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You've built a linux desktop. You've mounted the learningcurve to configure the hardware (or paid someone else todo so) and you are able to do your own work on the machine.You've discovered that if you can point and click you can runa modern linux OS on your desktop.

But how is it you will ever relate to the rest of the world? What do you do with the MS attachments people send you? How do you enjoy the music distributed in formats for a Windows World?

First, for the impatient working in a gui environment, here is a quick mapping from the proprietary tools you may have used in the past to the tools now potentially available on your new linux installation.

MS Word <--> KWord, AbiWord, OpenOffice Writer
MS Excel <--> Gnumeric, KSpread, OpenOffice Calc
MS Powerpoint <--> OpenOffice Impress

Openoffice.org seeks to permit you to deal with the word, excel and powerpoint files your colleagues may send you as an attachment, to manipulate those files and save them back to a format your MS-using coworkers may still be dependent on. OOo's Writer will read and write Word formatted .doc files (and many other popular formats, as well). OOo's Calc will read and write .xls excel files, OOo's Impress reads and writes a .ppt powerpoint presentation file.

And it does a fine job with each of these formats.

But OpenOffice, seeking to do everything for everyone has also begun to bloat, resulting in slow startups and requiring patience from time to time, particularly for those working with older processors or less memory.

Fortuantely, for the impatient working on an old PII, (as I do when working on this notebook), there are other alternatives, including KWord and AbiWord which are also able to render MS Word files much more quickly. I've experienced anomolies when opening an MS Word file with Abiword, including an embedded image which rendered upside down. But OpenOffice showed me that image as the author intended.

For reviewing and working with your coworker's spreadsheets, you have at least these options: Gnumeric, KSpread and OOo's Calc. Even with OOo already open, my experience has been that Gnumeric and KSpread are much faster at getting you to your work. Each of these packages has made tremendous strides in their development over the last couple of years so that they now rival any spreadsheet on the market for features used by the average user. Any of these products will also save your changes back to an MS .xls format so you can send your work back to your Windows using coworkers in a format they can use.

You don't always need to incur the overhead of opening a gui tool to get your work done though. In fact I rarely do. When I see a .doc file attached to the email I'm reading in mailx (a command line email client), I save that message as a unique file and then from a command line, use munpack to extract the attachments from the email. With a .doc file now in my filesystem I can read the content with catdoc or antiword (piping the results of either through less). Be forewarned that either of these tools have trouble unscrambling versioned changes in an MS Word file. But most of my correspondents don't use that feature anyway.

For the perl-literate who want to automate the parsing or building of MS Excel files without having a human operator open a gui spreadsheet program for the task, you'll want to go to CPAN for XML::Excel, Spreadsheet::WriteExcel, Spreadsheet::ParseExcel and Spreadsheet::SimpleExcel.

After building a 15,000+ line perl application for a client a few years ago, I was still having to take thirty minutes a day to convert a comma delimited nightly data dump into an excel file our client could read. She didn't seem amenable to learning to import a csv dump directly herself. Spreadsheet::WriteExcel was the answer to my prayers. It allowed my cron job to give her a report in the format she wanted without interrupting my work day by opening OpenOffice each morning.

While our open source development community has made tremendous strides in learning to read and write proprietary formats, we can make our own contribution as users by educating our clients and coworkers about open source standards. I often find myself walking a colleague or client through the process of importing or exporting a comma or tab delimited file from a database engine or spreadsheet, so I can import that data into a postgres or mysql database engine.

If I get them trained to do this work, it often saves me time and trouble in the long run. I'll open up gnumeric so I have a gui interface to refer to as I coach someone to study their drop down menus looking for a Data -> Export option, or their application's equivalent.

For those using a distribution using the apt advanced package manager, (Debian, Ubuntu and their progeny) installation can be as easy as running the following from a root prompt:

apt-get install gnumeric kcalc kword abiword antiword catdoc openoffice

although, I tend to go upstream to the source when installing OpenOffice on a new machine. Its a large program and requires quite a few cpu cycles to build so set aside an hour on a newer machine. But between the pace of development with OOo's products and the conservative practices for promoting packages to the Debian Stable, or even Testing distros, its worth the effort. Here is how I do it.

Start by browsing to the website at: http://download.openoffice.org/2.0.3/index.html

and choosing your OS. The linux version is 120mb. Download to your local directory.

On a command line, use su - to become root, like so:

hesco@localhost:~$ su - 	<-- the hyphen tells the switch
					user command to assume the environmental 
					variables of the new user, in this case 
					the default new user, root.  

	password: 			<-- answer with the root password

	localhost:~# 			<-- Note the new prompt, so you know you are dangerous
	localhost:~# apt-get install alien 
					<-- for Debian like systems, see below
	localhost:~# cd /usr/local 	<-- a convenient place many folks use 
					to build and store locally built applications
	localhost:/usr/local# mv ~hesco/OOo_2.0.3_LinuxIntel_install.tar.gz .
	localhost:/usr/local# tar xzvf OOo_2.0.3_LinuxIntel_install.tar.gz
	localhost:/usr/local# cd OOC680_m7_native_packed-1_en-US.9044/RPMS/
					<-- though I believe that directory name is subject to change.  

