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Touted as a compelling and arguably superior alternative to Microsoft Office, OpenOffice.org begs the question: Is it as good as it’s cracked up to be?

If you haven’t been following this series and haven’t yet used the OpenOffice.org office suite, take a minute to establish your context here. Download this open source office suite (OpenOffice.org), or in the interest of time, read the 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 OpenOffice.org newbie to continue the series.

> Not Quite a Newbie
As mentioned before, I’m not exactly an OpenOffice.org newbie. Through my job as the lead technical and creative writer at BrainStorm, Inc., the Novell Authorized End-User Training Partner, I’ve actually had a little experience. I’ve taught OpenOffice.org, written end-user training materials on OpenOffice.org, and even written OpenOffice.org tips and tricks for this magazine and Novell Cool Solutions. But I was a newbie at one time and I still run into new OpenOffice.org functionality I didn’t know existed. That’s exactly what happened on this journey when I converted a presentation from a popular proprietary format (read PowerPoint) to OpenOffice.org Impress. So I’ll go slowly and take you along for the ride. That way, you can learn from my experience and not make the same mistakes I did the first time around.

> Slides for Sale
I’m the go-to gal at BrainStorm for all things marketing and communications. So the task fell to me to switch all of our proprietary format documents to OpenOffice.org format when we switched our sales team to OpenOffice.org exclusively. Although most documents opened seamlessly in OpenOffice.org format for the sales team, I also needed to create some templates they could use to produce new documents.

Because our sales team often uses a presentation to show customers our end-user training philosophy, I realized I needed to do more than just open our boiler-plate presentation template in OpenOffice.org Impress. I needed to make sure it looked good.

 

> Assessing the Damage
The first step to making this presentation look good in OpenOffice.org Impress was to open it using Impress. I needed to see what formatting, animation and functionality stayed. The original PowerPoint presentation had most of your basic presentation elements: outlines, headings, watermark background, some subtle animations, specific fonts and even a movie. I rightclicked the presentation file icon, chose to open it with OpenOffice.org, closed my eyes, crossed my fingers, took a deep breath, and watched as the blue status bar began its “Importing PowerPoint” countdown.

Before I looked at all the slides, I was happy to see that Impress had a very similar interface to its proprietary counterpart. It had a list of slide thumbnails outlined on the left and a series of task panes on the right. It had formatting and dynamic toolbars at the top and even had the “Slide Design” and “New Slide” buttons I was used to seeing in the upper-right corner. So far, at least the interface was the same. (see Figure 1.)

The best way to see if anything was missing in the import was to view the slide show before I looked at each individual slide. Impress had a prominent button to do just that. I clicked the Slide Show button in the upper-right corner of my screen. The slide show began, but it didn’t start at the beginning like I expected it to. It started from the slide I had selected in the Slide pane on the right. (OK, I admit it. I did cheat a little bit and peek at a few slides before I started the slide show.) I pressed the ESC key to exit the slide show mode, selected the first slide in the Slide pane and pressed the slide show button again to start it on the first slide.

Interested in the short path to familiarity with OpenOffice.org? Read the previous articles in this series. (See Background Basics.)

I clicked through the slides noting any damage. Fonts looked good. The title slide passed. All the formatting on the underlying master slide looked like it transferred well. I clicked through to the first slide with animation. In the original presentation, a new bell curve representing the amount of training end users need to increase productivity flew in from the left, replacing the static curve on the same graph. I clicked to start the animation. It worked! Fonts, check; background, check; animations, check!

I clicked to advance to the next slide. Something was missing. Although the original slide contained a bar chart with a gray background and blue bars, only the blue bars showed up. I made a note of that. On the next slide, I noticed some of the graphics had a little bit of a rougher edge than they did in the original. I’d fix that too.

