Posts tagged ‘Open Office’

New Open Office Release

I have for quite a while been a big supporter of OpenOffice 2.0 as an alternative to MS Office.  It is free, and it tends to be quite compatible with MS Office file formats.  In fact, I use the Open Office spreadsheet to open and fix Excel spreadsheets that Excel corrupts and cannot open.

I have not yet read the release notes, so I don't know what has been updated, but version 3.0 was released the other day.

Good Old Microsoft

I tried to open a complicated Excel file today and Excel told me that it was corrupted and that it would try to rebuild it.  Having tried to rebuild it, Excel reported the file was beyond repair.  Now I have a backup somewhere, but I tried an experiment.  I fired up the Open Office freeware clone of Excel (I think it is called Calc).  It opened the Excel file that Excel itself could not open or rebuild.  I re-saved the file using Open Office and now all is working fine and Excel can now read the worksheet again.  The $0 clone succeeds where the $400 original fails. 

Kudos to Open Office

My company is a big supporter of Open Office, the free MS Office clone that works great (and was developed by Sun as a jab at their least favorite competitor).  Generally I promote it because it works fine and costs $0.  We are putting it on all our new computers instead of Microsoft.

Today I have a new reason to promote it.  I had a very large and complex .xlw file that Excel refused to open - it gave me messages that it was locked and read only and eventually opened it as a total mess, giving me a message that the file was impossible to repair.  Obviously, the last time Excel had worked on and saved the file, it had corrupted it somehow.  All the formatting was gone, data was missing, etc.  So, on a whim, I dug up a copy of the Open Office spreadsheet (which can open and write MS formats), and what do you know, it opened the file right up.  Everything in its place.  I save-as'd to an Excel file, and now Microsoft can open its own file again, but only after Open Office fixed it.  LOL.

Archiving Coyote Blog in Print Form

Recently, I just finished a two-book archive of the first year of Coyote Blog.  Today, I got the books (or blooks) in the mail and they look great!

Coyote_cover_1 Coyote_back_1

Why, one might ask, did I put my blog in a book, when everything is archived by pressing links right over there to the right of this page ------>

The first reason was for my dad.  My dad is 80-something and refuses to join the Internet age, but he would like to read my blog.  So, I produced a couple of volumes of my blog posts to give to him for Christmas.  (See, that's how confident I am that he is not reading this online -- I just published the contents of his present).

The second reason is based more on my having been a part of computers since getting an Apple II back in the late 70's.  Electronic media are not necessarily the greatest for archiving.  I wrote a lot of neat little games on my Apple II.  I wrote programs in college in pascal and assembly language on an S-100 bus C/PM computer.  I wrote programs in SNOBOL on cards for the mainframe at Princeton.  I received hundreds of emails on early CompuServe email.  Anyone know where all that stuff is today?  Neither do I.  Already I remember some cool web sites with content that seems to be gone from the Internet.   There is some kind of reverse-Moore's Law here that, if concocted, would say that the cost and complexity of reading and retrieving electronic files doubles every five years it ages.

So I decided to create a paper archive.  In the end, it cost me about 8 hours in formatting time and $30 in publishing costs to get the first year of Coyote Blog in book form.  For anyone who is interested, here is what I did:

First, I picked a printer.  It was important to do this first, since it determined what format and formatting I had to get the electronic files into.  I first considered BlogBinders.  The advantage of this service is that they can suck all of the content they need right off the web site, really making the process quick.  I decided not to go with them, because (at least 4 months ago) they did not retain any of the HTML formatting.  This means that the blockquotes I make heavy use of just became regular paragraphs.  As a result, a reader could not tell the difference any more between my writing and what I was quoting.  This caused me to look for another option, but you might still want to check it out -- I know their product is maturing so they may have more functionality today.  There is also a Beta going on right now at QOOP Blog Printing that might be a good option soon.

These were the only two direct print from blog options I found - if you know of others, please add them to the comments section.  So, I then turned to the print-on-demand self-publishing world.  CafePress has done a few things for me in the past, but I decided their print on demand was a bit too pricey for this.  Based on a few recommendations, I chose to publish.  I thought their pricing was reasonable, and I liked their royalty and pricing flexibility.  While I don't intend to sell the Coyote Blog archive, I am close to self-publishing a novel and I wanted to give Lulu a test spin.

Once I chose Lulu, I then needed to choose a format.  I knew I wanted a Perfect Bound book, and, scanning the pricing calculations, it was clear the cheapest option was to go for 8-1/2 by 11, since this reduced page count.  Having decided this, I downloaded their Microsoft word template, which made sure that I had all the margins and gutters and such right.

Now came the tedious part.  I wanted the posts to be in chronological order, but my blog displays in reverse date order.  I had to temporarily change the way the blog publishes.  Then, with the posts now in the right order, I just copied and pasted the text right off the site monthly archives into the word template.  I did some trial and error - cutting and pasting out of explorer gave different results than out of Firefox.  Pasting as HTML gave different results than pasting as rich text.  Eventually I got what I wanted.

