InformIT

Sharing and Exchanging Information in StarOffice 6.0

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Date: Feb 7, 2003

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Information flows freely in StarOffice. You can easily build compound documents created in one application and enrich them with components or objects created in another. Michael Koch shows you how to use and optimize these features of StarOffice.

In this chapter

Exploring Information Sharing in StarOffice

Information flows freely in StarOffice—not only among StarOffice applications on the same platform, but also across platforms and other applications and application suites:

Using these methods, you can easily build compound documents created in one application and enriched with components or objects created in another. These documents can also coexist in a heterogeneous office environment where you are exchanging information with partners, clients, or friends who may be using Microsoft Office, Lotus SmartSuite, or other applications.

NOTE

If you are switching from Microsoft Office, you should know that StarOffice does not have a feature equivalent to the Binder tool, which enables you to build component publications containing text, spreadsheets, and presentation documents. If you need to join information from different documents, you have to use (standard or dynamic) object linking and embedding or copy and paste away.

NOTE

When collaborating on text and spreadsheet documents, you can also share a different kind of information—feedback and comments from collaborators—if you use special features such as Record Changes or Versions that enable you to record and track changes. For more information see "Exchanging and Reviewing Documents" in Chapter 13 and "Tracking and Reviewing Changes to Worksheets" in Chapter 16.

Sharing Information the "Old-Fashioned" Way

When used in the standard way, sharing information with the cut- or copy-and-paste method is nothing special. Using the Cut and Copy commands (via the function bar, the Edit menu, or keyboard shortcuts), you can send selected information from a source to a temporary holding area called the clipboard (Windows) or general purpose buffer (Linux/ Solaris). You can send text, graphics, sound files, or anything else that can be selected and moved in the source document to this holding area. You can then paste the information into any application that understands the cut or copied data type.

When you choose Edit, Paste or press Ctrl+V to place the contents of the holding area into the destination document, one of two things happens:

NOTE

One exception to this rule is when you are copying and pasting information between StarOffice applications. Here, an object created in one application may not be embedded as an OLE object in a document created in another application if the two applications share the same internal processes for handling the placed object (see Table 3.1 later in this section).

NOTE

When pasted into a document that was created in a different application from the source document, the pasted information may also appear completely differently because certain formatting attributes are not supported in the target environment and hence are ignored when you paste the information. (The cut or copied information still looks fine in the holding area, and you can paste it without loss of formatting into a document that has been created in the same application as the source document.)

If you choose Edit, Paste Special, however, you can control how cut or copied information reaches the target document by choosing a format from the Selection list of the Paste Special dialog box. In general, the list of available formats varies depending on the type and formatting of the cut or copied information, as well as on how the StarOffice application can translate this format into other supported formats, based on the installed conversion filters.

Figure 3.1 shows the Paste Special dialog box as you see it when information from a Calc spreadsheet is in the holding area waiting to be pasted into a Writer document. When pasting into an Impress document, your options are slightly more limited. (Note that the Paste Special dialog box looks completely different when you are trying to copy data from one worksheet to another, because Calc treats its clipboard objects differently; for details, see "Copying, Pasting, and Moving Cells and Data" in Chapter 16.)

Figure 3.1Figure 3.1 The Paste Special dialog box enables you to choose how an object created in another application is pasted into the current document.

Table 3.1 provides an overview of how content created in one StarOffice application and placed in the general holding area is inserted into a target document created in another StarOffice application when you choose Edit, Paste or press Ctrl+V. You can override this default behavior any time by choosing Edit, Paste Special and then selecting a different paste option or format in the Paste Special dialog box. (The default pasting method is listed at the top of the Selection list.)

Table 3.1 Copying and Pasting Information Between StarOffice Applications

Object

Source Document Created In

Target Document Created In

Result

Text (including text in cells)

Writer

Impress/Draw

Embedded OLE object

Text

Writer

Calc

Text in cell

Cells

Calc

Writer

Embedded OLE object

Cells

Calc

Impress/Draw

Embedded OLE object

Graphic

Impress/Draw

Writer/Calc

Copied drawing object

Selected text

Impress/Draw

Writer/Calc

Text/Text in cell

Text object

Impress/Draw

Writer/Calc

Copied text object


Pulling Information via Drag-and-Drop

If you have a huge screen or are running your monitor at a high screen resolution, you can use the drag-and-drop method to transfer information that has previously been saved from any open document window to another. For this purpose, you can keep the windows of the applications you use open to a decent size—each in a separate corner of your screen (it doesn't matter if they overlap slightly, as long as the drop area is visible). Next, press and hold Ctrl and select the information you want to share, and then drag and drop it into the window of the destination document. (As you drag the selection, a small square with a plus sign appears next to your mouse pointer to indicate that a copy operation is in progress.) As a rule, you can drag anything you can place in the clipboard (Windows) or general purpose buffer (Linux/Solaris) to another window and drop into place. The final outcome is the same as if you had used the familiar copy-and-paste method.

TIP

If you press and hold the Ctrl+Shift key combination before selecting the object and then drag and drop it into the destination document, StarOffice creates a link to the selected object; press Alt+Shift, and you end up moving the information.

NOTE

When you use the same shortcuts to transfer information from Microsoft Word to a StarOffice application, StarOffice creates an OLE object.

By default, objects appear at the current cursor position if the destination document were active.

