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OpenOffice.org Writer


Originally written 20081220

I recently used OpenOffice.org 3.0's Writer to write a book -- an instruction manual with almost one screen shot per page. OpenOffice can create PDFs. OpenOffice was incredibly easy compared to Microsoft Word. This article is not a comparison. This article explains the few difficulties with OpenOffice and suggests how OpenOffice can remove the problems.

The official name of this application is "OpenOffice.org Writer", but is often called "OpenOffice" (with no space) and abbreviated as "OOo". Download OpenOffice.

The rest of this article explains how to do several tasks with suggestions for improving OpenOffice.org Writer. The purpose is documentation and constructive criticism. Even with these difficulties, I believe OpenOffice.org is the best word processor I have used.

Adding Graphics

INSTRUCTIONS: Menu: Insert/Picture/From File - Choose file.

PROBLEM: Poor menu interface. Menus with very few choices unnecessarily hide options.
PROPOSAL:The Picture menu has two choices. The second option "Scan" has two choices. Adding two options to the Insert menu eliminates the cascading menus:
Picture From File - Inserts graphic from file.
Picture From Scanner - Scans directly into Writer
Picture Scan Request - No explanation exists in Help.

PROBLEM: Keyboard customization is saved in content files.
PROPOSAL: Keyboard options should be saved in configuration files. I should not need to save my content file to save my configuration changes. My customization should be available in all files on my computer and should not be available when editing my files on other computers.

PROBLEM: The default keys for inserting a graphic from a file are ALT+I, U, F. I wanted a better keyboard shortcut for "Insert Picture from File". Menu: Tools/Customize is confusing.
PROPOSAL: Fix the Keyboard Customization dialog box. Double-clicking a shortcut key at the top should locate the function at the bottom. Keys used for all OpenOffice.org applications should be removed from the list for individual applications. The Functions list should match the menus.

Using the trial-and-many-errors method, I discovered the option for the menu "Insert/Picture/From File" is "Insert/From File". CTRL+F (File) is OOo's Find-and-Replace. CTRL+P (Picture) is OOo's Print. CTRL+G (Graphic) is available for OOo and Writer.

Changing Paragraph Styles

PROBLEM: The current selection must use the selected style before "Update Style" works.
INSTRUCTIONS:
  1. Select text that will use the style.
  2. Press F11 or click the icon to the left of the Styles dropdown to open the "Styles and Formatting" box.
  3. Double-click the desired style.
  4. Format the text to the desired font, size, etc.
  5. Click the last icon in the "Styles and Formatting" box (tooltip: "New Style from Selection""), then choose "Update Style".
All text using that Style will be updated. New text can use that Style by selecting in the paragraph and either choosing from the dropdown at the top or double-clicking the style in the box.

PROPOSAL: "Update Style" should assign the current formatting to the currently chosen style and change the currently selected paragraphs to the chosen style.

Page Styles

The fourth icon in the "Styles and Formatting" box is "Page Styles". Page Styles allow different headers, footers, column formats, etc.. I used them to not have headers and page numbers on some pages. Books with small text could use the two- or three-column formats.

PROBLEM: Changing PageStyles is not sane.
INSTRUCTIONS: To use multiple Page Styles:
  1. Create the Page Styles using "New Style from Selection" or right-click "New".
  2. Edit the Page Style using right-click "Modify".
  3. Set each Page Style's Next Style to itself. Always do this unless you always want only one page of a specific style and always want the next page to be in a different specific style.
  4. Assign a style to the first page.
  5. At the end of the page before the page needing a different style, menu: Insert/Manual Break/Page Break, and choose the next style. If you want the page numbers to reset, set the number here.
  6. Repeat for each page style change.
PROPOSAL: Setting a Page Style should change create a manual break before the current page, change the current page's style, and change succeeding pages until the next manual break. Pages prior to the page being changed should not be affected.

Creating a Table of Contents

Always use the numbered Header paragraph styles for headers to be added to the bookmarks and Table of Contents. Correct usage allows OpenOffice to automatically create PDF bookmarks and the TOC can be updated from the headers in the document with only two clicks. The numbered Header styles should only be used for text that will be included in the Table of Contents. All text that will be included should use the numbered Header styles. While OpenOffice allows other styles to be used, this greatly complicates the process.

INSTRUCTIONS:
To create a Table of Contents with the titles linking to the headers on the correct page
  1. Menu: Insert > Indexes and Tables > Indexes and Tables.
  2. Click the Entries tab of the window.
  3. If not all levels will be links, choose a level to transform into links.
  4. Click to the left of the "E".
  5. Click "Hyperlink".
  6. Click after the "E".
  7. Click "Hyperlink".
  8. Click "All" if every level should be links. Otherwise repeat for other levels.
PROPOSAL: Make this setting the default for all levels. A Table of Contents should always link to the contents.

PROBLEM: The interface is extremely difficult to use without documentation.
The Structure line is confusing and hides critical information.
The "All" button is confusing. The button seems to be related to selecting all Structure parts, but rather assigns the current structure to all header levels.
The Hyperlink button is required before and after the parts to become links.
The other buttons add parts to the structure, but make no visible changes.

PROPOSAL: Change the interface for the "Entries" tab.
Use a two-column selector with add/remove and move up/down. The left column should show the possible parts. The right column should display the current setting with the options.
Header title
Header Number
Page Number
Text
Fill text
Tab
Link Begin
Link End

Link Begin
Text
Header Number Start=
Text
Header Title
Link End
Fill Text:
TabAlign Right
Page Number
APPLY TO:
Text requires a field to enter text, defaulted to "Chapter "
Header Number should have choice of format and start number, default to 1 and continuing from previous sibling if blank.


PROBLEM: The Table of Contents must be manually updated.
INSTRUCTIONS: After changing headers, right-click the Table of Contents and choose "Update Index/Table".
PROPOSAL: Automatically update the Table of Contents during saves.

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