OpenOffice.org 2.3: New features, extensions and the much anticipated charting tool

The new OpenOffice.org 2.3 includes several smart changes, a new way to add features and a brand-new charting tool. Contributor Solveig Haugland discusses the additions to the software.

"Advice on MySQL character sets and collations"Unlike previous 2.x releases, OpenOffice.org 2.3 is a new and enhanced feature release rather than a bug fix. There are several smart changes, a whole new approach to adding new features and of course the much anticipated new charting tool. This is definitely a release to get to know.

I'll plunge right into what's new:

  • A bunch of new and enhanced features like restoring the user-defined movement path in Impress and applying better default print settings in Calc. Check the release notes for complete information from OpenOffice.org.
  • A significantly different chart tool.
  • New extensions provided by Sun and other vendors. You will need to run 2.3 for the extensions to work. Read more about the new extensions on the OpenOffice.org web site.



OpenOffice.org 2.3's new charting tool.


The new OpenOffice.org 2.3 features
Here are some of the most important new features in OOo 2.3. You might also want to take a look at this guide to the new features in OOo 2.3 at openoffice.org.

General

  • One new feature is found in the new print settings. This is useful for anyone who prints to multiple printers all over the world. You can load or ignore the printer settings for your documents – meaning you don't end up accidentally printing to a printer in, say, building 4, where you were on a business trip last week and where you printed your last document, but happens to be on the opposite side of the country.


  • If your document isn't wider than the OpenOffice.org window, then it will be centered in the window, not left-aligned.


  • Information was added for languages including Tagalog, Frisian, and Hausa.


Impress/Draw and graphics

  • In 1.x Impress there was an option to allow an object to move along a path, whatever path you could draw with a line. In 2.x, many new effects were added but the user-defined path effect was gone. Now they've brought it back with an enhanced capability, allowing path editing of existing motion path effects.
  • Draw an object. Then, under Custom Animation's Motion Paths tab, select any one of the first three effects.




  • The cursor will change so that it will draw the kind of line you selected. Draw the path that you want the object to follow. Then run the presentation to see the effect.


  • To edit existing motion paths, just apply a standard motion path like Eight-Point Star or Diamond. The path will appear in the slide. Click on the path and expand it; you'll get another path. Delete the old path, and you're all set.


  • You can now choose from five different speeds for custom animation: very slow through very fast.


  • You can add alternate text in image maps. Insert a picture, then right-click on the picture and choose Image Map. Although it's an underused feature in OpenOffice.org Web, Image Map is very useful.



Writer and web

  • The HTML editor now has a preview feature. Choose File>Preview in Web Browser and the document opens in the default browser.
  • Have you ever tried to edit a hyperlink but as soon as you click on the URL text it opens up a browser window, whisking you away to the target of the link? Now, you can select hyperlinked text all you want without that common annoyance. To open a link, just Ctrl-Click the URL.


  • When you open the Styles and Formatting window (Format>Styles and Formatting), you can set what kinds of styles you want to see: Applied, Custom, Automatic, etc. Previously, you had to reset this every time you opened a new document or re-opened OpenOffice.org. Thankfully, that category will now stick. The setting is saved for each application. However, the choice you make for Paragraph, Character, Frame, List, or Page is not automatically selected.


  • When you right-click on text, you used to see Default as one of the options. Now you see Default Formatting, which is clearer. Default Formatting is a great way to just clear out of any extraneous formatting and apply the default style to the selected item. It is also a quick way to remove the hotlink from a URL.


  • A new export filter allows you export to MediaWiki format. Choose File>Export and select MediaWiki in the file format list.
  • A final note on Writer: the notes say that there is a new compatibility option on Tools>Options>OpenOffice.org Writer>Compatibility: Do Not Justify Alignment in Lines Ending With Manual Line Break. However, I couldn't find it. The illustration shows the compatibility options that are there.



Calc

  • By default, the print options for Calc are now set to Print Only Selected Sheets and Suppress Output of Empty Pages. If the Print Only Selected Sheets option is enabled, the Calc page preview shows only the displayed sheet and the message "There is nothing to print." To change these options, choose Tools>Options>OpenOffice.org Calc>Print, or choose File>Print and click the Options button.