Transferring Information via the Navigator

The Navigator window, first introduced in Chapter 2, not only makes navigating your documents a breeze, it also enables you to share information between documents in various ways by using hyperlinks and links or by simply copying an object from a source into a destination document. There is only one catch: The source and target documents must be of the same document type. For example, you can use the Navigator to share information between two Writer documents or between two Calc documents, but not between a Writer and a Calc, Draw, or Impress document. There is one exception to this rule: You can use the Navigator to share information between Draw and Impress documents.

NOTE

→ For more details on the Navigator, see "Navigating Documents" in "Working in a StarOffice Desktop Environment," p.xxx, Chapter 2.

To use the Navigator for information sharing, follow these steps:

  1. Open the source document that has the information you want, and then open the target document into which you want to insert the information (either as a link or as a copy).

  2. If it isn't open already, open the Navigator window by clicking the Navigator button on the function bar or choosing Edit, Navigator. The list box displays all objects in the currently active (target) document (see Figure 3.2). A plus sign to the left of an item indicates the presence of objects in that category; click it to expose the objects, which are identified by a generic name (unless you have previously renamed them).

Figure 3.2Figure 3.2 Using the Navigator window, you can insert copies of objects from a source document into the current document.

  1. Click the down arrow adjoining the Open Document box at the bottom of the Navigator window (see Figure 3.2) to expose a list of all currently open documents of the same type. Select the (inactive) source document that has the information you want to include in the target document. When its name appears in the Document Open box, the Navigator list box switches views, displaying all tracked objects of the source document. You can now start sharing information between the source document and the target document by selecting and dragging the object you want from the Navigator list box and dropping it in the target document. By default, StarOffice inserts the dragged object as a copy, but you can also select a drag mode that results in a different kind of drop.

  2. Click the Drag Mode button on the Navigator toolbar and choose a drag mode from its drop-down menu. (You can also right-click any selected object and choose Drag Mode from the context menu for the same set of options.) Your options include Insert As Hyperlink, Insert As Link, and Insert As Copy (default). The currently selected drag mode is indicated by an icon on the Drag Mode button.

    • Depending on the current document type, Insert As Hyperlink inserts a text-based hyperlink (Writer, Calc) or hyperlinked pushbutton (Draw, Impress). When you click this link or button, StarOffice opens the source document and puts the focus on the inserted object. (You can use the Hyperlink dialog box or the hyperlink bar to edit the anchor text. For details see "Working with Hyperlinks" in Chapter 14, "Creating Web Pages and Other Online Documents.")

    • Insert As Link creates a linked object that maintains a connection to the source document. When the source changes, you can update the information in the target document accordingly the next time you open the document or by choosing Tools, Update, Links. (For more details on linked objects, see "Linking Data for Up-to-date Information Sharing," later in this chapter.)

    • Insert As Copy creates a copy of the dragged object in the target document. When you use this drag mode with heading items (in a Writer document), the program copies the heading and all text that is part of that section into the target document.

  3. Select the object you want and drag it to the desired location in your target document.

The Navigator is great if you want to connect two documents or copy certain objects from a source rather than re-create them in the destination document. However, not every drag mode is available for all objects in all document types. For example, in text documents, the Insert As Link and Insert As Copy modes do not work with graphics, OLE objects, references, or indexes; in presentation documents, the Insert As Hyperlink and Insert As Link options are not available for the individual objects on slides. In general, you'll quickly find out what works and what doesn't—when a drag mode doesn't work with a particular object, it's not available.

Sharing Information Using OLE

Object linking and embedding (OLE) is a Microsoft technology that isn't really making headlines anymore. Yet it is still very much alive on the Windows platform and has its applications in StarOffice.

Generally speaking, OLE permits a document to be used as a kind of container for distinct morsels of information created in another application. Within this relationship, the application that created the embedded object is referred to as the OLE server, and the application that receives the information is identified as the OLE client.

You can open the embedded document for editing by double-clicking it. When you do, you will see the toolbars and menus of the source applications even though you have not left the container document. (As you can see in Figure 3.3, you can still see the rest of the document, and the title bar flashes the destination application's name.)

Figure 3.3Figure 3.3 An OLE object from Calc in a Writer document.

Within a larger Windows environment, StarOffice can act as an OLE client, accessing data or graphics from other Windows applications. Using OLE is not without risks, however. Although it enables you to mix and match information from different applications, you must have continuous access to the OLE server application or you can no longer edit the information. Furthermore, using OLE can quickly drain your memory resources, especially if you are using multiple OLE servers simultaneously. Also, the file created by the OLE client application is much bigger in size than it would be if you were using standard links (such as DDE links) for information sharing. As a rule, use OLE if the target application does not provide the tools to modify the attributes of the inserted object and you want to insert the object with all formatting attributes intact. Otherwise, use DDE links.

Inserting OLE Objects of Any Type

As mentioned earlier, some methods of information sharing automatically insert cut or copied information as embedded OLE objects (see "Sharing Information the Old-Fashioned Way"). However, you can also place OLE objects into your document by choosing the Insert, Object, OLE Object command. This opens the Insert OLE Object dialog box (see Figure 3.4), which provides two basic options for inserting OLE objects: Create New and Create From File.

