December 1, 2006

OpenOffice.org announces contest winners

Author: Bruce Byfield

OpenOffice.org has announced the winners of its template and clipart contest. The judges distributed a total of five cash prizes totalling $1,700 for templates, and three cash prizes totalling $1,300 for clipart, as well as two Honorable Mentions for templates. In addition, the project will send T-shirts and other OpenOffice.org merchandise to many of the other entrants.

By the October 31 deadline, the contest had attracted 97 entries: 24 for Writer, 31 for Calc, 11 for Draw, 15 for Impress, and 16 for clipart. A number of entries were sets of three or more, especially for Writer and Calc, so the total number of templates and clipart received was more than twice as high as those numbers. Russell Ossendryver of Worldlabel.com, which sponsored the contest, says, "We were a little worried during to first couple of weeks, as only a few entries trickled in. Then during the last several days there was an explosion of entries."

Entries were judged initially by Bernhard Dippold, Walter A. March, and yours truly, all active members of the OpenOffice.org of the community, and the judging process overseen by G. Roderick Singleton and Scott Carr of the OpenOffice.org Documentation Project. Each judge narrowed the entries to three finalists in his category, and forwarded them to Ossendryver, who chose the winners.

Speaking on behalf of the judges, Ossendryver says, "Picking the winners was extremely difficult. Many templates that did not make the top 5 winner list or an honorable mention were very well done and useful, but, unfortunately, some had to be counted out.

"In order to pick the winners, I eventually had to go beyond the basic criteria for judging. I had to look for templates that showed elements of what OpenOffice.org has to offer, as well as complexity and innovation."

Judging the template contest

"What have I got myself into?" That was my first thought (only with stronger language) as I opened the compressed file of Writer templates that I had agreed to judge for the OpenOffice.org Documentation Project's template and clipart competition. How could I possibly winnow 24 entries containing more than 60 templates down to three finalists in less than a week? And how could I compare entries as different as an origami letter and a Sudoku blank in any meaningful way?

I quickly evolved working methods and criteria. When I passed these ideas on to the other judges, they agreed that they were a sensible way to hack order out of chaos.

Before assessing any entries, I categorized as many as possible -- not to judge similar entries solely against each other, but to help keep the same considerations in mind as I judged all items in the same category. In looking at a stationery set, for example, I wanted to make sure I consider whether it included items beyond the usual collection of letterhead, business card, and fax and memo sheets. Since more than 60% of entries fell into a recognizable category, keeping in mind the special considerations of each category was especially important.

Besides any special considerations, I looked for:

  • Originality: Does the entry have a purpose similar to that of an existing template, especially one used by the wizards for letters or faxes? After all, the purpose of the contest was to expand the range of templates available for OpenOffice.org. Does it plagiarize other office suites? (Happily, none did.)
  • Applicability: How many users are likely to use it? Although some specialization is unavoidable, a template that's useful only to a single government office should generally rank less than one that university students around the world can use.
  • Universality: Does the template take into account that OpenOffice.org is used on different operating systems, with different resources? One template in another category was downgraded in the judging partly because it used MS Comic Sans, a font that most users on other operating systems are unlikely to have. In the case of fonts, Arial or Times New Roman would be better choices, and Bitstream Vera, which is bundled with OpenOffice.org, best of all. Failure to consider this problem caused spacing problems that cost several entries.
  • Automation: Does the template make full of use of automating features, such as fields, macros, or styles? Does it show off the features of OpenOffice.org? The point of a template is to save time, so the more work it eliminates for users, the better.
  • Design: Are aesthetics balanced with functionality? For example, a business card should not only look pleasing to the eye, but give readable information. This balance is hard enough to achieve in a custom card, but in a template, in which the information can vary so widely, it is even more difficult.
  • Explanation: Does the template include necessary instructions? Some users explained the template in its pages, and others in notes or the Properties window, but those templates that offered guidance consistently stood out from those that failed to. They also made judges less likely to miss any features.

I rated each entry on a scale of 1 - 5 on each criteria, and, in case of ties or near totals, tried to decide which criteria outweighed others. Other judges may have been less formal.

With these ratings, I divided entries into finalists, possible finalists, and rejected entries. Many rejected entries will still make useful additions to OpenOffice.org, but were simply less inspired than others. Possible finalists might be lacking in one or two areas, but were effective in others. Finalists rated highly, showing an extra degree of effort that often made them stand out immediately.

I went through the finalists and possible finalists one last time, comparing them to each other and reconsidering ratings, until I had eliminated all except three. Then I ranked the top three Writer entries and sent them to the other judges, along with an explanation of why I had chosen them. Other judges did likewise. The final decisions for prizes were made by Russell Ossendryver, in frequent email and telephone consultation with the judges.

In general, judging was amazingly smooth. Sorting through so many creative entries may have been exhausting, but it was also a pleasure. The quality of the Writer entries was especially high, a fact that their over-representation in the prizes and honorable mentions clearly shows. I am already considering volunteering as a judge next year.

The first prize of $750 went to a scientific thesis template for Writer designed by Matthias Ansorg. Ossendryver cites its "overall detail, comprehensiveness, complexity, presentation, [and] use of different elements and functions." The entry not only included drawing elements and hyperlink organization, but also a CD, and a use of lists and colors that Ossendryver describes as "exceptional." "This is an excellent example for folk wanting to write a comprehensive thesis/research paper to use as a starting point for customization," he says.

Ossendryver awarded the second prize of $300 to Paul Gress's perpetual calendar for Calc, saying that it "makes very good use of formulas, is very clean, and fills a functional need for everyone."

Aurélien Pocheville took the third place prize of $250 for a Beach template for Impress distinguished by its original bullets and graphics, as well as its versatility. Fourth place and $200 went to Michelle Williams for her origami letter template for Writer, which Ossendryver describes as "the most original and aesthetic entry received," but flawed by its failure to use fields and a text frame. Fifth place and the final cash prize of $200 was awarded to Svatopluk Vit for his template for Calc for generating charts with map backgrounds, for its complexity, innovation, and versatility.

In addition, Honorable Mentions were given to Sean Mahnken for a CD template for Draw, R. Bruce Sackinger for a pleading document for lawyers in Writer, and Michael Goode for a mortage calculator for Calc.

In the clipart competition, the first prize of $750 went to Trevor Hitchings for a collection of dozens of pieces of clipart ranging from alphabet blocks to toiletries, kitchen supplies, and food. Andrew Dent won second place and $300 for his set of jewelled bullets, and Nicole Follet-Dunn took third place and $250 for a collection of clipart for teachers.

All winners, as well as other entries, will be posted to the Documentation Project's Web site. Whether they will also become part of the standard OpenOffice.org download is currently uncertain.

Ossendryver and Singleton both view this year's contest was a learning process, and each is evaluating what he might do differently next time. Among the changes they are contemplating is having the preliminary judges vote on the finalists as well. However, even with the post-mortems still to be made, Ossendryver has already said, "I commit to sponsoring a contest next year. We want to keep adding Open Document Format templates to the OpenOffice.org template repository as the ODF standard keeps gaining wider appeal."

Louis Suárez-Potts, community manager for OpenOffice.org, says that the contest "resulted in some superior work. My thanks go to Russell Ossendryver of Worldlabel.com for sponsoring the contest, and to the Documentation Project for hosting it. But it's the winners, with their terrific works, who merit praise."

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for NewsForge, Linux.com, and IT Manager's Journal.

Category:

  • News
Click Here!