Thursday, July 30, 2009

OOW switch - Milestone achieved

I am delighted to announce that I have just successfully completed recreating my monthly report template in Open Office Writer. I still need to create a new version for each report, but with the template done, that will be simple.

NB: today's efforts were on my work machine - so Win XP Pro.

Things that took a bit of investigation, but now that I know how are easy (details where appropriate in later posts):
  • formatting the first page so that everything on it is aligned vertically centered. (using frames)
  • Creating unnumbered headings in a document that uses outline numbering
  • changing cell colours in a table (not the whole table, just a cell - slightly counter-intuitive in that you have to go to 'Table' not 'Cell' to format this.)
  • Getting the layout of my Table of Contents right - this merits some more play-time.
  • Creating custom colours in the palette - Tools | Options | | Colors
Things that surprised me in how easy they were:
  • paste special - Ctrl+shift+v and then select your format - useful for pasting in Excel graphs (choose Bitmap) - actually, these came through flawlessly, which was also unexpected based on past experience (and they print nicely to boot!)
  • creating a table from formatted data - I wanted to copy a table of data from excel, but pasting it straight in brings in all sorts of revolting styles, so instead I did a paste special | unformatted text and then just selected the text and hit the table button. Hey Presto! A perfectly formatted table of data.
One thing that marred the experience slightly:
  • Early on in this, but enough into it to annoy me because I hadn't saved, Open Office Writer hung. Completely and irretrievably. I had to kill the process. I lost everything I'd done, and I was up to page 3 by this stage! At least it was all easier the 2nd time around for knowing what I was doing. But this behaviour is one I'm wary of!!!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More on Fields - mutliple formats - especially dates

I've been thinking over the last few days that when I was raving about OOW's implementation of fields, I had neglected to test a couple of things which I actually use extensively in my documents, and honestly, I was preparing myself to have to write my first "word does this better" post. I was wrong again. But I'm getting ahead of myself!

What I hadn't tested: using a single date field (call it 'Release Date') multiple times in a document, with several different formats.

So for example, using July 25th 2009 as the date in question, the following formats are required:
Front page: July 2009
Headers: 25/07/09
Creation date: -Jul-09 (I will be manually entering the day number as I create the doco)
QA Date & final revision date: same as creation date, but of course, I'll still be entering the day number manually.

In MSW, I have to go to Insert Field | Document Information | DocProperties, select the "ReleaseDate" field (which I defined earlier from another menu), then click the Field Codes button and remember the highly obscure string to append after the field - "\@ "MMMM yyyy".

Sometimes, if I haven't done this for while, I have to search through Help to try and remember what on earth the correct string is - I simply cannot seem to find a way to do this by selecting GUI options, it does seem you really do have to remember 'backslash at-sign' and then the appropriate format. Again - why was I so forgiving of Word for putting me through this torment???

Anyways, using multiple formats in OOW is a cinch. Lets assume you've already defined your field, but haven't inserted it yet.

Front Page "July 2009"
  1. Click at the place you need the date field, hit Ctrl+F2, make sure you have the Variables Tab selected
  2. Select User Field in the left column, your 'Release Date' field in the middle Selection Column, then
  3. In the right column, click on Additional Formats....
  4. Select Category of Date, and then scroll through the list of formats
  5. if your desired format isn't there, select something close and then modify the format field down the bottom - in this case "MMMM yyyy"
  6. Hit ok, hit insert. Close the dialog box and proceed to your document history section in the document, ready to use the field again.
Document history "-Jul-09"

So, you're at the insertion point
  • repeat as above up to 4
  • this time, you pretty much will have to do a custom format, so in the Format Field type "-MMM-yy" (again, you can pick something similar and then just modify the code - it will create you a custom format automatically)
  • and again, hit ok, hit insert, close the dialog, and continue inserting the date field in as many formats as you require.
But wait! I want to use this document as the basis for the new report in August!
No problem.

Changing the date
  • Double click any* one of the dates you've inserted, where the format includes all 3 of day, month & year.
  • You'll probably notice that the value is now just a number and seriously doesn't look like a date. Don't worry. Just type in the date you want it to be, lets say 21 August 2009, or, 21/08/09, type either in and click the tick.
  • Close the dialog box.
Hey Presto! ALL of your Release Date instances have been updated to the new date, and the correct format preserved for each one.

Extra for Experts (and geeks)
* that little star unfortunately means that while testing this, I did come across a somewhat unexpected behaviour. To avoid encountering it, just follow the instructions I've given and make sure you select one of the date entries that includes the day, month and year before updating the date.

