been a deal breaker for me. With basic file compatibility behind me, I was able to focus on the features of OOo and I found that I liked OOo more than enough to use it regularly on my Windows laptop.

OOo Switch is an excellent book to ease the transition of the individual user to OOo from Microsoft Office. The book's publisher is Hentzenwerke Publishing – a small shop known for quality books. I equate Hentzenwerke Publishing very closely to the O'Reilly approach to publishing – quality books that are only as long as needed to cover the topic completely. I have a note from Hentzenwerke indicates that the entire book was written in OOo with frequent translations from Microsoft Word back to OOo as various reviewers provided input and feedback on various chapters in MS Word. It's good to know Hentzenwerke eats its own dog food.

OOo Switch is laid out with 18 chapters and an appendix that together cover just under 300 pages. The chapters are organized with what I would call a “traditional style” as the author takes the user from download and installation through basic user interface issues an then into more advanced features. Each chapter provides excellent coverage of its topic with concepts well organized and descriptions complete and fully detailed. Screen shots of dialog boxes make easy work of explaining everything from installation and initial configuration to macro editing.

This is definitely not a “dummies” guide and the title of  501 Things... is a little misleading since the book is not an arbitrary list of tips and tricks – something I, along with our forests, would have dreaded. Rather, OOo Switch is well laid out and makes an efficient guide for completing the transition to OOo. I would have preferred that the initial chapters cover something akin to a quick-start tutorial as I am sure that the teething problems I had during my first few weeks of using OOo are similar to others.

As I become a more seasoned OOo user, I generally get the feeling that OOo does things better than Microsoft Office in most respects and OOo Switch further reinforces this. A tutorial to kick off the book and address common transition issues probably would help. The only other wish for OOo Switch is that it should have devoted some space to transition strategies for individual users and for organizations considering the switch to OOo.

More generally, the larger process of transitioning to open source desktops should have probably also been addressed at least briefly. I've recently read a number of articles on the topic that give excellent suggestions for making a smart and staged transition into OOo from Microsoft Office. Because OOo is cross platform, organizations can often use the transition to OOo as the first step in a transition away from Microsoft.

OOo Switch is an excellent book for learning how to be a productive OOo user. It is a book that will meet the needs of the power user as well without being too technical to turn off mainstream users. OOo Switch will clarify features of Microsoft Office for its readers while detailing how OOo accomplishes similar tasks. The author makes a point to note where OOo exceeds Microsoft Office's features (frequently) and where Microsoft Office exceeds OOo's features (not quite so frequently).

OOo Switch is an excellent book for any Microsoft Office user or IT manager considering the switch or for dedicated OOo users wishing to become more capable in their use of the OOo suite.

More Stories By Paul Nowak

Paul Nowak first used Linux in 1995 while migrating from Sun to Linux at the University of Michigan. He used Linux in subsequent IT projects including web, telecom, telemetry and embedded projects and is currently CIO of a small professional association based in Washington D.C.

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Most Recent Comments
Jim 01/06/04 03:04:16 PM EST

If you use Microsoft's digital rights, so only the recipient can read the document, then you should be reclaiming some privacy right? Except, is there any provision in Microsoft's encryption scheme that allows for a back door password so the document can be read by law enforcement at need? Anyone know the answer to this?

Paul Nowak 09/20/03 12:51:52 AM EDT

I have to agree with the font issue. I started using OOo on Red Hat 9 and then transfering files to Windows 2000 to see how the files looked in Word. Everything was fine except the font mappings from Linux to Windows are not good. The Doc looks fine in Linux but it needs a font redo, which is easy in Windows.

The only other teething problem I encountered was that OOo does more auto-formatting that I would like in its default Red Hat configuration. So, OOo is a little more aggresive than I would like when formatting bullet items and numbered lists. This is easy to configure but OOo configure this more sanely but then, you'd never know about OOo's great autoformatting tool. I felt the book could have addressed fonts and auto-formatting up front -- great book still though -- highly recommended.

Overall, OOo sucked me in after just 2 or 3 times using it. I now view OOo as having a better feature set and a better over-all experince than MS Office. If MS Office did not have a proprietary closed file format, OOo would probably be the Office suite of choice.


Moff 09/19/03 02:31:15 PM EDT

Functionally both products are wonderful.

But what I have found in the number of years I've looked at this product (starting with the pre-Sun Star Office suite) is that the fonts with OOo (and StarOffice for that matter) are too few, and those that exist look terrible. They do not display on the screen cleanly, and are harder to read than the OS fonts. KDE's KOffice apps look better (though the're not compatible with M$ formats).

If the developers made use of the existing OS configuration for fonts, printer definitions, etc, the software would be adopted much more quickly, especially among non-technical users.

Sam 09/18/03 04:26:44 PM EDT

Anyone who gives M$ MORE money should rethink and get this NOW!

p slattery 09/17/03 09:32:35 PM EDT

I've been a user of both OOo and its sister App StarOffice for about 2 years now. Both more than meet my needs as an instructor in the Aviation Industry. I am able to make presentations with Impress that rival MS's PowerPoint. And my presentations translate into the MS format with little or no loss of Features. (Impress has some that PP doesn't and vice-versa). The fact that OOo is free only adds to its attractiveness. Anyone not using Open Source should add up the cost of buying MS Office every 2 or 3 years and then ask themselves if they will ever recoup the cost of that investment when they could have done the exact same work with a nearly identical free product. The answer should be obvious.

Tzar Kastik 09/17/03 06:11:26 AM EDT

Fantastic. A guide to help people escape before DRM and Office 2003 traps them.

I recently set up an old PC of mine for a friend of the family. On his old PC, he had MS Office 97 (i think). I took the oppertunity of sticking OpenOffice 1.0.3 on the PC for him. His only complaint with this strange non-Microsoft product - the lack of fonts. Apart from that, it was a smooth switch. I had to explain to him about OpenOffice (such as where it came from, why this copy isnt illegal to make, stuff like that). OpenOffice just needs better publicity (and more fonts). If it gets that, and this book will no doubt help greatly in that respect, then it will really take off.