Finally, I came to the slide where the movie was imported. No dice. The movie area was blank and it didn’t play when I clicked it. Overall, though, the final assessment came out better than I expected. I wouldn’t have to change the master slides (see Figure 2.), I didn’t need to worry about fixing animations (see Figure 3.) or slide transitions (see Figure 4.), and the fonts transferred over well. The only things I would need to fix were the mysterious missing charts, a couple rough graphics and a movie import.

(Note: The fonts probably transferred well because I was using OpenOffice.org on Windows and the two programs had access to the same system fonts. When transferring a PowerPoint presentation to OpenOffice.org for Linux, you might get different results.)

 

> Tweaking
Mysterious Missing Colors

I tackled the missing charts first. I navigated to the culprit slide and clicked in the area where the chart should have been. As I suspected, the little green anchor boxes showing the selected area let me know it was there. What was causing it to appear white when it should have been gray? With the specter chart selected, I looked at the dynamic toolbar to see if it was a chart area color issue. In the area where the color selection usually shows, the drop-down list showed the color of gray it should have been with brackets ([ ]) in place of the color name. I clicked the drop-down and chose a named color of gray. Nothing happened.

I double-clicked the chart to see if I could find a way to edit its elements. Double clicking returned an error, “Error activating Object: General OLE error.” I could reproduce it in OpenOffice.org Calc and then transfer it over. I could use the Insert | Chart command, or I could even use the Insert | Object | OLE Object command and create the chart from there, but I decided to try one last option before re-creating it.

I still had PowerPoint on my machine. I opened the presentation in PowerPoint, navigated to the slide with the elusive chart, selected it and pressed Ctrl+C to copy it to the clipboard. I went back into Impress and pasted the chart in. The image of the chart transferred over. When I copied and pasted, however, the chart didn’t transfer as a chart; instead, Impress interpreted the chart as an imported image, which is exactly what it was on the clipboard. For my purposes, that would work.

(Note: When I pasted the clipboard into Impress using Paste Special, it pasted it as a Microsoft Graph Chart and it retained its chart characteristics from PowerPoint and I was able to still edit it, even the data!)

Smoothing the Rough Edges
On to the next issue: the shape with the rough edges. On closer inspection, it looked like the shadow attached to the shape just didn’t import exactly right. On the original presentation, the shadow was positioned below the shape, but Impress interpreted the shadow to be positioned to the right of the shape. I clicked the shape to select it and then right-clicked to view my options. Because the problem was with the shadow and there wasn’t a shadow command, I clicked the Area option. The Area dialog box had a tab for shadow, so I clicked it to view my options. (see Figure 5.) I could change the position, color and offset of the shadow. I changed the position to below the shape, reduced the offset a little, and changed the color to gray. When I clicked OK and went back to the shape, it was fixed and looked like the original.

 

Going to the Movies
There was just one final tweak—importing the movie. Because I had access to the movie file, I decided to import it from scratch. I went to the Impress Insert menu and selected Movie and Sound. I navigated to the .avi movie file, selected it and clicked OK. A black box appeared on the slide along with a new toolbar that looked like a media player. I clicked play and the movie began to play along with the sound. Now I just needed it to not start playing until I clicked the slide during the slide show. I searched for the option to play the movie with a click, but I didn’t find anything. Adding animation didn’t work either, so I let the movie start when the slide was active.

(Editor’s note: If you know how to do this, send an e-mail to editor@novell.com and let us all know. You might even get a t-shirt!)

Background Basics

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

> Making a Template
Now that all the minor problems were fixed in the imported presentation, I saved the new presentation in the native OpenOffice.org format. The sales team would now have access to the slides they needed. But I still needed to create a template the sales team could use to create their own slides based on our corporate design.

Using the presentation I had just imported from PowerPoint, I deleted all the elements I didn’t need on each generic slide. Because I had two main background designs for this presentation, I kept one slide of each background. I had created templates in OpenOffice.org Writer before, and I guessed this process was similar. From the File menu, I selected Templates | Save. I selected a template category, named the new template, and clicked OK. Now, when I decided to open a new presentation, I could choose the option in the wizard to create a presentation from a template, navigate to the template I created, and then follow the steps to create a new template.

