12 Get Office Work Done

Get Office Work Done

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You can't get much work done in an office these days without an office suite. Use OpenOffice.org and Kontact to turn any computer into your office workstation.

The inclusion of a complete suite of office tools, including all of OpenOffice.org, into Knoppix means that not only can you try out Linux with a full-featured desktop, but you can also get your work done while you're at it. This hack discusses how to use Knoppix to create and edit documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, as well as manage your contacts and appointments.

Microsoft Office has in many ways defined how people get work done in an office environment. To many people, there is no word processor other than Word, no spreadsheet program other than Excel, and no email client other than Outlook. For any new office suite to get any user interest at all these days, it must tout compatibility with the file formats Microsoft Office uses, and the office suites available under Linux are no exception. Knoppix provides the OpenOffice.org suite and the Kontact personal information manager. While these programs do take some getting used to if you are accustomed to Office, after a bit of adjustment you should find you can still get your office work done under Knoppix.

1 OpenOffice.org

When I introduce Linux to a Windows user, one question that often comes up is "Can I open all of my Word documents?" As a system administrator friend of mine (who likely dealt with the famous Word 95 and Word 97 compatibility issues) quipped, "OpenOffice.org's compatibility with Word is at least as good as Word's compatibility with Word."

OpenOffice.org is an open source office productivity suite that touts compatibility with many of the popular office file formats, including Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and runs on a variety of platforms, including Linux, Windows, and Solaris. The OpenOffice.org tools I discuss are the word processor Writer, the spreadsheet Calc, and the presentation software Impress.

1.1 Word processor

OpenOffice.org Writer is a full-featured word processor with support for spellchecking, macros, revision tracking, and most of the other features you expect to find in a word processor. It touts compatibility with many different versions of Microsoft Word and can even export a file to PDF. Writer, like all of the programs in the suite, saves files in an open XML-based format that takes up very little space.

To launch Writer, click K MenuOfficeOpenOffice.orgOpenOffice.org Writer. You can also browse through your filesystem and click on any documents with file formats that Writer supports, such as .doc and OpenOffice.org's own .sxw format, and Writer will launch and open them. Though OpenOffice.org's launch time is shorter than it used to be, it still takes some time to load, especially from a CD. Once loaded, you are presented with a blank document, as shown in Figure.

OpenOffice.org Writer

Surrounding the document, you can see multiple toolbars much like those in other word processors. These toolbars let you bold, italicize, colorize, and configure other aspects of the text; control alignment; insert figures; and insert bulleted lists. After you have created or edited a document, click FileSave As to select from a number of document formats, including multiple versions of Word, Rich Text Format, and OpenOffice.org's native document format.

To create a PDF of the current document, click the PDF icon on the toolbar, or select FileExport as PDF . . . . It is cheaper to create PDF documents this way than purchasing Adobe Acrobat.

If you are saving a document that you have opened from a drive on your computer, remember that Knoppix by default mounts filesystems as read-only, so to save you must either right-click on the hard-drive icon corresponding to your partition and select ActionsChange read/write mode, or temporarily save to your desktop.

1.2 Spreadsheet

If you need to create or edit spreadsheets under Knoppix, start OpenOffice.org Calc by clicking K MenuOfficeOpenOffice.orgOpenOffice.org Calc. Calc is a full-featured spreadsheet program and supports editing Excel and comma-delimited files in addition to its own .sxc format. While Calc does not support Excel macros, it does provide its own macro language and recorder, and full support for Excel mathematical functions.

On opening Calc, you are presented with a blank spreadsheet surrounded by toolbars, and you are able to create macros and formulas. After you have entered your edits, click FileSave As to choose from a number of file formats, or you can export your spreadsheet to PDF using a word-processing program like Writer.

1.3 Presentation

For creating or editing your presentations, run OpenOffice.org Impress by clicking K MenuOfficeOpenOffice.orgOpenOffice.org Impress. Impress is OpenOffice.org's presentation program with support for many different animations and other slide effects.

On starting Impress, you are presented with the option of starting a blank presentation or using one of the predefined templates Impress includes. After you have made your decision, Impress loads the blank presentation with a layout and toolbars very similar to those in Writer and Calc.

With each slide, you can choose from many different layouts that have already been created. These layouts provide predefined bounding boxes for your text and graphics, making it easy to just drop in the data without worrying about lining up everything. You can make use of graphics, backgrounds, and animations much like with other presentation software.

Once your presentation is ready, start the slide show by pressing F9 or clicking Slide ShowSlide Show from the menu. Click your mouse, hit the left arrow key, or hit the spacebar to move forward in the presentation; right-click your mouse, or hit the right arrow key to move backwards in the presentation. To exit the slide show, hit Esc or the Backspace key. To save your presentation, click FileSave As, and select from either PowerPoint or OpenOffice.org's own Impress file format. You can also export the presentation to a number of formats, including PDF, HTML, and even Flash.

If you find you like OpenOffice.org, you can also download it for your Windows desktop from the official site at, you guessed it, http://www.openoffice.org.

2 Calendar and Contact Management

Beyond the OpenOffice.org suite of tools, Knoppix has an application called Kontact that can manage your calendar, contacts, and email, and is very similar to Outlook. Of course, for these applications to be useful, you must set up some sort of persistent home directory [Hack #21] so your calendar and contact settings don't get lost when you reboot.

To run Kontact, click K MenuOfficeKontact. Kontact integrates many smaller KDE components, such as KOrganizer, KMail, and Knotes, into a single groupware application. You should see icons for the many different components on the left. Click on one of the program icons to load it into the window on the right, as shown in Figure.


KMail is KDE's primary email application and supports retrieving email from multiple POP and IMAP email accounts. Its integration into Kontact means that all the email addresses in the address book are easily accessible. To add new contacts directly from an open email, simply right-click on the email address and select "Add to Address Book." The address book itself has fields for all the different types of contact information you might wish to store, including a photo.

The Todo List and Calendar have all of the functionality you might be accustomed to in a Personal Information Manager (PIM), and they allow you to set appointments and integrate birthdays and anniversaries from your contacts.

The KAlarm applet runs in the taskbar and alerts you when an appointment draws near. This is very useful because you don't need to run the entire Kontact program just to receive notices of pending appointments or to-do items.

The last application within Kontact is KNotes, which allows you to post bright yellow notes across your computer's desktop instead of your physical desktop. KNotes keeps track of all your notes and records the date that each note was made—something those paper notes won't automatically do for you.

If you happen to have a Palm PDA, you can also integrate its information with Kontact via the KPilot program. For Palm PDAs, the KPilot program (click K MenuUtilitiesKPilot) should support your USB or serial cradle without any extra configuration. If you want to change the hotsync speed or other settings, click SettingsConfigure KPilot.

To sync a Palm PDA with Kontact, click SettingsConfigure Conduits . . . and make sure that Addressbook, KNotes/Memos, KOrganizer Calendar, KOrganizer/Todo's, and Kroupware are checked. Apply your changes, and then hotsync with your Palm to populate your Kontact applications with all your data.

To perform a hotsync, click the hotsync button at the top left of the KPilot window, and then press the hotsync button on your cradle. The main KPilot window shows you the syncs progress.

With word-processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and groupware applications all on a single CD, Knoppix has all the common tools needed for getting office work done. Combine this with a persistent home directory and settings on a floppy or USB key [Hack #21], and you can get your work done even while visiting Microsoft's Redmond campus.

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