  • The SUM function icon on the main Calc toolbar has changed. Now you can select the range of numbers to add, click the SUM icon, and get the total in the first cell below the selected range. But if you liked to do it manually by entering each number, it still works that way, too.


  • Graphics can be linked to macros. This should help with Excel compatibility.


  • The Excel export filter now handles the cotangent functions COT, ACOT, COTH, and ACOTH.

  • Calc now supports inline matrix/array constants in formulas. An inline array is surrounded by braces, '{' and '}'. Elements can consist of a number (including negatives), a logical constant (TRUE, FALSE) or a literal string. For more details, visit the OpenOffice.org website.
  • You can now use dynamic ranges, defined with $, in lists in Data Validity. Choose Data>Validity, and under the Criteria tab select Cell Range from the list.


  • The GETPIVOTDATA function returns a result value from a DataPilot table, so it can be used in a cell formula.


Mail merge, databases, and forms

  • The infamous checkbox on the print message when you print a mail merge document, Do Not Show Warning Again, is gone. Hooray! See this blog for why that caused problems.


  • When you choose File>Print with a mail merge document in the Mail Merge window, you can choose to save the document as separate documents or as one document.


  • Unfortunately, in Base there is still no File>Export or File>Import feature. File>Export does appear, but it is dimmed.


The new chart tool
The old chart tool was great for creating simple charts but more advanced data manipulation was difficult. This one has a little more complexity up front, but if you don't need it you can skip it.

Here is a simplified, step-by-step guide to a basic chart with some information on popular variations. The new chart tool works the same way, or very nearly the same way, in Calc spreadsheets and in Writer tables.

Note: I had the developer's version of 2.3 for Calc installed in my Vista (sorry) laptop. I uninstalled it, then installed OpenOffice.org 2.3. However, when I choose Insert>Chart in Calc in OpenOffice.org 2.3, the Chart option is dimmed. In Writer, however, it's fine, and on my Windows and Linux computers where I didn't install the developer's version, it's fine too. I've reinstalled a few times and still can't get it to run. I'm still researching the issue, but I wanted to mention it here in case other folks are having the same issue.


Simple Charting
First, we'll make a simple chart with the following data table in Writer.

Select all, including the headings, and choose Insert>Chart or, in Writer, Insert>Object>Chart. This window appears. We could go with a standard bar chart but just for fun, let's choose 3D as a variant.


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As you build the chart, the preview is shown in the document.



By way of contrast, here's what a Net chart would look like.



I click Next and see this window. Nothing we haven't seen in the previous version. It's already defaulted in the range that I selected, so I just leave it as is and click Next.


Here's where things get a little more interesting. I don't need these options for a simple chart like this, but I'll double back to this window to show you how to use it in another example.



I click Next and get this window. Just type in the titles you want. It is better to add them now and then change them or hide them, if you're not sure if you'll need them.



Click Create, and you're done.



Modification
To modify the chart (change type, colors, font, font size, show/hide titles, add statistical options, etc.) just double-click the chart. Then right-click an item and choose something from the context menu like Object Properties, which gives you the most options, or use the Format toolbar or the Format menu.



A More Complex Chart
The second window in the wizard, the Data Range window, lets you skip part of the overall range. If you want the first two columns of a table and the last three columns but not the middle column, then you can just specify that range. Use a semicolon to separate non-contiguous ranges of data. You can also specify, for instance, A1-F8 of a 10-row table to leave out some data. A1:B8;D1:F8 would express that you want this part of a table.



In the next window, you have even more options.



This window gives the user greater control over exactly what data is used and how data is represented in a chart. The Data Series in the window refers back to the previous window, where you chose to have the data series in rows or data series in columns. If you chose to make the data from your data range that's in the rows to be your data series, then the info in the Data Series section of this window refers to the rows in your data range.

Here's what you get for your data series when you choose columns.



And here's what you get for your data series when you choose rows.



What's in the Name? The Name just refers to the text that shows up in the chart as the name of the data in the legend. The Y-Values are just the part of the table or spreadsheet that the actual data comes from. For each item you can enter a different range. The following diagram shows what each selection corresponds to.