If the Create New option is selected, you will see a list of all StarOffice object types plus a Further Objects entry. If you select Further Objects and choose OK, the program opens the Windows system Insert Object dialog box, which lists all object types registered on your system. (Note that this dialog box also has the Create New and Create From File options.) Selecting an object type and choosing OK starts the corresponding (OLE server) application, which enables you to create a new OLE object.

Figure 3.4Figure 3.4 The Insert OLE Object dialog box gives you many options.

The workspace of the OLE server application is marked by a thick gray border, which delineates the size of the object you want to create. If you want, you can resize the workspace by clicking and dragging any of the black sizing handles that dot the workspace perimeter.

Add and format the information you want. When finished, click anywhere outside the OLE workspace; StarOffice automatically closes the OLE server application and returns you to your document. The OLE object itself now appears surrounded by the eight green sizing handles that delineate the perimeter of every inserted object. To deselect the object completely, click anywhere outside the object.

NOTE

→ For more information on framed objects in Writer, see "Working with Framed Objects in Writer," p. 396.

If you select the Create From File option in the Insert OLE Object dialog box, The dialog box metamorphoses into a smaller box with a text box and a Search button. Choosing Search displays the Open dialog box, which enables you to locate the file that has the information you want. Select it and click Open to place the complete path of the file into the text box of the Insert OLE Object dialog box. If you choose OK, StarOffice inserts the file in its entirety at the current cursor position in your document; naturally, you don't want to do this with a worksheet that spans many tens or hundreds or rows.

TIP

If you want to insert only a portion of a file as an OLE object, select and copy the information you want in the source file, and then insert it in the destination document by using the Edit, Paste Special command. To insert it as an OLE object, select the item that matches the name of the source application from the Selection list (typically the first item in the list).

Working with OLE Objects in Documents

After you've inserted an OLE object into a document, editing its contents is as easy as double-clicking the object. You can also select the object and choose Edit from the object's context menu or Edit, Object, Edit (this is the route to go if the object you want to edit is a multimedia object that starts playing if you double-click it). When you edit an embedded object, the title bar of your document window does not change; however, the menus and toolbars of your OLE client application are replaced with the menus and toolbars of the OLE server application.

NOTE

StarOffice does not have the same capabilities to deal with OLE objects as Microsoft Office. Generally, it is not possible to edit the content of an OLE-enabled non-StarOffice application that is integrated into a document from within that document. Instead, you edit the content in a separate application window. For example, if you want to edit a Microsoft Visio graphic that has been inserted as an OLE object into a StarOffice Impress document, double-click the graphic. This opens the graphic in a separate Microsoft Visio window where you can make the desired changes. When finished, choose File, Exit and Return from the Visio menu bar to return to StarOffice Impress. Important exceptions to this behavior are embedded Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, which can be edited in place.

In addition to editing the contents of an OLE object, you can also use the tools of the client application to perform the following editing and formatting changes:

NOTE

→ For more details on working with objects, see "Working with Framed Objects in Writer," in Chapter 12; "Working with Inserted Objects in Calc," in Chapter 21; and the respective sections on resizing and arranging and grouping objects in Draw and Impress in Chapter 22.

→ For more information on working with styles in Writer, see "Formatting Documents with Styles and Templates," p. 255.

→ For more information on working with captions, see "Inserting Captions and Automatic Numbering" in "Working with Long and Complex Documents," p. 337.

Linking Data for Up-to-date Information Sharing

Depending on the method and options you choose to transfer information between two documents, transferred information is placed as a copied, embedded, or linked object. At first glance, you may not see any difference between these types of objects. As soon as you start working with the transferred information, however, you'll notice some key differences:

Figure 3.5 shows the same Calc data inserted (from top to bottom) as a copied, embedded, and linked objects into a Writer document.

Figure 3.5Figure 3.5 The same data shared in different ways.

Using Linked Objects

If you're working with dynamic data that changes all the time, or with a long document that contains numerous graphics, consider working with linked objects. When you insert a graphic into a document—from a file, as a background image, or by dragging it from the Gallery media organizer—you can select the Link check box in the corresponding dialog box or the drag mode on the Gallery context menu to insert the selected item as a linked object.

NOTE

Linking graphics not only makes it a breeze to update a modified graphic in your document—just replace the existing graphic with a new one that has the same name—it also keeps your file size low.

StarOffice also supports dynamic data exchange (DDE) between documents created in Calc and Writer. Like OLE, DDE uses a client-server model in which the application requesting data is considered the client and the application providing the data is considered the server. A DDE linked object thus maintains a live link to the source document in which it was created. You can use DDE linking when inserting spreadsheet data or a spreadsheet chart into a text document—whenever the spreadsheet data changes, the information in the text document updates accordingly. To insert a Calc or Writer object as a DDE linked object into a Writer or Calc document, select and copy the object you want to transfer; choose Edit, Paste Special; and select the DDE Link item before choosing OK. You can also create DDE links between documents of the same type.

CAUTION

Linked objects require (at least) two documents in two different files: the source document and the destination document. If you want to send a document containing linked objects to someone else, you also have to send the source document for those objects—and make sure that the recipient stores the source document in exactly the same file folder in relation to the source document. If the source document is not where the destination document expects it to be, the link doesn't work. Likewise, if you ever move the source document on your system, you will lose the link as well. If you want to get it back, you have to edit the link in your destination document.

Editing and Updating Links

If your document contains linked objects, you can use the controls in the Edit, Links dialog box to manage those links (see Figure 3.6).

