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501 Things You Wanted to Know About Switching to OpenOffice.org from Microsoft Office

16 million downloads to date for this OS replacement for MS Office

Title: OOo Switch: 501 Things You Wanted to Know About Switching to OpenOffice.org from Microsoft Office
Author: Tamar E. Granor
Publisher: Hentzenwerke Publishing
ISBN: 1-930919-36-0
No. of Pages: 305

OpenOffice.org (OOo) is an open source replacement for the Microsoft Office suite. From all accounts, OOo is gaining significant momentum with over 16 million downloads recorded and countless installations from CD-ROM according to the OOo Web site.

OpenOffice.org is often mentioned along with the web browser Mozilla and the productivity application Evolution as a key component to the adoption of open source on the desktop. Thanks to OOo's popularity, good OOo reference books are starting to arrive in book seller's inventories.

I've been a user of OOo for about 4 months now – trying it out after an install of RedHat 9 included it. I found OOo impressive the first few times I used it and very quickly realized that it's a complete, and often enhanced, replacement for Microsoft Office.

Even though I had a few teething problems with OOo, my initial documents were seamlessly read by fellow users of MS Word, Excel, and Powerpoint – failure here would have been a deal breaker for me. With basic file compatibility behind me, I was able to focus on the features of OOo and I found that I liked OOo more than enough to use it regularly on my Windows laptop.

OOo Switch is an excellent book to ease the transition of the individual user to OOo from Microsoft Office. The book's publisher is Hentzenwerke Publishing – a small shop known for quality books. I equate Hentzenwerke Publishing very closely to the O'Reilly approach to publishing – quality books that are only as long as needed to cover the topic completely. I have a note from Hentzenwerke indicates that the entire book was written in OOo with frequent translations from Microsoft Word back to OOo as various reviewers provided input and feedback on various chapters in MS Word. It's good to know Hentzenwerke eats its own dog food.

OOo Switch is laid out with 18 chapters and an appendix that together cover just under 300 pages. The chapters are organized with what I would call a “traditional style” as the author takes the user from download and installation through basic user interface issues an then into more advanced features. Each chapter provides excellent coverage of its topic with concepts well organized and descriptions complete and fully detailed. Screen shots of dialog boxes make easy work of explaining everything from installation and initial configuration to macro editing.

This is definitely not a “dummies” guide and the title of  501 Things... is a little misleading since the book is not an arbitrary list of tips and tricks – something I, along with our forests, would have dreaded. Rather, OOo Switch is well laid out and makes an efficient guide for completing the transition to OOo. I would have preferred that the initial chapters cover something akin to a quick-start tutorial as I am sure that the teething problems I had during my first few weeks of using OOo are similar to others.

As I become a more seasoned OOo user, I generally get the feeling that OOo does things better than Microsoft Office in most respects and OOo Switch further reinforces this. A tutorial to kick off the book and address common transition issues probably would help. The only other wish for OOo Switch is that it should have devoted some space to transition strategies for individual users and for organizations considering the switch to OOo.

More generally, the larger process of transitioning to open source desktops should have probably also been addressed at least briefly. I've recently read a number of articles on the topic that give excellent suggestions for making a smart and staged transition into OOo from Microsoft Office. Because OOo is cross platform, organizations can often use the transition to OOo as the first step in a transition away from Microsoft.

OOo Switch is an excellent book for learning how to be a productive OOo user. It is a book that will meet the needs of the power user as well without being too technical to turn off mainstream users. OOo Switch will clarify features of Microsoft Office for its readers while detailing how OOo accomplishes similar tasks. The author makes a point to note where OOo exceeds Microsoft Office's features (frequently) and where Microsoft Office exceeds OOo's features (not quite so frequently).

OOo Switch is an excellent book for any Microsoft Office user or IT manager considering the switch or for dedicated OOo users wishing to become more capable in their use of the OOo suite.

More Stories By Paul Nowak

Paul Nowak first used Linux in 1995 while migrating from Sun to Linux at the University of Michigan. He used Linux in subsequent IT projects including web, telecom, telemetry and embedded projects and is currently CIO of a small professional association based in Washington D.C.

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