What I found:
When I double clicked on the instances that didn't have the day, but just the month and year and tried to update the date, OOW got seriously confused, changed all the instances to whatever format I inputted and then I had to go back to another of the fields (with all 3 parameters) and update it, but it still wouldn't change to the new date, so I closed the dialog, and then double clicked the same one again and this time it would update them all. So no harm done (alll of the instances still have all the correct formatting), but if you tell OOW that 'december 2009' now needs to be '21 January 2009' it doesn't know what to do with that 21. So, yeah, programatically that makes sense, but from a usability perspective, it means I needed to be more specific in my instructions.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

OO CD Jewel Case Template

Indeed I can upload my template to and indeed I have. (but you won't find the snazzy upside down text in this example - it occurred to me there was a better way).

Find it here. And even I do say so myself, it's MUCH better than the other 2 jewel case templates I found.

OO Writer - upside down text in a table

I just found out how to do this and it's a little quirky, so I need to make a note of it for next time I need it and have forgotten.

You may ask why you would need upside down text. Well, I needed to print a CD jewel case, so I went to 'more templates online' and grabbed one of the 2 jewel case templates that came up (thank you for making this so easy OO), but frankly, the implementation was stupidly ineffecient.

I wanted to recreate it using tables & fields so that I could enter the title once and have it appear in the 3 required places for a jewel case. And yes, on the sheet that goes in the back of the jewel case, the text needs to have its baselines facing each other. I have no idea whether you can do this in Word or not.

Firstly - this must be done in a table, it uses some of the table formatting controls to achieve the affect.

EXPERTS: the below instructions put succinctly, as I found them in the OO forum:
"Format Character, rotate 270° + Table, Text Flow, Right to left vertical."
  1. Select the text that you need to display upside now (in my case it also happens to be field/variable)
  2. Right click and select Character (or go to Format | Character)
  3. Change the rotation to 270 degrees. (Bear in mind that this is going to stuff up the height of your row - so if you're needing fixed cell heights like I did for the jewel case, once you've finished this exercise you're going to have to go back and correct the cell height).
  4. Now select the Row in the table that contains this text
  5. Right click and select 'Table...'
  6. Go to the Text Flow tab
  7. Change the Text Direction to Right to Left (Vertical)
  8. I'd also suggest changing the vertical alignment to center. Depends on what you're trying to achieve though.
  9. Click ok, and then, as mentioned in point 3, go back and fix up your row height if required. Lovely upside down text. QED.
And yes, I do need to submit my fancy-schmancy field enabled efficient jewel case template back up to OO. I assume that's something I can do.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Word to Writer - part 3 - Fields (variables)

After my intro update the other night, I sat down that evening on my home computer and worked through some of things I was anticipating to be problematic - with the intention of re-familiarising myself with the specific problems I was having and then starting to identify some helpful websites that may have the answers, or at least some helpful hints.

As it turned out, either version 3.1.0 has made a whole lot of improvements from last time I tried to use Writer in any seriousness, or I actually learnt quite a bit last time around but just hadn't realised. My suspicion is that's a combination of the two. If I write up everything I went through, I'll be here all night, and I'll lose you in the fine print, so I'll just cover one aspect per post.

For your reading pleasure, the topic of the night is.....

Seriously - OOW seems to do this soooo much better than Word, once you know how. But lets face it, file | properties | fields is hardly intuitive now is it? (nor is Insert | Text | QuickParts | Fields as it is now located in word 2007 - that took a while to find! And Quick Parts???? Is that kind of like, ok, no, this is a family show).

Define A Field
  1. Insert | Fields | Other (or Ctrl+F2)
  2. Click the variables tab
  3. Under Type, select User Field
  4. Select a format (data type) (if you need a date, you can use the 'additional formats' option)
  5. Down the bottom, give the variable (Field in Word speak) a Name, and then a Value, and then click on the tick.
If you're not ready to insert it, no problem, just click the close button.

To Insert a Field
When you reach a point in your document where you want to insert the field/variable:
  1. Hit ctrl+f2
  2. Click the name of the variable/field you want
  3. Click insert (or double click the variable name)

Update A Field
And this is the bit I REALLY love about the way OOW does this.
If you need to change the contents of a field, say it's your name and you decide you want to include your middle initial: (and see below for tonight's revelation on a MUCH easier way to do this).
  1. Ctrl+F2
  2. Click the variable in the Name column
  3. Down the bottom, change the Value, click the tick.
That's IT. Every single instance of the field will be updated throughout your entire document. No farting around with Ctrl+A, F9 then going into headers & footers and doing the same, and repeat for every different section header/footer containing the field. Update the value. That's it. Why was I so accepting of the hoops that Word made me jump through to do this????

OH MY GOD! It gets better!!!

I just went back to my test document, found a field, and I double clicked it - and now I can just update the value. Brilliant. And seriously, I am usually really really really hard to impress when it comes to software.

Also, after double clicking a field in a document, you can use the < > buttons to step through every instance of the field in the document. Bliss.