Figure 3.6Figure 3.6 The Edit Links dialog box lists the complete pathname of all links in your document. You can use the Modify command to change a source file's path or substitute a different file.

When updating files, however, you don't have to use the Edit Links dialog box; you can just choose Tools, Update, Links. This updates all links in the current document.

CAUTION

If you move a source file from its original location, StarOffice does not give you a warning that the file cannot be found when you choose Update.

Importing and Exporting Information

Having access to information is essential these days. Having the application in which the information was created, however, is not—at least if you are a StarOffice user.

StarOffice has a large number of import and export file-format converters (or filters) that translate foreign data formats, so you can access information stored in a foreign file format or save information in a foreign file format for others who don't have StarOffice yet—but, like everything (and everybody) else in this world, they are not perfect. As in every translation, some information invariably is up for interpretation and gets lost when taken out of its original context. Although the raw data typically is translated with fidelity, some of the information that defines how the data appears in the original document (including fonts) may get lost in the translation.

The retail version of StarOffice comes with converters for a large number of more or less common file formats of various types that fall into five groups: text documents, spreadsheet and database files, vector graphics, raster images, and sound files. Some of these converters are automatically installed, but you can select among many optional text converters when you run StarOffice setup (see "Installing Additional File Format Converters" in this section).

TIP

To get an overview of your currently installed converters (and the file formats you can open), scroll through the File Type drop-down list in the Open dialog box. If the file format description you are looking for is not listed, then the respective conversion filter is either not installed or StarOffice does not support that format.

A Note About Fonts

Fonts are licensed products that are used to enhance the variety and appeal of documents. In most cases, the fonts installed on a system either are part of the operating system installation or come with a software product. Most desktop applications and application suites, such as Microsoft Office, have their own set of licensed fonts, as does the StarOffice suite.

Fonts typically cause problems only when they are not installed, either on the desktop or printer. In these cases, the application or the printer substitutes another font for the missing font; a good substitution is not readily detectable, but a bad one results in visible differences in the appearance of text, as well as changes to the layout, because each character in the substituted font has a different height or width than the same character in the font used in the original document.

Out of the box, StarOffice 6.0 does a good job configuring the font-substitution table to find the best possible match for a missing font. If there are marked differences between the appearance of the original document and the converted document that can be traced to a differences in fonts, however, make a note of the fonts used in the original document and specify a replacement font for each font that causes appearance problems. For more details on working with font replacements, see "Replacing Fonts in Documents" in Chapter 5.

Importing Information

StarOffice identifies foreign file formats by the file name extension of the file in question. If it recognizes the extension and if the corresponding conversion filter is installed, you should have no trouble importing the information. Depending on the file type and what you want to do with the file, you can access information stored in a foreign file format by using the File, Open; Insert, Graphic; or Insert, File command. Use File, Open if you want to import the information as a separate document; use Insert, Graphic and Insert, File to merge the information with your current document. In the case of graphic files, you can also choose to insert the file as a linked object by selecting the Link check box in the Insert Graphics dialog box (refer to "Linking Data for Up-to-date Information Sharing" for details).

NOTE

If StarOffice does not recognize the file you want to import, it opens the Select Filter dialog box, which enables you to select a filter that can convert the information in the source file to a format that StarOffice can read.

NOTE

→ For more details on file formats, see Appendix B.

Installing Additional File-Format Converters

If you choose the standard installation path, StarOffice automatically installs converters for the most common file formats it supports, including converters for documents created in Microsoft Office 97/2000/XP and StarOffice 5.2 and earlier, as well as converters for all graphic file formats it supports. However, you can select from many optional text document converters when you run StarOffice Setup, select Modify, and choose Next. (Windows users find a shortcut to Setup in the StarOffice program group; Linux/Solaris users can run Setup by navigating to the StarOffice installation directory and typing ./setup at the command prompt.) You can find optional text filter components in the StarOffice Program Modules, StarOffice Writer, Optional Text Filters setup item. The Optional Components, Graphic Filters setup item houses the graphics and image converters.

NOTE

Unlike graphic and most text converters, installing individual filters for Microsoft Office 97/2000/XP, StarOffice 5.2 and earlier, and spreadsheet and database files is not an option. They are wedded to the installer and cannot be individually selected or deselected during a custom installation.

NOTE

StarOffice supports a variety of graphic file formats. For a complete list of graphic file formats that StarOffice can import and export, scroll through the File Type drop-down lists in the Open and Export dialog boxes, respectively. You can open the Export dialog box in Draw or Impress by choosing File, Export.

Exporting Information

If you are sharing data with other StarOffice applications, you don't have to export the information—you can use any of the information-sharing methods mentioned earlier in this chapter. However, if you are sharing your information with people who use StarOffice 5.2 or earlier or don't use StarOffice at all, you must export your data to a file format that is supported by the applications they use.

In Writer and Calc, exporting data is as easy as choosing File, Save As and then selecting the file format for the export file from the File Type list of descriptions. In the case of Draw and Impress, however, you have two options:

NOTE

→ For details on exporting StarOffice drawing and presentation documents, see "Saving and Exporting Drawing Documents" in "Getting Sketchy with Draw (and Impress)," p. 744, and "Saving and Exporting Presentation Documents" in "Creating and Editing Presentations," p. 820.

CAUTION

As is the case with importing files, saving files in a foreign file format may result in loss of information because of limitations in the export filters or because the receiving application does not support a particular feature or functionality.

