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It has been more than three years now since the first announcement at BrainShare 2004 that Novell employees would begin the migration to Linux and the OpenOffice.org Office Productivity Suite. I remember at first when the announcement was made the uneasiness I felt moving to an unfamiliar open source product. How would I get my work done? How would I communicate with vendors and outside contacts? I was sure they didn't use OpenOffice. At the time of the migration, OpenOffice was on version 1.0 and completely new to us. Like many others, I jumped in apprehensively. If you have not followed Novell's migration to the Linux desktop and switching to OpenOffice, you can read about it as it was documented in other Novell Connection magazine articles:

Last in a Nine-Part Series of How Novell Uses Open Source Tools Internally

In this case study, I will briefly introduce you to the pieces that make up the OpenOffice suite which works both on Windows and Linux. I also want to introduce you to another open source productivity tool that is available only in Linux and ships with our SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 called Planner. We have used all of these tools over the past few years at Novell. These tools have grown to meet the demands of a large enterprise business. Novell has not only been a heavy user of OpenOffice, but has significantly contributed back to this open source project. If you are unfamiliar with this suite of tools, let me briefly introduce you to each piece of the OpenOffice.org 2.0 Suite:

Writer:
This is usually the main stay of the suite as a full-featured word processor or text publisher. As a comparison, Writer is to OpenOffice.org what Word is to Microsoft Office or WordPerfect is to Corel WordPerfect Office. Over the past few years, there have been many additional new features and functionality added to Writer. When we first made the migration, things were missing in Writer that made it challenging; however, now I never miss any functionality of Word. In the OpenOffice 2.0 version of Writer, it has the ability to save in 15 different formats so you can easily share documents with others who may still be paying exorbitant amounts for other suites and still not using OpenOffice yet. The other huge benefit of OpenOffice is—it's free!

Calc:
Everyone needs a spreadsheet to analyze, calculate and present your numerical data or create graphs in an easy to use format that look professional. Calc is a robust spreadsheet and it even comes with a wizard to help you get started with a lot of the advanced spreadsheet functions. Calc's equivalent in Redmond is obviously Excel. There are a couple of areas where Excel outshines Calc, but for 95 percent of what most of us do, Calc does it well. (Honestly, how many users out there really use all the functionality of Excel, anyway? Research has shown that the vast majority of end users fall heavily short of employing even half of the functionality in Excel.) Calc also comes with a number of ways to save your spreadsheet so you can share with others who may not be using it.

Impress:
Use this fantastic full-featured tool to create effective multimedia presentations. You can watch a demo of this tool on the OpenOffice.org site. The Microsoft cousin to Impress is PowerPoint. Impress allows you to do great presentations with a complete range of functionality including animation. If you are new at creating presentations, a number of wizards will help you get started. Impress, like the other components of the OpenOffice.org suite, allows you to save in a number of other formats.

Draw:
This application allows you to create illustrations, flow charts or diagrams. I often use this when creating architecture diagrams or system flow charts. With all of the tool bars and available functionality, it is easy to use. Draw's counterpart is Microsoft Visio. Although not quite as mature, it easily gets most jobs done.

Base:
This database application is new to version 2.0. Base is a great new tool that allows you to view and manipulate databases from within OpenOffice. OpenOffice.org explains it's functionality as the ability to "Create and modify tables, forms, queries and reports, either using your own database or BASE's own built-in HSQL database engine. BASE offers a choice of using Wizards, Design Views, or SQL Views for beginners, intermediate and advanced users." Wow, what a great idea!

Math:
Last but certainly not least, Math allows you to create mathematical equations using either a graphical user interface or by directly typing in your formulas in the equation editor.

As you can see, there is plenty of functionality to offer in the new OpenOffice 2.0 suite. And did I say the best comparison to any of the proprietary alternatives is—it's free!

 

Lastly, I want to introduce you to a lighter version of a project planning tool that you can either download off the Web or you get with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop called Planner. (For more information about Planner, a GNOME project management tool, visit the web site.) This tool currently is only available on Linux, but is well worth investigating if you need a lighter version of project planning software. You can create single project plan work breakdown structures (Gant chart views), or you can have more complex plans with projects embedded within another project. This tool allows you to plan your tasks against your resources and is comparable to Microsoft Project. Planner also allows you to save your work in different formats for sharing and is a great light-weight tool for project planning, and, did I say, it's also free?

These tools have become commonplace for all of us here at Novell during the past few years. Over time, many of the contacts I work with have downloaded copies of the tools as well. As we have found issues with the tools, we have submitted back to the open source projects. That is one of the beauties of using open source is the ability to have access to the code and fix issues that arise. There are many other reasons to check out any of these productivity tools, with the many contributions given back to the open source communities, they are now mature enough to be great alternatives for any of the expensive proprietary productivity tools on the market. So give them a try, and you'll be surprised they will not only work well for you, but also save a significant amount of money on your bottom line because they are all—free!


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