Once in the RPMS directory, if you are using RedHat or Suse or others which use the Red Hat Package Management System, you can use

localhost: .../RPMS# rpm -ivh *.rpm

to start the install.

However if you use a Debian like system, you will need alien, installed above with apt-get, to first convert the rpm's into .deb files, ready for installation.

localhost: .../RPMS# for i in *.rpm; do echo "alien $i"; done

When I reach for the power of the bash prompt's for .. do .. done loop, I test it first by having it echo the commands I want to run to make sure I got it right. If that gives you the expected output, you can proceed with:

localhost: .../RPMS# for i in *.rpm; do alien $i; done

On a new machine with sufficient memory, go for coffee. On an older, slower machine, go to dinner. Don't forget to lock access to your desktop when you walk away. Your processor will do this work in the background.

It will give you output like the following:

openoffice.org-gnome-integration_2.0.3-8_i386.deb generated 

When its done, there should be a one-to-one correspondence between .rpm's and .deb's in the directory. Now to install them. Again test your for loop before you do the real work.

localhost: .../RPMS# for i in *.deb; do echo "dpkg -i $i"; done

If everything looks as it should, try:

localhost: .../RPMS# for i in *.deb; do dpkg -i $i; done

and take another break. Go to another window to read your email, or lock your screen and go for a walk. When you come back, you should see the familiar output of apt-get install, that it read your database, prepared, unpacked and set up each of the .deb files in the directory.

Now, one last step and you should be ready.

localhost: .../RPMS# cd desktop-integration
	localhost: .../RPMS/desktop-integration# dpkg -i 

or if you are using Suse or RedHat, use instead rpm -ivh and choose the correct package name.

These packages will integrate OpenOffice into your desktop menus so they are accessible by mouse. Or you can invoke OO from a command line like so:

hesco@localhost:~$ soffice 

<-- the ampersand will background the process and give you your shell prompt back for other work, without waiting for you to quit OpenOffice.

The command `soffice` was chosen apparently out of respect for Open Office's history. The OOo project got its start several years ago when Sun open sourced the code for its Star Office office suite, which even then was a fairly mature one-for-one replacement for MS Office.

But whether you work a command line with tools like catdoc and antiword, or ride a mouse to access the power of gnumeric, abiword, the K Office suite or Open Office, making the move to linux need not isolate you from your MS using colleagues and clients. You can use linux in a windows world and continue to work with those who have not yet made the migration to open source tools and file formats.

Check back for the next installment to learn how to access the audio and video formats distributed for proprietary operating systems from your open source desktop.

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Comments about this article
Striping Word files and converting to RT
writen by: Kyt on 2007-03-19 18:08:56
I am looking for a method to convert word files to RTF. I already strip them from our e-mail and place them in unique folders, now have to figure out how to convert them to RTF in an automated fashion. I just can't figure how to do this in a simple method? Any ideas? Currently we manually use open office and then forward them to the intended recipient. Kyt
RE: Striping Word files and converting to RT written by Kyt:
Excellent post!
writen by: Steve on 2008-04-22 08:40:36
I am a HE student in the UK and one of the very difficult things I find when trying to work with Windows users/clients is document compatibility and how I would be able to read from and export to formats that absolutely [b]anyone[/b] can access. I push for people to write to free formats (I've even given a few presentations about the advantages of doing so) but when documents of the strictly proprietary type are received (via email/IM mostly) I often find them difficult to deal with. At this somewhat critical stage of my life where I am about to jump into what is usually called "the real world", I feel it is important that I can work using the platform of my choice in any situation (Debian GNU/Linux currently). I simply do not want to have to use and only use Microsoft products in order to get work done. Thank you for clearing up on many of the areas in which I previously felt was difficult to approach people about. I didn't even ask my LUG for advice. Now that I think about it, it was silly of me not to approach them about it. I will link to this post as a great aid for persons new to or finding it difficult to stay on the side of free and open source software. Many thanks again, Steve
RE: Excellent post! written by Steve:
KSpread cannot export in Excel formats
writen by: Brolin Empey on 2008-07-21 15:10:11
KSpread v1.6.3 [b]cannot export[/b] in Excel formats! It can [i]import[/i] from Excel, but not export. I am using kspread v1:1.6.3-4ubuntu7 on Ubuntu v8.04.1. Please update the article.
RE: KSpread cannot export in Excel formats written by Brolin Empey:

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