Point & Click OpenOffice.org, by Robin 'Roblimo' Miller, ISBN: 0-13-187992-8

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, January 2006
Published by: Prentice Hall
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$29.99, CAN$41.99

OpenOffice.org (OOo) has grown into a viable contender for Windows, Mac and Linux desktops. That is, the OOo office suite consists of word processor, spreadsheet, drawing, presentation and database programs which essentially meet all of the common (and plenty of not-so-common) needs in most home-offices, a great number of small business offices and quite a few larger offices. OpenOffice.org v1 and OpenOffice.org v2, as we noted in recent Kickstartnews reviews, are awfully cool and fit the bill for an enormous and growing number of users. Did I mention that OOo is also available completely free of charge? Go forth immediately and beseech the powers that be to bless the geeky heads of all the smart and devoted open source programmers and contributors who created and continue to develop OpenOffice.org. Let's see now—Microsoft Office Standard ($399.00 new, upgrade $239.00) or OpenOffice ($000.00 new, upgrade $000.00). Hmm. You decide. All you really need after downloading and installing OOo is a reference or guidebook to help you get the most out of the software. For the uninitiated, the OpenOffice.org 2.0 office suite is composed of a word processor (Writer), spreadsheet (Calc), presentation (Impress), drawing (Draw), and database (Base) programs.

As Microsoft Office and WordPerfect Office devotees recoil in horror at my thinly veiled suggestion to dump MS Office and WP Office in favor of (shudder) something free, allow me to disclose my heretofore unassailable loyalty to Microsoft Office. Of course a careful analysis of my apparently irrational abidance will quickly reveal that I am loathe to discard anything for which I've repeatedly paid $500 (no MS Office Standard Editions for me—no sir—it's the Professional Edition or nothing). More's the fool me I suppose for having over twelve years repeatedly purchased and upgraded something, half of which invariably remains unused from one year to the next.

Enterprise users, on the other hand, who have need of Outlook's calendar and some of Office's in-built workgroup and task management features can look away now because OOo doesn't do those things. At the end of the day, deciding what's best for your business and personal productivity on the Windows, Mac or Linux desktop should have more to do with cost, ease of use and operational efficiency than it does with any standardized cachet associated with Microsoft or Corel office products. Obviously, MS Office and WP Office have their places. But are they really what you need for your particular business? And if they're emphatically not what you need because of cost and a stratospheric selection of features and functions that are completely useless to you, what's stopping you from downloading and installing OOo? The answer should be,"Nothing at all!" Point & Click OpenOffice.org is good companion purchase. As a matter of fact, the book is supplied with two CDs containing OpenOffice.org 2, the Firefox web browser, the Thunderbird e-mail software and 20 tutorial videos created by author Miller. It can't get any easier.

Author Robin ‘Roblimo’ Miller is the editor-in-chief of the Open Source Technology Group (OSTG) and is a recognized Linux and OpenOffice.org expert. If you're suddenly wondering why I keep including the ".org" in the name of the software it's because (in true oddball open source fashion) that's the name of the office suite. It's also the name of the organization that's been formed to plan and develop OOo. And it's the URL for the software and the project web site. OpenOffice.org (the organization) is managed by a governing Community Council composed of elected members. The Community Council is advised by an Engineering Steering Committee. It is possible to donate money to the organization, but its stated need is project contribution rather than money. There you go—a well organized group comprised of people from all over the world, coming and going, working together on a central plan and product based on cogent planning. OpenOffice.org (the software) has been around in various versions since Sun Microsystems released its StarOffice suite. The OpenOffice.org Project is an international community of volunteers and sponsors including founding sponsor and primary contributor, Sun Microsystems.

Point & Click OpenOffice.org covers all of the top level functionality in all of the component programs. The book is divided into three sections, each of which provides progressively more detailed instruction. Section 1 provides an overview of each program in the suite, with descriptions of the range of features and a guide to getting started with each program. Section 2 contains in-depth usage instruction for each program. Each subsection in section 2 has been contributed by various OOo experts and there's some excellent tutorial here. Section 3 deals with the extras that help round out OOo into a complete open source solution for home-office and small businesses. Basic instruction in the use of Thunderbird for e-mail and Firefox for web browsing is provided. The book CD contains all of the software referenced in the book, so if you truly want to get started seriously with this stuff, this publication is the best one-stop shop I've seen.

Reading the book from cover to cover was absorbing enough to motivate a much deeper look into OOo itself. I've been using OOo on and off for several years, always sliding back over to MS Office out of habit and concern over compatibility issues. With the compatibility issues largely a thing of the past, this book really forced me to take the closest possible look at OOo. Walking through the tutorials in section 2 was a revelation and provided the impetus I needed to fully implement a transition to OOo that has really been brewing for a long time. I'm now using OOo daily and have no intention of going back to MS Office except to deal with the occasional high-end publication in Word format that I receive through the research grapevine. Some of those documents are so ridiculously complex that even Word itself does not always reliably load them. I used Point & Click OpenOffice.org as a reference for over a month, but I'm now so familiar with the software that I no longer need the book.

Cons: The book is not long enough by half. OOo is a genuine powerhouse and I expected many more tutorials in section 2 of the book (at least five per program?) as well as tweaking and adjustment advice to help solve common problems associated with importing difficult Word and Excel files. Despite the absence of the workgroup, document sharing, calendar and journal functionality found in MS Office, Miller offers no suggestions for re-acquiring any of that sort of functionality in OOo.

Pros: OpenOffice.org is ready for prime time and the publishing of Miller's book is indeed timely as well. Everything you need is supplied with the book including version 2 of the OpenOffice software, the Windows version of the Firefox web browser and the excellent Thunderbird e-mail software—better than this you can't get. The tutorial videos are reasonably clear and informative and should help relative beginners get started very quickly. Miller presents his instructions using friendly language. OOo represents a viable alternative for most home-offices and small businesses. Many larger businesses will also find that OOo fits the bill perfectly. Miller's book should be purchased as part of any transition from MS Office or WP Office because it will ease the transition and help to make you and your employees as fully productive as they were before the transition. Good book. Recommended.

Comments? Questions? Qualms? Technical problems? Send an e-mail!





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