OpenOffice.org Tips and Tricks: Customization, PDFs, and Smart Image Management

Wednesday Sep 17th 2008 by Eric Geier
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This tutorial offers more tips and tricks on transitioning to OpenOffice.org (OOo). Discover OOo options you may want to change, learn about the PDF exporting feature and how to overcome two vexing issues you may encounter when working with images.

We're back again with more tips and tricks on transitioning to OpenOffice.org (OOo). We've covered a lot of ground already; we've added features, figured out how to do things in OOo that differ from MS Office, and tried to make you more comfortable during your transition. This tutorial continues by highlighting OOo Options you may want to change, discusses the PDF exporting feature, and shows how to overcome two issues you may encounter when working with images.

Just like in other office suites, OOo gives you loads of options you can configure to change the interface and features of the applications. Many settings are perfectly fine as set by default, however as discussed in this section, you may find it useful to change a few. To get started, open the Options dialog window by clicking Tools - Options.

First up is the User Data dialog window (see Figure 1), under the main OpenOffice.org section. Here you can enter your personal information, such as your name, address, and email address. Entering this info here can save time later when using related fields in documents. For instance, you could insert the Author and/or other fields containing personal or contact info into the footer of a template. Therefore, the author's pertinent information will automatically appear in the printouts. In the business, this approach would be great for a company's memo template, so the memo will automatically load in the supervisor's info.

In the dialog window below, labeled General, you'll find the spot (see Figure 2) to turn the Extended tips feature on or off. Though disabled by default, enabling this feature can really help you learn about the features in OOo. When hovering over toolbar icons, menu commands, and controls in dialogs, a short but sweet summary of the button or feature appears, as seen in Figure 3.

Tip: If you discover these extended tips are useful, but find they disappear too quickly, you can increase the default 4-second display time to something longer. This setting, labeled Help tips disappear after, is on the Accessibility dialog window.

In the Memory dialog window, you'll find where you can disable or enable OpenOffice.org Quickstarter. This application loads to the system tray during boot to give you quick access to the OOo applications, shortcuts to create blank documents or open documents, and a shortcut to the templates. If you find yourself not using these shortcuts and rather save a bit of boot power, you may want to disable the feature.

Skipping down to the General dialog window of the Load/Save section, you'll find where you can specify the AutoRecovery save interval. As you may know too well, office suites automatically save your documents at a set interval (15 minutes by default in OOo), so if the suite or your system crashes, hopefully you won't lose all your work. You'll probably find this AutoRecovery feature is even more useful when OOo auto saves more often. To increase the frequency of auto saves simply change the Minutes field of the Save AutoRecovery information every setting.

The next change you may want to make is on the Writing Aids dialog window, under the Language Settings section. In the Options list box, you may find enabling the Check uppercase words option useful. That way uppercased words will be checked for spelling as well. You probably want your uppercase words and sentences to be understandable.

The last setting we'll highlight is the default font settings for OOo Writer documents. Instead of changing the font of your documents each time you start typing, you can make your favorite show up automatically on your new documents. Get rid of the mundane Times New Roman! When you're ready to select your default font settings, move to the Basic Fonts (Western) dialog box under the OpenOffice.org Writer section.

Tip: The Options window doesn't give a visual of the actual fonts, rather a simple list of the font names. If you don't already have a favorite font in mind, you can close the Options window, pull down the font list from the toolbar in Writer, and checkout all the fonts.

If you haven't discovered it yet, you may be surprised that OOo includes a PDF export feature. (It is rumored that OOo will sometime support PDF importing; you can read more here.) You don't have to purchase any Adobe or third-party software; just hit a button in OOo and you'll have a PDF of your document. This functionality alone can save you time and money in finding a convertor. We've tried many, many, freeware convertors to find one that could properly convert the hyperlinks within documents and had no success. That is until we used the PDF export feature in OOo, and found it preserves the links in its exported PDFs.

OOo can also enable bookmarks in the PDF file to act as a table of contents and a way for readers to easily navigate the document. See Figure 3 for an example. Additionally, OOo lets you set other advanced settings, such as image compression, user interface, and security options. To configure these settings, export to a PDF by clicking File - Export As PDF.

In order to obtain the PDF bookmarks, apply the heading styles (Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3, and so on) to the document's sections. After applying the style to the heading or section titles, you can change the font and formatting if desired. You can even create your own styles using the Style and Formatting Pane and then assign them to levels in the Outline Numbering dialog box so OOo will capture heading titles based upon your new styles. Finally, when exporting as a PDF, select Export bookmarks on the General tab of the Options dialog box. Additionally, you may want to select Bookmarks and page for the Panes setting on the Initial View tab, so the bookmarks of the PDF file will automatically appear when opening the file.

Lastly, we'll discuss overcoming two issues when working with images in OOo: linking and image size. Sometimes when inserting images into OOo applications, they can become linked to the image rather than copied into the document. The problem here is that when you go to send the document to your colleague or friend (or when viewing on another computer), the document is looking for the image on your computer and doesn't show up. A similar situation occurs when viewing a document that contains links to images from the Web when you aren't connected to the Internet. The solution is simple; make sure you don't insert image links.

Tip: Linked images can be useful if used in the right situations. For example, if you are sending your document to someone on the same network and you add images from a network share accessible by both computers. Linking to images doesn't copy them into the document, thus the document which have a much smaller file size.

You can see if an image is linked by double-clicking on an image to open the Picture dialog box. On the Picture tab, refer to the Link section. If the File name field says [none], the image is not linked; otherwise, a path to the image will be displayed. Converting linked images to copied images that are stored with the documents is easy; click Edit - Links, select the image link(s), and click the Break Link button

Tip: To prevent images from being linked in the first place, make sure the Link checkbox is not marked on Insert Picture dialog box when browsing for the image, as Figure 4 shows, or on the dialog box that appears after dragging or copying an image into a document.

Now for the image size issue you may run into. Many times the images you insert into Impress or Writer are at a higher resolution than desired for the document, so you simply click the image and resize to make it smaller. This however doesn't reduce the file size of the image. The full image is still stored in the document regardless of how small you make it appear. This causes the document's file size to be larger than necessary. Sometimes people think they are creating thumbnails, but they're actually creating dumbnails, which means the image displays at a small size, but the image file is not reduced, so they have multi-megabyte dumbnails. The way around this issue is to reduce the size of the image with image editing software before inserting them into OOo documents. Trust us; this technique can really reduce the size of your documents, leading to easier transmission via email and to conserve everyone's disk space.

Stayed tuned-more tips and tricks on transitioning to OOo next week.

Eric Geier is an author of many computing and networking books, including Home Networking All-in-One Desk Reference For Dummies (Wiley 2008) and 100 Things You Need to Know about Microsoft Windows Vista (Que 2007).

This article was first published on LinuxPlanet.com.

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