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Touted as a compelling and arguably superior alternative to Microsoft Office, begs the question: is it as good as it's cracked up to be? The original canary completed her shift and I've taken over and headed canary-like to continue mining the depths of this free suite alternative. I'm testing its limits by using it to complete common and advanced business tasks. If I report back to you in short, desperate breaths that the suite is impossibly difficult to use, you will know better than to send in more miners. But if I come out of this experiment alive and well, you may just have to ask yourself, as I asked myself, "Why not give it a try?" (See Trouble Me.)

If you have not been following this series and have not yet seen, you might want to back up for a moment to establish your context here. Download and take a look at this open source office suite ( or in the interest of time, read previous articles in this series. (See Background Basics.)

Editor's Note: The original canary has been replaced. In the interest of full disclosure, she didn't give up or come out of the mine panting, she just finished her shift and turned it over to another newbie to continue the series.

> Time to Shine
In the last article in this series, I tried my hand at creating a form using Writer. It was a form for the children's organization at which I volunteer. We had decided to spotlight each child during our weekly meetings to help the children get to know one another and make each child feel special. I e-mailed the form I created to all the parents and got a resounding response. Now that I had all the information I needed, it was time to figure out the best way to spotlight each child.

Trouble Me

Keep those e-mails and letters coming! What areas of do you want me to explore? Send your suggestions to

The other volunteers and I decided that a multimedia presentation would best keep the children's interest and help make the spotlight time special for each child. I was assigned the task of creating the presentations, so I flipped on my laptop and double-clicked on's presentation program, Impress.

> Magical Beginnings
Instead of getting an application interface complete with toolbars and a blank canvas, when I opened Impress, I got a wizard dialog. I dared to answer the wizard's questions in hope that it would grant my wish of creating a presentation. First question: What type of presentation do you want to create? I could choose either an empty presentation, a presentation from a template or an existing presentation.

Since I didn't have any existing presentations and I wanted a little bit of a guideline for how my presentation should look, I chose "from template." When I chose the from template radio button, a drop down appeared giving me a few templates to choose from. (See Figure 1.) I clicked the first drop-down and switched to Presentation Backgrounds. I got two options: Dark Blue with Orange or Subtle Accents. I glanced at the preview and decided on Subtle Accents. It would give me enough of a guideline to work with and I was sure I could always go back and change the background. I clicked Next.


The next question the wizard asked was about slide design. I stuck with Original on both options and clicked Next again. Step 3 was to choose a slide transition. I clicked through a few and checked out the preview of each, but I ultimately decided to add transitions later, so I chose No Effect. (See Figure 2.) In the step 3 window, the wizard also asked about my presentation type. I stuck with the default. For my needs, I didn't want an automatic presentation. Next.

Step 4 asked me to enter my company information and the main idea and other ideas I wanted to cover in my presentation. I decided to give this one a try. I filled in the children's organization's name and as the Main Idea, I put the title of the spotlight program, "In the Spotlight." Since I wasn't quite sure what the other ideas were, I left that area blank and clicked Next. Step 5 used the information I filled out in step 4 to fill in some information on my slides. It asked me to choose my pages. I clicked the slides it had created and I decided I didn't like the way they looked. So, I clicked back, erased all the information I entered in step 4 and clicked Next again. This time the preview window in step 5 showed a nice blank canvas with "subtle accents" in the background. I clicked Create.

> Adding Text
The screen opened up to a more familiar interface with toolbars and task panes and a blank canvas for me to start creating my presentation. On the left was an outline view of all the slides in my presentation and on the right was a task-oriented pane that was showing me the layouts I could choose for each slide. But, the most glaring text seemed to command me. "Click to add title," it said. So, I started by clicking there. As soon as I clicked, the box showed a gray editing border and my cursor started blinking. I entered the title for my presentation, "In the Spotlight." I saw that I could also "Click to add an outline," but I decided I wanted my first slide to just show the title, so I let my eyes wander over to the layout task pane. I clicked a layout without any outline in the body. In fact, the layout just had a title and blank space. As I expected, as soon as I clicked the layout illustration, the layout of my slide changed. Now, I just needed to add my spotlight picture. (See Figure 3.)

> Serving a New Master
The subtle blue with accents background I chose from the wizard was nice and subtle, but the more I looked at it, the more I thought that it didn't quite communicate what my presentation was about. I searched the screen to find a way to change it to something more plain that I could add onto. I saw it on the task pane: Master Pages. I clicked the arrow to show the Master Pages task pane and perused my options. It was split into three categories: Used in This Presentation, Recently Used, and Available for Use. The first master page in the Available for Use category was blank, so I clicked it. The subtle blue accents disappeared, but my presentation looked pretty drab. It was time to add some design elements of my own.

I knew I wanted each slide to have a similar look and feel so my presentation wouldn't be too distracting. And, I decided I'd keep the spotlight illustration element I used on the form I created to gather information (see Dialing It Up), but I didn't really want to have to insert the picture on every slide. Since I had just changed to a new master, I wondered if I could edit that master page to show the elements I wanted it to. I didn't see any button or task to edit the master page, so I began looking through the menus: View | Master | Slide Master.

