Bridging the gap between Office and OpenOffice

Learn how to use OpenOffice features such as the Draw tool, tabbed headers and footers and custom create your own palette colors. Pick up helpful file sharing tips and see how Microsoft Office documents are completely compatible with OpenOffice.

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OpenOffice 2.0 -- the free, open source office suite -- has many features that are very similar to Microsoft Office. The trick is knowing how to use them. In this Q&A, expert Solveig Haugland explains how to use such OpenOffice features as the Draw tool, tabbed headers and footers. She also describes custom creation of colors, file sharing tips and how Microsoft Office documents are completely compatible with OpenOffice.

More on OpenOffice:

Smart formatting for better compatibility between OpenOffice.org and Microsoft Office

The mystery of the missing mail merge

Microsoft Office has the 'more colors' option. How can I add more colors to the OpenOffice palette?

Solveig Haugland: You can create any color you want, in OpenOffice.org. Choose Tools > Options > OpenOffice.org > Colors. Then click 'Edit' and in the window that appears. Double-click in the left hand square of colors, then refine it in the right side. You can also just type in the RGB or CMYK values you want. Click OK, then click Add and name the color what you want. The color will show up in all color selection lists in OpenOffice.org.

How does OpenOffice flag or eliminate extra spacing?

Haugland: If you want to eliminate two or more spaces anywhere in your document, that's easy to do. Choose Tools > AutoCorrect. In the Options tab, select the 'Ignore Double Spaces' option, then click OK.

How do I customize the headers and footers in OpenOffice for my documents?

Haugland: You can use tabs to do this in headers, footers or anywhere else in a document. Set up a left tab on the left side, a center tab in the middle and a right tab on the far right side. Click in the header and left justify the text. To set up center and right tabs, double-click on the ruler and you'll see the Tabs section of the Paragraph window. Just specify the position you want, 3.5 or wherever the middle is, specify Center, and click New. Repeat with roughly a 6- or 7-inch tab, specify Right, and click New. Then, click OK.

You can skip the left tab if you left-justify the text and if you want that header text no farther in than the text in the body of the document. Click in the header. Type the left-justified text, then tab again and type, then tab again and type.

How do I erase lines using OpenOffice's Draw tool?

Haugland: Be sure that when you draw the line, you click on the tool, then click and hold down. Move the mouse to create the line, then release the mouse when you're done. Also, select the line once it is drawn and increase the width with the line width field on the toolbar located a little left of center.

There isn't an erase feature but if you want to get rid of anything, just click on the object and press the Delete key on your keyboard.

How do users on a network simultaneously share a single Calc document, like they could with Excel?

Haugland: I would say off the top of my head that it's not a bad idea to prevent two users from editing the same file at the same time. Two users can open the same file, of course, on the network in OpenOffice.org; just not edit it.

You might consider breaking the spreadsheet into two or more, then creating one master spreadsheet and using Edit > Paste Special > Link, to bring them together. Linking between spreadsheets usually works pretty well. Then, one user can get at one of the smaller spreadsheets and another user can get at the other one.

Are the applications in OpenOffice compatible with the applications in Microsoft Office? Would I be able to open documents sent to me in the Office format?

Haugland: You can open any Word, Powerpoint or Excel document in OpenOffice.org. Start OpenOffice.org, choose File > Open and click the arrow by the Files of Type dropdown list. You'll see all the file formats that OpenOffice.org can open. You'll see far more than just the ability to open Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org files. You can also create Microsoft Office files. You can choose File > Save As in OpenOffice.org and choose to save as Word, PowerPoint, or Excel. You can also set up OpenOffice.org to always save in Microsoft Office format, by choosing Tools > Options > Load/Save > General.

That said, exact compatibility is sometimes hard to come by. It depends tremendously on the features and formatting in the original document. A document set up cleanly with styles, and with graphics and text combined in frames rather than separate, is going to come over far more easily than a document with lots of tabs, carriage returns, manual formatting and more. See this article for tips on how to make documents more compatible.

You can also choose Tools > Options > OpenOffice.org Writer > Compatibility and experiment with which of those settings helps.

How do I go about saving and naming Impress templates with multiple page masters? Is there a way to setup a 'default master' within the template?

Haugland: If you create new master pages in a presentation, you have to make sure that all of them are applied somewhere in the template. Just leave a few extra slides at the end of your presentation to hold the master pages you want, then delete them at the end, when you're finished and know you don't want them. The most precise way to apply a master page is to right-click on it in the right-hand side of the work area and choose "Apply to All Slides" or "Apply to Selected Slides."

To save a presentation as a template, choose File > Templates > Save, name the template and select a category and click OK. Then, when you start the Impress wizard, you'll see the template in the category you selected when saving.

As for making one the default master, if you apply the one you want as default to a blank slide within the template, that should work. All additional slides you create will have that master page unless you explicitly say you want something else.

Solveig Haugland has worked as an instructor, course developer, author and technical writer in the high-tech industry for 15 years, for employers including Microsoft Great Plains, Sun Microsystems,and BEA. Currently, Solveig is a StarOffice and OpenOffice.org instructor, author, and freelance technical writer. She is also co-author, with Floyd Jones, of three books: Staroffice 5.2 Companion, Staroffice 6.0 Office Suite Companion and OpenOffice.Org 1.0 Resource Kit, published by Prentice Hall PTR. Her fourth book, on OpenOffice.org 2.0, is coming this summer. For more tips on working in OpenOffice, visit Solveig's OpenOffice blog.

This was first published in May 2006
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