Because I created a template from my slides, I could also import the slide designs in that template for use in any existing presentation. So I opened the presentation and clicked the Slide Design button in the upper-right corner of the application screen. A dialog would appear to tell me which designs were currently in use. I clicked the Load button and navigated to my template. After I clicked OK, the master slides from that template were available for me to use in my existing presentation. I’d be sure to tell the sales team how they could import our corporate designs.

Send your suggestions to editor@novell.com.

> Packing Up
I had fixed the small importing errors and made the template, but the sales team had one more request. Many of the customers they worked with didn’t have OpenOffice.org, so they wanted to know how they could show the presentation to a customer without using OpenOffice.org. I experimented to see how they could pack up a presentation to go and found quite a few different ways.

Back to PowerPoint Format
One way the sales team could make the presentation into a format their clients could read was to save the presentation back to PowerPoint format. From the File menu, I selected Save As and changed the format type to PPT. It was as easy as that. Now customers that had access to PowerPoint could view the presentation.

PDF
Because OpenOffice.org created PDFs so seamlessly in Writer, I wondered if the same were true of Impress. I clicked the PDF button on the formatting toolbar to try it out. It prompted me to name the new file and then began exporting. I opened the new file in Acrobat Reader to check it out. Each slide was a different page and all the elements looked just like they did in the original. Of course the PDF didn’t include any animations, but the sales team can use this format to get the message across quickly and in a universal format.

Flash SWF
Out of curiosity, I clicked File | Export to see what formats were available. I was surprised to See Flash SWF! A ubiquitous format these days! As well as several different graphics formats. The Flash file exported without a hitch although my animations didn’t convert. I’m sure that feature is coming in a later version. Regardless, the sales team could easily use this format too.

HTML
Impress also has the option to export to HTML format, which is a universal format. I tried it. I clicked File | Export, and then in the File type box, I selected HTML. I named the file and clicked Save.

A wizard popped up to help me export. The first step was to assign a design. Because I didn’t have any existing designs, I chose New and clicked Next. It then asked for the publication type. I chose Standard HTML and I chose not to have a title page or to show notes in the options section of this step. I clicked Next. I chose to save graphics as JPGs; I kept a low resolution, and I chose to export any sounds associated with my presentation.

The next step asked me to choose a button style. I assumed this was to navigate among my slides once it was exported to HTML. I chose one of the included button styles, but I also could choose the text only option to display text instead of using buttons. The last step asked me to choose a color scheme. I chose the same color scheme as my document and clicked Create. A box appeared prompting me to name my design. I guessed that had something to do with the first step in the wizard when I was asked to choose an existing design. I could see no reason to save the design, so I clicked Do Not Save.

I navigated to the place I saved the file and immediately realized I should have saved it in it’s own little folder. I made a note to do that next time. The HTML export created several small files the HTML file uses. I double clicked the HTML file with the same name as my presentation to view the HTML presentation. Complete with navigation buttons at the top of the page, the HTML presentation was identical to the native format Impress presentation minus the animations. Even the movie played! I suggested HTML as the best pack-and-go format for the sales team to use to share the presentation.

> In a Nutshell
I presented my findings to the sales team and although the animations wouldn’t work in most of the exported formats, they were happy to hear that the transition from PowerPoint to OpenOffice.org Impress was relatively painless. I counted it as another impressive OpenOffice.org success.

BrainStorm, Inc. is a Novell Authorized End-User Training Partner and has spent countless hours developing tools and services to ensure your end users are fully utilizing the Novell tools you have implemented within your organization, including GroupWise, Novell Teaming + Conferencing, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop and OpenOffice.org. If you would like more information, please contact BrainStorm at 801.229.1337 or visit them at (www.BrainStormInc.com.

Trouble Me

Keep those e-mails and letters coming! What areas of OpenOffice.org do you want me to explore? Send your suggestions to editor@novell.com.


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