May 5, 2004

Roblimo TEST - OO Writer Story

Author: JT Smith

Introduction to OpenOffice.org
OpenOffice.org Writer -- click to enlarge

OpenOffice.org Writer

This is your full-featured word processor, probably the most popular OOo function. To create a text docment, type in some words. Basic formatting works about the same as in any other word processor. To save your work, click on the "File" option at the top of the screen, and select "Save." You'll need to name your document. Unless you change where you want it saved from the default setting, it will go into a folder called "Documents" in your "home/you" directory.

You have a wide choice of formats you can use to save your work. The OOo native ".sxw" is usually best unless you're going to send this document to someone who only has Microsoft Office, in which case you'll probably want to use the extra hard drive space it takes to save it in Microsoft Word format. Or, if you're going to publish it on the World Wide Web, you may want to choose HTML. But you don't need to make this decision while you're still typing. It's good to save as you work "just in case," and you might as well use the standard OOo file format.

Another "Save" option in the OOo "File" menu isn't called "Save," but "Export." At this writing, the only format to which you can "Export" is PDF, and you can get the same result by clicking the "Export to PDF" line just below the "Export" choice. Presumably, there will be other "Export"' choices in the future, which is why there's a separate "Export" choice with room of other to-be-included formats, but for the moment PDF is fantastic enough. PDF, the "Portable Document Format" from Adobe, is the preferred format for many online documents that may be printed out by users, and in other situations where documents must look the same whether they are on a computer screen or paper.

Save early, save often

Even though Linux and OOo are highly reliable and unlikely to crash, it's always a good idea to save your work as you go along. What if you wander away from the computer and a cat jumps on the keyboard or someone else starts pushing keys? You might get distracted and shut your computer off by mistake; or you might be using a laptop that runs out of battery power; or the power to your desktop might go off for a second. You never know.

Saving your work takes next to no time; hit "Ctrl - S" and everything you've written up until that moment will be saved to your hard drive.

The .sxw format OOo uses is just a fancy name for "Zipped XML," or first saved in the industry-standard "XML" format, then compressed using the industry-standard ".tar" protocol so it takes up less hard drive space -- and speedier email if you send your documents as email attachments.

If you need to open an OOo file without a copy of OpenOffice.org (or its commercial cousin, StarOffice) handy, you can "unzip" the file with almost any Zip/Unzip utility, in any operating system, then read your text with almost any word processor, including Microsoft Word.

PDF documents cannot be easily altered or have sections copied by readers, so many copyright holders like to distribute their most valuable work this way, and so do many goverment agencies and academic institutions who want people to see exactly what they wrote, with line numbers and footnotes in the same place every time (which may not happen with HTML or other document formats).

Microsoft Word and Office don't save to PDF without special "add-on" programs. This, alone, is a good reason to start using OOo as your primary word processor -- and to encourage friends and coworkers to use it as well.

Adding Pictures to OOo Documents

At the top of your OOo screen, you have a typical list of choices you can click to bring down menus: "File - Edit - View - Insert - Format - Tools - Windows - Help."

"Images" Directory -- click to enlarge

"Insert" is your key here, specifically "Graphics"' from the menu you see when you click "Insert." There's a "Scan" option that will take a graphic directly from a scanner, but "From File" is a more common choice. This brings up a list of hinkty-looking arrows and other symbols and displays them so much larger than they should be printed that they look awful.

You can shrink these images so they look decent. In fact, you can shrink, expand or change the dimension of any image you want to put into an OOo document, but first let's find a better image to put into one of our text files. Here's a nice one from our home/you/pictures folder:

Here's that picture added to some text:

The way we got from the large image to one the right size for our page was through this screen:

click to enlarge

The way we got the "Graphics Control" screen was first to click on the picture, which "focused" us on the photo, and we knew we were focused on the photo because it suddenly grew little green squares at its edges. Then, once we were "on" the photo, we clicked again to see the many things we could do to it. This isn't a course in graphics handling, so we won't give you a lot of instructions here. Besides, it's easier and faster to grab a picture yourself and trying clicking on this and that to see what happens than it is to read about it. You can't hurt anything if you click around here; at the end, once you're done playing with your document and any pictures you put in it, you can exit OOo without saving what you've done, and your test will disappear forever.

Of course, photos are not the only graphics you can add to OOo text. Charts and icons are just as easy to drop in and resize, and if you want to move any graphic around on a page until it looks just right, all you need to do is grab one of the little green "handles" that pop up when you click on it, and move it where you want -- and if you decide the new location doesn't look right, you can either go to the top of the screen, click on "Edit" and click on the top menu item -- "Undo" -- that brings up or just click "Ctrl-Z" to do exactly the same thing if, say, you used the little handles to move this picture of a tortoise to the wrong place on the page:

Welcome to the OpenOffice.org Writer Help

Each section of OOo has its own book-length "Help" manual that will teach you more than you need to know. You can read it all if you have time, but it will probably be more efficient to use it as an index and look up how to do specific things as you need to do them. No one user is going to use all the features in a program the size of OOo, and no two users are going to use the same features. Some people will want to use OOo to put together 2-column newsletters (and send them to the printer as PDF files, which printers like) while another may never turn out a paper newsletter but will want to use OOo to produce business cards.

click to enlarge

Printing With OOo Writer

We got your printer set up in an earlier chapter. To print your document, click on the Printer icon. It prints. If you want to set your printer to do more than just turn out pages in reverse order, choose the "File" menu (top left corner of your screen), then "Printer Settings," and change whatever you like. It's best to try doing this with a two-page piece first not with a 100-pager, so you don't waste a lot of paper and ink experimenting.

You do, however, want to explore your printer settings with at least two pages, not just a single page, because some of those settings involve how pages are ordered.

Another trick you'll want to use some of the time, especially with complicated, multi-page printing projects, is the "Page Preview" selection from that same File menu, which will show you exactly how your printed page will look before you commit it to paper. This is especially valuable when you're making something like a two-column newsletter full of illustrations.

(Yes, with some practice you can teach yourself to turn out reasonably complicated desktop publishing projects with OOo. It's an amazing program, especially considering the price, that can handle far more than basic office functions if you're willing to go beyond the raw basics of how to use it, and turn yourself into a little more advanced user by reading some of the references available for the program; there's a list of them in this book's bibliography.)

Other Cool OpenOffice.org Writer Tools

Look at the menu at the top of your OOo screen. One of the choices is "Tools." Click on it and you'll see "Spellcheck" on top. You can have Spellcheck on all the time, underlining words as you go using AutoSpellcheck -- or you can run Spellcheck on the whole file after you've written it. There's also a Thesaurus that will suggest alternate words if you find your imagination running a little dry and you think you've been using "however" (or whatever) too often. Also under "Tools" you have Word Count -- an essential feature for writers who get paid by the word -- and other useful utilities.

Some of these tools have icons to the left of your main working screen. Put your cursor over an icon and you'll get a bit of text that tells what it does. Click your left mouse button on that icon, you'll open whatever function it represents. Click it with your right mouse button and you have a chance to delete that icon if you think you're unlikely to use that function often, and you can also add icons for functions you use often but aren't shown in that right-side toolbar.

You might want to try adding the "Thesaurus" icon; it's not there by default, but it's awfully useful to have handy.

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