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What's New in OpenOffice.org 2.4? A Few Things to Keep You Occupied While Waiting for v3.0

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Reversing the X or Y Axis in Charts

Want to emphasize different elements of your data by displaying that data along a reverse axis? Now you can in Calc 2.4.

  1. Double click the chart to open Edit mode.
  2. Select Format > Axis and then choose either X Axis or Y Axis.
  3. Select the Scale tab and check the box next to Reverse direction. (See Figure 5.)
  4. Click OK.

Figure 6 provides an example of a chart as it would appear when first created. Figure 7 shows what happens when the Y axis is reversed, thus emphasizing the months in which a company faced net losses.

Each of the six additional new charting features involve data labels and let you make your charts look more professional and display your data more effectively. To access the new features, double click your chart to open Edit mode, then select Insert > Data Labels from the menu.

New Selection Capabilities in Writer

One of my favorite new features in Writer is the ability to make a block selection of text. Let's say that you have a document in which you've listed employee names and phone numbers. When you created the list, you simply typed the person's full name, pressed the Tab key, then entered the phone extension. Your list looks something like this:

    Robert Adams 419
    Jeff Alexander 420
    Suzanne Arnold 421
    Chris Brown 422
    Sarah Buckley 423

Now, let's say you need to make another quick list that includes only the names of the employees. In the past, you couldn't select only the column of names because it wasn't a table. But now, you can select just the name column. This feature is particularly handy when you want to copy something from an OCR scan or log file. To make a block selection:

  1. Open the document from which you want to copy.
  2. In the status bar at the bottom of the screen, click STD until it reads BLK.
  3. Highlight the area you'd like to select. As you can see from (See Figure 8), you are able to select just the names in the list.
  4. Copy and paste the list as desired.

Converting Text to Columns in Calc

Another useful feature is the ability to take delimited data in Calc and place it into columns. You may, for example, have a table that displays the last names, a comma, then the first names of all of your employees in one column. (See Figure 9) To make this information more useful for any number of reasons, it would be nice to have the first and last names appear in separate columns. (See Figure 10) Here's how to make the change:

  1. Make sure the column to the right of the column at issue is clear. In this example, column B must be empty so that the first names can be moved there.
  2. Highlight the complete range of cells.
  3. Click Data > Text to Columns.
  4. Check the box next to Comma. You'll see how the data after a comma is moved to a new field in the bottom of the dialog box. (See Figure 11)
  5. Click OK.

This feature is invaluable in many scenarios, involving different types of delimiters and even in some nondelimited data.

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Here are some of the scenarios you might run into and be able to quickly fix by converting text to columns:

  • Splitting cities and states (Boston, Massachusetts)
  • Splitting full names separated by only a space (Mr. Edward Stephens II)
  • Splitting fixed-width data (20080715) in one cell to data that spreads across three cells (2008 07 15)
  • Copying some tables from a PDF file

Additional New Features

If you haven't upgraded since OpenOffice.org 2.3 rolled out last fall, you should definitely take the time to upgrade now, even though version 3.0 should be out before the end of the year. (Version 3.0 is currently in beta.) Some of the features detailed above will save you a lot of time and probably a few headaches along the way. But perhaps most important, the improvements will make your end product look much better. Believe it or not, there are a slew of other new features that aren't explained in this article. These features include:

  • More powerful use of regular expressions. You can, for example, use back references in the Replace field of a Search and Replace effort. This means you can change YYYY-MM-DD dates to MM/DD/YYYY dates, for example.
  • Extensions for 3D slide transitions in Impress
  • Enhancements to the suite's PDF export capabilities
  • Three new ways to switch languages during a spell check
  • The ability to right click in Impress and set the background picture for a slide in Impress
  • Enhanced formula input in Calc that allows for formulas that begin with the + symbol
  • Better data input in Calc. This one is a really nice little feature; now when you enter data horizontally and press Enter, the cursor is returned to the column where you started entering data.

So take the plunge and spend the next few weeks learning everything that's new in OpenOffice.org 2.4. By the time you're finished, OpenOffice.org 3.0 just might be released—just in time for you to review another list of exciting, new OpenOffice features!

Back

  • Figure 1

    In Edit mode, select Insert > Statistics to define the type of regression curve you want. Click OK, then right click the regression line to add the equation.

  • Figure 2

    The equation for each regression line in this chart was added by the click of a button. After adding the equation, it can be moved, formatted and styled to look nice in your chart.

  • Figure 3

    New to version 2.4 is the option to place bars in a double-axis chart side-by-side. Simply select the secondary data set and right click to navigate to the Object Properties dialog. The option for making a side-by-side comparison is found under the Options tab.

  • Figure 4

    You can highlight data more effectively in a double-axis chart by displaying the data side-by-side rather than stacked.

  • Figure 5

    With your chart in Edit mode, use the Format menu to select an axis in your chart. Under the Scale tab, simply check the Reverse direction box and click OK. The specified axis will be reversed to better emphasize a particular data set.

  • Figure 6

    This is an example of a chart as it would normally appear after using the Chart Wizard.

  • Figure 7

    This is the same data as shown in Figure 6, but the Y axis has been reversed to emphasize the data for the months this company experience a net loss.

  • Figure 8

    New to 2.4 is the ability to select only one column in a regular text document, OCR scan or log file. Here, the BLK feature is turned on and only the portion of the text needed is selected.

  • Figure 9

    Tables, such as this, that include both first and last names in the same column aren't nearly as effective as tables that include an individual column for each piece of data.

  • Figure 10

    Using OpenOffice.org's new conversion features allows you to take text and split it across several columns in a table. This allows you to create tables such as this from the one shown in Figure 9.

  • Figure 11

    In the Text to Columns dialog, you can choose to separate text in one column across several columns by Fixed Width or by a number of separation delimiters, such as tabs, commas, spaces, and so on.



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