Next topic coming up some time during the week. It'll either be outline numbering, or the fascinating task of changing the orientation of a page in the middle of a document.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Challenge - Technical update

Just a quick update on this little project.

Immediately after posting the previous post, Open Office kindly informed me that version 3.1.0 was available, so I have upgraded to that version.

Also, I have now installed OO 3.1.0 on my home computer, where I am using Vista Home (yes, I am) and Office 2007.

And a couple of additional keys to success:

4. The ability to manage different headers/footers depending on the page - ie Different First page etc.
5. Something I've previously found quite nasty to do in OO (although to be honest, it's not exactly simple in Word unless you know how either) - having a page, or a couple of pages in the middle of a document with a differnt orientation - so in a 20 page portrait doc, have pages 7&8 as landscape pages.
6. Just occurred to me - printing needs to be predictable and repeatable as well (have seen others in the office having issues with this in the past).

And as a teaser to my next actual update on how this is going, I spent a couple of hours last night working through some of the milestones, and to my suprise, I was seriously impressed. And at a technology level, I have high expecations and am not easily impressed. Watch this space, will update this weekend.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Challenge - Part 1

Ok, I've been thinking about this for days now, actually, I've toyed with it years, but I've been seriously thinking about it this time around for days. No more thinking, time to take action.

The challenge: switch from using MS Office Word to Open Office Writer.
The fear: oh dear god, there are so many!
  • I am a power user in Word, and have been for years. I don't so much use VB to simplify things like I used to, but I am completely at home in Word and am confident I can make it do whatever I need it to, and I tend to ask more of it than the average user.
  • I love efficiency & I love, no, EXPECT logical, intuitive interaction with technology - now admittedly, what I'm calling intuitive, may simply be more about familiarity in this instance - I'm now simply too familiar with Word to be able to judge if it is in fact intuitive or not.
  • I have used Open Office Writer and so far, my experiences have ended in frustration, disillusion and a sigh of relief as I have returned to using Word. (Not to mention getting seriously agro with Open Office apps randomly crashing in the middle of operation.)
The motivation:
  • I work for a company that is passionate about Open Standards, (which I get) and Open Source - which I kinda get, but not as much as I want to. (I confessed all of this to my manager the other day and did seriously wonder if I was severely impacting my future career options! He responded with a comprehensive reading list - which I'm working through (in fact, I just stopped reading "The Cathedral & The Bizarre" to write this.))
  • I don't do things by halves. I'm not comfortable with being passionate about the company I work for, but not being fully on board, or at least not fully understanding, the things that my employer is passionate about.
  • I'm not a programmer (although I did learn to be one), and I'm no longer a hands on tech (and haven't been for years) but I am technically savvy, and most importantly, I am passionate about 'Invisible Technology' - ie - a user should NOT have to think about using technology, they should just be able to do the things they need to do. Full stop. (I need to write a more detailed entry on this as it will take more than a couple of sentences, but you'll have to wait for that one! Suffice to say - ease of user experience is high on my list of priorities).
  • Other than email, a word processor is probably the most common office tool people use in a work environment, or at the very least, it's right up there. (ok, I'm also not quite ready to let go of my Excel comfort zone - yep, power user there too, but one step at a time!).
3 keys to success

Without thinking about it too hard, I can think of 3 things that I am going to have to get comfortable & confident with in Writer to consider my switch a success.

(Oh - important point - this HAS to be a success, I am not even considering failure as an option - I am confident that I can become as confident & at home in Writer as I am in Word and can hopefully contribute some helpful suggestions for others making the switch as I go)
  • Beat outline numbering into submission - this is a challenge that has caused me to give up this quest in the path - despite reading multiple articles and spending some considerable time, I have never managed to fathom the logic in Writer's particluar implementation of Outline numbering (and maybe I'll read back on this and wonder what sort of dunce I was in the past to have not got it, but there it is for now).
  • Fields - I use fields extensively in Word documents - especially for monthly reports & contracts where the same name, term, number, word etc. needs to appear in multiple places throughout the document (including in headers and footers). And yes, this is another thing that I have so far failed to master in OO Writer.
  • Interoperability - and yes, I appreciate this one could be a big ask. I will have a need to copy graphs from Excel into Writer. I'm not the only one (I tend to be the go-to person for all desktop apps). If I have to go via OO Calc, so be it, but I need to be able to do this and have the graph turn up in Writer looking professional and not mangled - which has been my experience to date, and also my observed experience where I am receiving Writer docos from other people needing to do this.
Technical bits
Version of MS Office Word: 2003, SP3
Version of OO Writer I have currently installed: (waiting for it to open................) (can you see I'm really very apprehensive about this??? :) Rest assured, I am committed (and am still waiting)) There it is! 3.0.1
OS I'm Using: Windows XP Pro, versio 2002, SP3

So there it is. I'll update as my journey progresses.