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
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
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
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:
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:
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:
<-- 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.