Now came the really really tedious part.  I went through and did a few different edits, actually working in Open Office writer because I find it easier for this type work than Word:

  • I changed the font from sans serif Arial to a more book friendly serif font (patalino)
  • I deleted posts that had no value without the links (posts like "check this out") and some but not all my frivolous picture posts
  • I added monthly chapter headings
  • I played around with font size and line spacing for readability (remember, the first reader of this will be in his eighties)
  • I added an index with the page numbers for the monthly chapter headings as well as page numbers for may favorite posts.  I did the latter by setting the titles of my favorite posts to "heading 2" rather than "heading 3" for the other posts.  Both had the same formatting, but I told the contents to only index down through heading 2, but not heading 3.
  • I cleaned up a bit of spelling
  • When it was clear the whole was too long for one book, I broke it into two books

(update:  Several people have misinterpretted the "tedious" and "a lot of work".  This was really just minor whining.  The time spent taking the electronic material and finishing it out into a book was about 0.1% of the time it took to actually write the articles the first time around on the blog or that it would take to write a 800 page two-volume tome from scratch.)

Since I was using Open Office, it was easy to just save the final file as a pdf and upload it to Lulu.  Lulu also provided templates for the covers (front and back) and I did some simple work on the covers, uploaded everything, and two days later the books were in the mail.

I have posted excerpts from the files with links below, both word and pdf, so anyone who is interested in trying blog printing themself can see what I did. 

You can see the book here in my Lulu storefront, which has both the electronic and paper versions available for sale.  I am NOT recommending anyone buy it - I just wanted to test Lulu for future projects (verdict:  I was very happy with the entire experience).  The only reason you might buy one is to see a sample if you are considering a similar project.  The cover looks great, and the paper quality is first rate.  The text printing is good but the non-cover graphics printing leaves something to be desired, but that was probably the fault of the source file having low-res graphics.  (update:  Welcome to Blooker Award readers!)

As a final note, in the extended post I have put the text of my forward for the volumes which explains some of the shortcomings of paper blog publishing:

Continue reading ‘Archiving Coyote Blog in Print Form’ »

MS Office in some Trouble

Apparently, this is one of the top new features MS is touting to get people to pay hundreds of dollars a screen for MS Office upgrades:

The new version of Microsoft Corp.'s Office
software will let users save documents in the popular PDF format, as
part of efforts to broaden the appeal of the new Office product and get
people to upgrade.

 Office 12, which is due out by the end of
2006, faces some of its stiffest competition from existing users who do
not see the need to upgrade from previous versions. Microsoft is
aggressively touting new functions, such as the PDF support, to try to
spur upgrades and appeal to people who might otherwise not buy Office
at all. The Office suite retails for between $149 and $499, depending
on which edition a user chooses.

Oooo, that's really going to do the trick.  Kind of like urging you to trade-in your car because the new one has more cupholders.  Of course, Open Office is free, is working great for us, and already has a built-in export to pdf.

Trying to Leave MS Office

I mentioned in a post previously that I didn't like what Powerpoint was doing to presentations.  In fact, I have actually abandoned Powerpoint entirely even
for the few slides I do use in favor of the presentation package from the
free Open Office applications suite.
This package, which has really come into its own with the version 2
beta, opens and writes MS Office applications and is a pretty good
substitute, sometimes better, occasionally worse, for MS Office. 

I am
stress testing the whole package this winter, plus Thunderbird for email and of course Firefox
on which I am already sold for browsing, as a way to begin migrating
our company to having no MS Office at all.  I am tired of paying
hundreds of dollars per seat for applications that overwhelm and
confuse my employees.  Because of our need to interchange files with a
number of other entities, we need to be able to work with .xlw and .doc
files, so this makes for a nice solution for us.  My experience has
been very very good so far - let me know in the comments if you have
experience with these products.

Update: Thanks for the comments, keep them coming.  I continue to have very good luck in my stress testing.  Thuderbird is great, except that the spam filter sends to many good mails to spam - I would like the control to dial it back a notch.  OO Writer is good, with only some small formatting changes on tables from MS word.  I actually find its formatting and outlining tools better than MS word, and like the built in export to pdf.  The excel clone is working fine, and I can hardly tell the difference between the presentation package and powerpoint.  I have not played with the equation editor yet, but my daughter likes the draw package.  I had trouble with the database, but I find it is always hard to migrate to a new DB.  I never was able to switch from access to filemaker, and everyone tells me that filemaker is easier but I just got used to doing things in access.

One of my worries about migrating this to my employees is that many of my managers are computer noobs, and tend to go out and buy excel and word books from Barnes and Noble when they get the computer on the first day.  There are no such reasources for Open Office, and it is different enough from MS Office that the books don't really apply well.