If you routinely share files with users of another program, you can set Writer, Calc, Draw, Impress, and Math to save automatically in any supported format you choose. In the Tools, Options, Load/Save, General dialog box, go to the Standard File Format group. In the list box on the left, select the document type for which you want to set a new default save format. Then select the format you want from the Always Save As drop-down list box on the right.

Working with Generic Import and Export File Formats

When a particular converter is not available or doesn't work properly, you can usually transfer textual data from one application to another by using one of several generic, lowest-common-denominator formats.

At the lowest level, you should be able to extract raw text from a document without much trouble. Most applications store text in linear fashion, so you can import the document into Writer as a text file and then use Find & Replace supplemented with AutoCorrect options and manual editing to remove extraneous characters or gibberish.

When it comes to tabular data or lists, nearly every spreadsheet and database program can import or export comma- or tab-delimited files. Writer and Calc can handle these files too. The data they contain is stored in plain text format, with each row of the table occupying a single line of the file, and the columns within a row separated by commas or tab characters. These files contain no formatting, but work well for transferring the essential information from one application to another.

Most word processors can handle the Rich Text Format (RTF). These files contain very sophisticated formatting information, but they are stored as ordinary text, with special bracketed codes representing the font and layout instructions. If the receiving application understands them fully, the document should translate with formatting preserved. If not, it's relatively easy to extract their text.

Last, but hardly least, you can also share information the HTML way. All StarOffice applications (with the exception of Math) enable you to export files in HTML format, and you can use the Web component of Writer to edit the contents of HTML files (for details see Chapter 14, "Creating Web Pages and Other Online Documents").

Converting Files to the New StarOffice File Formats

Opening files saved in a foreign file format enables you to access the information stored in those files. If you want to work with the information, taking full advantage of the StarOffice features, you have to complete the file conversion process by saving the imported information in the new native StarOffice XML file format.

Introducing the New StarOffice XML File Format

In response to customer demands for content stability, performance, and the flexibility to create, manage, and access complex documents and Web pages, StarOffice engineering has replaced the previous binary file format with a new, XML-based file format. XML provides a platform- and application-independent environment for defining document markup that enables you to output and exchange content of StarOffice documents for years to come.

The new StarOffice XML-based file format saves the content, layout, and formatting information of each StarOffice document as a set of XML streams or subdocuments. To make it easier for users to manage and share files, these XML streams—alongside binary data for embedded bitmap graphics and objects, if any—are saved in one compressed package using the popular zip format. The default file extensions for the documents, however, are different for each document type. Table 3.2 provides an overview of the new file extensions for native StarOffice documents and templates.

Table 3.2 StarOffice File Extension by Document Type

Document Type

Document Application

Template Extension

Extension

Text

Writer

.sxw

.stw

Spreadsheet

Calc

.sxc

.stc

Draw

Draw

.sxd

.std

Presentation

Impress

.sxi

.sti

Formula

Math

.sxm

n.a.

Master document

Writer

.sxg

n.a.


Using a zip archive utility (such as PKZip or WinZip), you can easily view and unpack the streams that make up the full StarOffice document, as shown in Figure 3.7.

NOTE

Some zip utilities—such as StuffIt—that identify archives based on extensions rather than the archive's entry header will not recognize a StarOffice XML file as a compressed archive. In this case, you must rename the default file extension to .zip to unpack the XML subdocuments. Also, the document type definition (DTD) files you need to open the XML files are part of the product and are located in the <StarOffice>\shared\office60\share\dtd\officedocument\1_0 directory. (A DTD file is a specification that accompanies a document and identifies the markup that separates paragraphs, topic headings, and so forth and how each is to be processed.)

Figure 3.7Figure 3.7 The new StarOffice XML file format enables you to work with files in new ways.

A typical StarOffice document that does not contain macros, pictures, or embedded objects consists of five streams:

Figure 3.8Figure 3.8 The properties for the Text body paragraph style.

If the document contains macros, the compressed package will contain additional XML streams and directories. For example, StarOffice Basic macros are stored as separate XML streams in the Basic directory. In Figure 3.7, you also see a version stream, which indicates that another version of the same file is stored with this document.

The advantages of the new StarOffice XML file format over binary file formats are three-fold: It ensures better long-term compatibility because user data is stored independently from the source application that created it in a human readable format; it facilitates open information publishing because of better indexing and hyperlinking support and the option to apply templates during publication rather than document creation; and it encourages third-party development because developers can use widely available tools to open, modify, and share StarOffice content. All this will become critical as enterprises move their data and information from networks and hard disks to Web-based content stores (such as Microsoft Exchange or WebDAV-enabled Web servers) and as users begin to publish documents to these online content stores rather than distributing them as email attachments.

NOTE

Developers who want to build applications that can exchange documents with StarOffice can find the file specifications on the OpenOffice.org Web site. For more information about the StarOffice XML format, go to http://xml.openoffice.org/. For more information about the zip file format, go to http://xml.openoffice.org/package.html.

Converting Files Individually

Converting individual files is as easy as opening the file in question in StarOffice and then saving it in the StarOffice format. Follow these steps:

  1. Select File, Open; locate and select the document you want to convert in the Open dialog box and then choose Open. Based on the file's extension, StarOffice opens the file using the application that has the appropriate conversion filter.

