Thursday Sep 25, 2008

OpenOffice.org Power Tools

Splash-screen from OOo v3, designed by Jacek Adamkiewicz

You may have seen that version 3 of OpenOffice.org is nearly ready for release - I am now running release candidate 2 and finding it ideal for work. Along with the new release, there's an important change emerging in OpenOffice.org development. For the last 18 months or so, the team has avoided adding significant new features to the core code, focussing instead in performance and usability improvements as well as on preparing a full, native Aqua port of OpenOffice.org to Mac OS X. That hasn't meant that innovation has stopped, however. Instead, the developers have been able to devise valuable new functions for OpenOffice.org without having to mess around inside the (undeniably complex) core code.

The result has been the emergence of many add-ons for all parts of OpenOffice.org and all supported platforms, by virtue of the Add-On Manager and the powerful platform-neutral UNO API offered by OpenOffice.org. After a discussion with Allison Randal on identi.ca about which tools to use, I thought I'd spend a little time while I wait here at the airport describing the add-ons I find are essential.

  1. Presenter Console

    My absolute favourite add-on is the Presenter Console. This adds a new display mode to Impress so that, when using an external monitor (i.e. a projector) the laptop screen differs from the external display. While the audience sees the slides being presented, the presenter sees the slide sequence, speaker notes and a timer and is able to navigate directly to slides if necessary. It's a familiar function with some other packages but it revolutionises Impress as a presentation tool and I have been using it constantly since it first appeared.
  2. PDF Importer

    Next favourite is the PDF Import Extension. As the name implies, this enables OpenOffice.org to import PDF files so that the text they contain can be edited. It's not perfect, not least because it imports into the layout tool (Draw) but it has proven so useful time and time again when I have been supplied with a "dead" PDF file from which I have needed to derive some "live" text.
  3. Presentation Minimiser

    The Presentation Minimiser can be a real problem-solver. I use photographs extensively in my presentations, and the resulting ODT files can be absolutely huge. This add-on does its best to make the file the minimum size possible by removing unused templates, rescaling graphics and doing other tricks to eliminate wastage. Having it on-hand is essential for me when I need to e-mail presentations to other people.
  4. Template Packs

    One of the common criticisms of OpenOffice.org when compared with other packages was that it didn't include templates to allow people to build appealing presentations. Sun included commercially-created templates in StarOffice, but has now paid the originators for permission to make the two template packs freely available to all OpenOffice.org users. Template Pack 1 will be familiar to many StarOffice users; Template Pack 2 includes a range of newer templates and is my favourite. The packs are also available in a range of languages in addition to English.

There are plenty of other add-ons available and which I'm gradually trying, but these are the ones that have become part of my work style. Individually, each of these add-ons has been very helpful for me. Together, they represent a set of power tools I'd not be able to get by without any more.

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