Extensions for OpenOffice.org 2.3
It looks like OpenOffice.org is evolving toward a kind of Firefox model, where there is a core set of features and many extensions. I think this could be a good thing, given all the contributions and people working on OpenOffice.org. Why have just one version when you can mix and match to create the customized version just right for you or for your users?

I'm going to give you a very quick overview of a few of the extensions, including the report builder. Also, take a look at the complete list of the most current extensions.

Installation

Installing extensions is easy. Choose Tools>Extension Manager. Select My Extensions and click Add.



Find the extension file you downloaded, run the installation process, and you'll see Enabled next to the extension. For some extensions, you will need to restart. Look for a new menu, new menu items, new toolbars, or all three.

Sun Report Builder
The Report Builder extension looks like it has a lot of powerful features, but it's not exactly clear to see how to use them. I've spent a few hours with it and one thing that bugs me is that the tab for selecting the report data source disappears if you click on something else first. Ease of use aside, it does have a nice feature set, including grouped records, sorting of records, different alignment of text fields, and calculations.

To use the Sun Report Writer extension, install then open the .odb database file for the database for which you want to create a report. Choose Insert>Report, and you'll see the report writer interface.



This is the tab that disappears too quickly. Select Table or another type of data and then select the actual source. Once you make that selection, the Add Field palette appears. Use it to drag fields onto the appropriate section of the report.



Click the Sorting and Grouping icon on the toolbar to get this window where you have a lot of control over how the fields and the report behave.



When you have dragged fields onto the report, set options, inserted page numbers, and performed other formatting, save the report. The report will show up in the Reports area of the main editing windows of the .odb database file.



OpenOffice.org2 GoogleDocs
This extension lets you export and upload your document in one step. Installing the extension gives you this toolbar, as well as a Google Docs menu.



Click it to get this window; just enter the appropriate information.



Your document will be automatically uploaded to your account in Google.


Writer's tools
This extension gives writers a few handy utilities. To get complete functionality, be sure to register the WriterDB.odb database in the zip file. Choose Tools>Options>OpenOffice.org Base>Databases and click New. Find the WriterDB.odb file in the zip file you downloaded, name it whatever you like, click OK, then click OK in the options window.



Here's what's on the menu.



The Start Timer and Stop Timer options are self-explanatory: when you stop the timer you get this message, plus the option to save it to the WriterDB.odb database.



The Add to Basket feature lets you add various pieces of text to the WriterDB.odb database, in a function vaguely like AutoText. Select text, then choose Writers Tools>Add to Basket. Enter any tag information and click Add.



Here's the text in the database.


The Lookup Tool lets you look up words or phrases on the web.



You'll see the definition like this:



eFax for StarOffice and OpenOffice.org
You can now send and receive faxes from within StarOffice or OpenOffice.org, over the Internet, without a fax line, using eFax. Note that this is not one of the free extensions. You get a 30-day free trial, which includes receiving up to 130 fax pages and sending up to 30 fax pages free.

Here's the eFax menu:



Gallery - OxygenOffice extras as extension
This project, which contains parts of OxygenOffice Project, creates and collects templates, galleries and other useful extras for OpenOffice.org and releases them as easy-to-install Extension packages. Note that the download takes a while because of all the content.

When you've installed the extension, choose Tools>Gallery to view the gallery.


The extension installation preserves existing themes, but I would err on the side of caution and check all the paths to your clip art beforehand.

Also, the extension description and supplemental documentation show templates as well as clip art, but the extension I downloaded, OOOP-accessories-2.3.0.5.oxt, seemed to contain only clip art. Nothing new showed up in my templates directory after restart.

Feedback to the OpenOffice.org team
It is nearly impossible for all software releases to respond to all user requests. But, the intelligent design of OpenOffice.org 2.3 seems to have done so, as many of the changes in this release seem to accommodate the user. That is to say, the updates do not dictate the way users should use software but are tailored to the way most users do use the software.

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 2.x Resource Kit and OpenOffice.Org 1.0 Resource Kit, published by Prentice Hall PTR. For more tips on working in OpenOffice, visit Solveig's OpenOffice blog.


This was first published in October 2007

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