  2. Select File, Save As to display the Save As dialog box, and then select the new StarOffice 6.0 document description in the File Type drop-down list (for example, StarOffice 6.0 Text Document).

  3. Remove the document extension (for example, .doc) from the file's name in the File Name box and click Save to save the document with the same name but a different extension.

What Makes Documents Simple or Complex?

In general, the current StarOffice conversion filters handle basic documents quite well. In the case of complex documents, however, some layout features and formatting attributes implemented in Microsoft Office 97/2000/XP remain unsupported or are handled differently in StarOffice 6.0. Especially complex document features that are proprietary implementations of the application in question cannot be expected to convert with 100% accuracy. So what exactly are simple or complex documents?

Simple documents do not contain macros, proprietary graphics (such as Microsoft WordArt), vector graphics, complex formatting, or advanced elements such as footnotes, end notes, tables, or indexes. You can typically convert simple documents in batches with the built-in StarOffice conversion utility (File, AutoPilot, Document Converter) or by opening the original file in StarOffice and then saving it in the StarOffice format. However, you may still be required to evaluate and clean up the converted documents manually, depending on the content and formatting of the source.

Complex documents contain macros, shared components, proprietary or vector graphics, multiple links or cross-references, OLE objects, frames, text boxes, footnotes, end notes, active content, form fields, form controls, formulas, tables, or a wealth of character, paragraph, or page formatting. Some of these elements may not convert easily because equivalent functions have not yet been implemented in the existing StarOffice conversion filters or because a feature is either handled differently or not supported in StarOffice. In general, complex documents do not convert as easily as simple documents. They typically require post-conversion formatting or layout cleanup. In some cases (such as document-based macros or custom solutions), complex documents may even have to be reengineered to provide the same functionality and look as the original document.

Simple templates consist of generic text and formatting that serve as a starting point or rough draft for new documents. Good examples of simple templates include boilerplate text for form letters, basic reports, memos, proposals, or fax cover sheets. In this case, you have the same conversion options as with simple documents.

Complex templates contain form fields and automation features that may not convert easily and may have to be re-created in the appropriate StarOffice module, or as in the case of complex document-based scripting solutions, reengineered by an experienced StarOffice developer.

Converting Files in Batches

Needless to say, opening and saving each file you want to convert to the new StarOffice file format individually gets old fast if you are stuck with a batch of files that needs converting. If this batch of files consists of documents and templates that have been created in StarOffice 5.2 or earlier, or of Microsoft Office documents and templates created in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, you can rely on the built-in StarOffice conversion utility to convert these files for you.

NOTE

Although convenient, using the StarOffice conversion utility does have its drawbacks. Due to the number of processes the program has to run to compare and convert the existing content and structure of files, the time it takes to convert documents and templates depends on processing power and increases exponentially with the number (and complexity) of files you are trying to convert. Using Document Converter also interferes with your productivity, because the process taxes valuable processor resources. For these reasons, you should convert no more than 50 documents and templates at once—preferably fewer. For larger conversion jobs, you should plan to start the conversion process after hours or at a time when you don't have to work on your computer. Depending on the number of files you want to convert, it can take hours. Also, because you are creating copies of all templates and documents you want to convert, be sure that you have enough free space on the disk or partition where you want to save your files. You can safely assume that the converted files together will take up about as much space as the source documents.

To convert your files in batches, follow these steps:

  1. Place the source documents you want to convert in one location. (The documents can be located in the same folder or in separate subfolders within the same parent folder.)

  2. Choose File, AutoPilot, Document Converter to open the first pane of the StarOffice conversion utility (see Figure 3.9).

Figure 3.9Figure 3.9 Use the Document Converter to batch-convert binary StarOffice 5.2 or Microsoft Office documents and templates to the StarOffice 6.0 XML file format.

  1. Select the document types you want to convert. By default, the program assumes you want to convert binary StarOffice documents. If you want to convert Microsoft Office documents, you must first select the Microsoft Office option and then select the document types you want to convert. (Note that you can select multiple document types.) The program also gives you the option to generate a log file of the entire conversion process. The finished log consists of a two-column table, listing the name of the source file on the left and the target file on the right—nothing special if it weren't that the names are text-based hyperlinks that give you one-click access to your files. To generate this log, select the Create Log File check box, and then choose Next to advance to the second window.

  2. For each document type you selected in step 3, you must specify, in consecutive windows, the location of the source templates and documents as well as the location of the converted files (see Figure 3.10).

    • By default, StarOffice saves templates in the <StarOffice6.0>\user\template\ (StarOffice documents) and <StarOffice6.0>\user\template\Imported_Templates (Microsoft Office documents) directories. Although you can specify a different path for your templates, if you accept the default setting for templates, StarOffice automatically registers the converted templates with its template-management system, so you can access the templates via the Templates and Documents dialog box without having to import them first.

    • Converted documents by default are saved to the work directory, but you can save them anywhere you like. When specifying paths, you don't have to type the new path information in the respective boxes; you can click the push buttons to the right of each path box and then navigate to and select the appropriate parent folder in the Select Path dialog box that opens (see Figure 3.10).

    • Also by default, StarOffice earmarks files located in subfolders of the currently specified Import path for conversion. If you want to convert only those templates and files located in the current parent folder, clear the Include Subdirectories check box.