A new view came up that showed outline and auto-layout options. Because I had created presentations in Microsoft PowerPoint before, I knew that any change I made on the master slide would apply to all the other slides based on that master. So, I started to make changes.

I used Insert | Picture | From File to insert my spotlight picture. I changed the transparency on the picture so it looked more like a watermark. (Use the glass icon on the Picture toolbar to change transparency percentages.) I changed the font to something a little more kid-oriented. I also changed the background color using Format | Page | Background. When I was done adding the design elements I wanted to see on every page, I clicked the button labeled Close Master View. I was back at my presentation and my slide had all the changes that I implemented.

> Adding Content
Because I didn't know which child we were going to spotlight first, I decided to create some generic slides based on the information we had collected about every child. When we decided which child we wanted to spotlight first, we could edit the presentation and fill in the proper information. This was going to be a spotlight presentation template.

I wanted to use the first slide to introduce the concept of a spotlight. So, I left the "In the Spotlight" title and chose a layout that would have a single line of text in the middle. I added the question, "Can you guess who it is?"

Now I needed to insert another slide. I right-clicked in my slides outline pane and got the option to add a slide. (You can also select Insert | Slide or click the Insert Slide button on the toolbar.) A new slide appeared in my outline with the same layout as my first slide. I switched to the layout pane and changed the layout. I continued to add a slide for each item of information we had gathered about the child, but each time I added a slide, the slide outline pane just titled it in slide number order. I decided I would title each slide separately so I could tell at a glance which was which.

In the slide outline area, I right-clicked the slide I wanted to title. I clicked Rename slide, entered the name for the slide, and I was able to tell at a glance which slide was which. I titled each slide accordingly and got ready to do some further formatting.

> Formatting Shapes, Text Boxes and Objects
I knew that to add some interest to my presentation I wanted to have more than just facts in outline form. I wanted to add shapes that could animate, text in text boxes, and objects such as video and audio files. I decided to start with the easiest—text boxes.

> Text Boxes
Although I could have entered text on any one of my slides using a slide with an outline form, I didn't always want to have my text formatted in an outline, so I created some text boxes. On the slide that would show the child's age, for instance, I created several text boxes that contained different ways of presenting that child's age.

To create the text boxes, I clicked the Text box tool (the one that looks like a big T) on the drawing toolbar at the bottom of my Impress window. When I moved my cursor into the slide area, I saw cross hairs. I clicked and dragged to make a text box area and then entered my text at the flashing cursor that appeared. Once I had entered text, I could highlight that text and change the font, font size, color and typeface. I varied each of these to fill the entire slide with different ways of representing the child's age.

To add even more interest, I rotated a few of the text boxes using the Rotate tool on the drawing tool bar. I simply selected the text box I wanted to rotate and then clicked the rotate tool. Red rotate handles appeared. I clicked and dragged to rotate my text box on any one of the many axes available.

> Shapes
While I was using the drawing toolbar to create text boxes, I noticed that Impress actually has a pretty good selection of auto shapes available. I decided I could use some of those auto shapes to give one more hint about the child before it was time for the other children to guess who we were spotlighting that day. For instance, if that child smiled a lot, I could use the smiley face shape, or if that child was full of love, I could use the heart shape. Although I didn't know which child we would spotlight first, I decided I would experiment with some of these shapes.

Just as I did with the text box tool, I clicked the shape I wanted to create and then clicked and dragged with the cross-hairs to position and size my shape. I also noticed that if I held down the Shift key, like I was used to doing in other graphics programs, the shape's proportions were constrained while I changed its size.

Once I let go of the mouse key, the shape appeared, filled in with a color of blue. I searched for a moment for how to change the color and saw a color drop down menu in the dynamic formatting tool bar at the top of the screen. I changed it to a different color. I also right clicked the shape to see what other options were available. I could arrange the shape, flip the shape, change its line, change its size and position and even add a custom animation or interaction. (See Shaping Up.) I decided I didn't want to make my shape too distracting, so I just changed the color and position.

> Objects
For the very last slide that finally told the children if they had guessed correctly, I decided I wanted to add a digital video of the child. I went to the Insert menu because I wanted to insert a video and found the command to insert Movie and Sound. The command brought up a dialog that allowed me to browse my files for the video file I wanted to add. I wanted to add an .AVI file, which worked. When I inserted the file, I noticed a new toolbar appeared. It looked like a mini music player. While my video was selected, I clicked play on the player toolbar. My video showed and my audio played. I also had the option to make the movie repeat continuously, scale the size of the movie area, and mute the sound. I left all the settings at their defaults.

> A Second Opinion
Now that I had all the main elements of my presentation designed and put together, it was time to make it into a full-fledged slide show. Before I did that, though, I wanted to show my design to the other volunteers to get their opinions. I'll report back in the next article what they thought and then I'll tell you how I finally put the presentation together to make it an amazing multi-media presentation.

Background Basics

Interested in the short path to familiarity with Read the previous articles in this series, which cover the following topics:

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