    • When you're all set, choose Next to specify the path information for the next document type you selected in step 3 and so on. After you've finished setting up the import information for all selected document types and choose Next, StarOffice provides you with a list that summarizes your selections.

Figure 3.10Figure 3.10 Specify the location of the StarOffice 5.2 and Microsoft Office files.

  1. Review the summary list to verify that you've specified the proper paths. (At this point, you can still choose Back at the bottom of the dialog box to return to a previous window and make any necessary changes.) When everything is set, choose Convert to start the process. This may take a while, depending on the number and complexity of the documents and templates the program has to convert.

    • If you selected the Create Log File option in step 3, the program creates a new text document called Logfile.sxw and inserts a two-column table. During conversion, the file doubles as a progress indicator. When the conversion of a file has been completed, the program inserts a new row for the source file and target file.

    • If you didn't select the Create Log File option, you can trace your progress by the numbers on the final window of the Document Converter. When the process is completed, choose Finished to exit the Document Converter.

TIP

Want to see just what the Document Converter AutoPilot did? Open the URL Locator history list on the function bar immediately after the AutoPilot completes its work. You can see a list of the last 100 templates and/or documents that were imported.

Customizing Your Microsoft Office Conversion Options

All necessary Microsoft Office 97/2000/XP import and export filters are automatically installed during StarOffice setup, regardless of the setup method (Standard, Custom, Minimum) you choose—so no additional action is required on your part. In addition to conversion filters, however, StarOffice 6.0 provides a number of Microsoft Office compatibility settings options that give you a certain degree of control over the import and export of files in the Microsoft Office formats. To access these features, select Tools, Options from within any StarOffice document window. The options you may want to set can be accessed through the Load/Save, Text Document, and Presentation portions of the Options dialog box.

Load/Save

This is where you define general settings for opening and saving documents in external formats. Using the following options, you can control the behavior of macros or OLE objects in Microsoft Office documents (as well as define settings for HTML documents):

NOTE

The Save Original Basic Code Again option takes precedence over the Load Basic Code to Edit option. If both boxes are marked and you edit the macro source code in the StarOffice Basic IDE, the original Microsoft Basic code is saved when you save in the Microsoft format. You see a message to that effect when you save the document.

Figure 3.11Figure 3.11 StarOffice enables you to coexist with Microsoft Office users.

TIP

To remove any possible Visual Basic macro viruses from the Microsoft document, deselect the Save Original Basic Code Again check box and save the document in Microsoft format. The document is saved without the macro.

NOTE

These settings are also valid when no Microsoft OLE server exists (in a Unix environment, for example).

Specifying Compatibility Settings (Writer and Impress)

Formatting definitions are not always the same in all word-processing and presentation programs. Fortunately, Writer and Impress provide Microsoft Office compatibility settings that you can turn on or off in the Compatibility group of the Options Text Document General and Options Presentation General dialog boxes. Using these options enables you to mimic certain behaviors of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint documents in the current StarOffice Writer or Impress document:

Reviewing Converted Documents

As a rule, review the converted documents carefully to verify document fidelity. More specifically, keep an eye on the following elements:

To verify the proper appearance of elements and document fidelity, do the following:

  1. Review documents onscreen to ensure the converted document looks and functions the same onscreen as in the original document. For example, you can open the original document in the source application and the converted document in StarOffice 6.0, arranging the windows side by side or one on top of the other and then scrolling through the documents.

  2. Print and compare documents to ensure formatting and layout are correct. If you notice any strange formatting or layout changes in text documents, turn on the Non-printing Characters feature and look for tab stops, extra returns, or spaces. Also compare the styles in the original document to the styles in the converted document.

Coexisting with Microsoft Office Users

Apart from its attractive price and its features, a key selling point of StarOffice is its Microsoft Office import and export filters. One of the goals of the StarOffice team has always been to provide users with seamless interoperability between Microsoft Office documents and the StarOffice desktop environment. To accomplish this, the StarOffice team has put together a database containing all available features within Microsoft Office 97/2000/XP files and the Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel applications. With more than 12,000 entries collected over the years and regular updates to achieve compatibility with the latest Microsoft Office file formats, this database serves as the basis for implementing, testing, and evaluating the quality of the existing Microsoft Office filters.

Although this comprehensive database lays the foundation for solid and extensive filter development that is unrivaled in today's office suites, don't expect the engineers behind these filters to be miracle workers. Creating conversion filters is tricky and time consuming at best. The key to creating filters that translate as much as possible of the functionality and formatting of the source document is the availability of good documentation that describes all aspects of an application's file format (as is the case with the openly documented StarOffice XML file format). In most cases, however, these descriptions are not readily available, and when they are published, they are typically incomplete and unsupported. Hence, improving the interoperability between applications through conversion filters is mostly an incremental process that gets closer to but can never achieve 100% compatibility.

In short, when importing and exporting a document from and to the Microsoft Office file formats, be prepared for the document to appear differently in the receiving application than in the application in which it was created. Depending on the complexity of the document, you may lose some layout features and formatting attributes. In addition, if a certain feature is not supported, you may also lose the content or data that was associated with this feature (as is the case with some document properties fields that cannot be mapped to StarOffice equivalents during the conversion process, for example). In general, however, features or attributes that pose serious conversion challenges are few and will not affect your ability to use or work with the content of the converted document.

The following sections provide an overview of the conversion challenges you may face when working with Microsoft Office files in a StarOffice environment.

Text Documents

In most cases, the text contents of Microsoft Word documents convert accurately, because both Word and Writer recognize the same ANSI character mappings. In some instances, however, content may be lost if text appears in hyperlinks or fields that are not supported or is linked to a non-supported font set to create internal characters, letterheads, or logos.

Likewise, StarOffice does a good job importing most of the layout information of Microsoft Word documents. Because each office application defines formatting and layout differently, however, parts of the converted document may look slightly different than in the source in some cases. In most of these instances, the result of the conversion can be largely improved by adjusting those formatting and layout features that may cause problems prior to conversion. For example:

Some discrepancies in formatting and layout you may notice are also the result of functional differences between both applications. Although these differences cannot be avoided, they also don't create problems for the user of the documents. Here's a list of things that may change and their causes:

NOTE

→ For more details on using page and chapter number fields, see "Adding Headers and Footers" in "Working with Long and Complex Documents," p. 355.

→ For more general information on fields, see Chapter 10, "Working with Fields and Data Merges," p. 315.

NOTE

→ For more details on merge documents, see "Creating Personalized Form Letters with Mail Merges" in "Working with Fields and Data Merges," p. 328.

Spreadsheet Documents

When it comes to the spreadsheet basics, everything Excel can do, Calc can do as well—but not necessarily better. Although Writer at times wins out over Word in terms of what it has to offer, Calc also lacks some of the features that make Excel stand out from its competitors. The following list summarizes the key differences between Calc and Excel that may affect document conversion:

Presentations

In general, the StarOffice PowerPoint import filters do a fine job with the basics and contents when importing a PowerPoint presentation. Some might even say that any differences between the original and the converted presentation are cosmetic. That said, when it comes to presentations, cosmetics of any size and shape can make or break an image. The following list provides an overview of the key changes you can expect when importing a PowerPoint presentation:

Table 3.3 Microsoft PowerPoint Object Transitions and Their StarOffice Impress Equivalents

PowerPoint

StarOffice

Comments

Blinds

Fade Horizontally

 

Box

Fade to Center

 

Checkerboard

Checkerboard

 

Diamond

Appear

 

Crawl

Fly In from Bottom

 

Dissolve

Dissolve

 

Flash once

Appear

StarOffice does not support the Flash Once effect, therefore the appearance after the import is different; the text does not flash, it simply appears and remains visible.

Peek

Short Fly In from Bottom

 

Random bars

Horizontal lines

 

Spiral

Spiral Outward Clockwise

In Microsoft PowerPoint, Spirals move over the full slide area. In StarOffice Impress, they move only in the paragraph area.

Split

Close Vertical

 

Stretch

Stretch Vertically

StarOffice Impress supports only the Stretch Vertically effect; all PowerPoint stretch variations are mapped to this variant.

Strips

Fade from top to right

 

Swivel

Rotate Horizontally

StarOffice Impress does not support the Swivel effect; the effect is mapped to the Rotate Horizontally effect instead. To get the same result as in PowerPoint, the user has to shrink the text area's to the length of the longest sentence.

Wipe

Cross fade from top

 

Zoom

Fade from center

StarOffice Impress does not support the Zoom effect; the Fade from Center effect approximates the Zoom behavior.

Random effects

Vertical lines

StarOffice Impress does not support the random use of several effects. The user has to decide which effect to use before import; otherwise, the import filter imports this effect as the Vertical lines effect.


Table 3.4 Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Transitions and Their StarOffice Impress Equivalents

PowerPoint Slide Transition

StarOffice Slide Transition

Blinds Horizontal

Fade Horizontally

Blind Vertical

Fade Vertically

Box In

Fade to Center

Box Out

Fade from Center

Checkerboard Across

Horizontal Checkerboard

Checkerboard Down

Vertical Checkerboard

Cover Down

Fly in from Top

Cover Left

Fly in from Right

Cover Right

Fly in from Left

Cover Up

Fly in from Bottom

Cover Left Down

Fly in from Upper Right

Cover Left Up

Fly in from Lower Right

Cover Left Down

Fly in from Upper Right

Cover Right Down

Fly in from Top Left

Cover Left Down

Fly in from Upper Right

Cover Right Up

Fly in from Lower Left

Cut

(Not supported; no effect assigned)

Cut Through Black

(Not supported; no effect assigned)

Dissolve

Dissolve

Fade Through Black

(Not supported; no effect assigned)

Random Bars Horizontally

Horizontal Lines

Random Bars Vertically

Vertical Lines

Horizontal In

Close Vertically

Horizontal Out

Open Vertically

Split Vertical In

Close Horizontally

Split Vertical Out

Open Horizontally

Strips Left Down

Fade from Top Right

Strips Left Up

Fade from Bottom Right

Strips Right Down

Fade from Top Left

Strips Right Up

Fade from Bottom Left

Uncover Down

Uncover Downwards

Uncover Left

Uncover to Left

Uncover Right

Uncover to Right

Uncover Up

Uncover Upwards

Uncover Left Down

Uncover to Lower Left

Uncover Left Up

Uncover to Upper left

Uncover Right Down

Uncover to Lower Right

Uncover Right Up

Uncover to Upper Right

Wipe Down

Cross-Fade from Top

Wipe Left

Cross-Fade from Right

Wipe Right

Cross-Fade from Left

Wipe Up

Cross-Fade from Bottom

Random Transition

Automatic (random)


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