Archive for the ‘Open Office’ Category



November 19, 2007

Written 7-6-07

I really am on a search for a Linux desktop solution that just works.  I have lowered and lowered my expectations along the way.  Or at least I have changed them to fit into something that I might expect from a secondary PC.


So I have this P3 866 MHz PC with 512 M of RAM.  I have Mepis 6.0 installed but also run Puppy 2.15CE on top of it.  So let’s talk about what I’ve learned about this thing over the summer.


First off, Puppy seems to be the distro that gets me on the internet the fastest.  I’ve fiddled and fiddled with the Mepis KPPP program and it still has no idea where my serial modem is.  Puppy detected it with ease and within a few minutes I was off and surfing.


Puppy has issues with my sound card, having no idea where it is even after running the sound wizard.  Mepis has no issues with sound, and will play small videos I’ve downloaded.  But of course, since I can’t get on the internet with Mepis, these would be downloaded with Puppy or Windows XP.


Neither of these two distros knows what to do with my Lexmark X75 printer.  Both Mepis and Puppy had previously ran an HP 640c printer.  But no go with the Lexmark.  This model is even listed in the Mepis drivers, but there was still no acknowledging the thing was there.  The printer never installed.  A big part of having a second machine was making that scanner/printer work.


Actually installing a program has been problematic for both programs.  Mepis does decent with items in the repository, but that doesn’t help at all if I’m not online.  Puppy is online but they have switched to some sort of extension-like format which is difficult to navigate around, much less actually install something that works.


Abiword, on Puppy, is a lovely program but I have not been able to install a US English dictionary in order to do spell check.  In fact, there are no dictionaries of any kind installed with it.  Such a simple thing and yet with the above problem of installing and running programs it has been a persistent annoyance. 


By contrast, the Windows version of Abiword comes with a dictionary built in.  And this has been the ongoing lesson.  If I have learned nothing else, it has been that Windows programs install and run better than Linux versions.  The one exception might be Open Office, which opens slightly faster in Linux than Windows.  At least OOo has a working dictionary in both versions.


Linux, as an operating system or kernel or whatever, has issues.  It has issues with programs that were supposed to be more native to open source.  Windows versions continue to be superior in ease of installation and getting them to run.




Mepis gets trashed

August 30, 2006

Okay, so I got on to Brent Roos about his claim that Windows was the best based on my experiences with XP crashing, freezing and doing goofy things that were not productive. Based on my experience, Linux was worth a look. I looked at several distros and Mepis seemed like a good candidate, but I went for the older version of 3.3.1 because it had more onboard software. It was older software, like Firefox 1.01 and Open Office 1.x but it worked and worked well on an older P3 550 Mhz machine.

Untiil today, when I was actually trying to get some things done. I might owe Mr. Roos an apology.

This morning, I logged in as usual and went to the bottom of my tool bar to get Firefox running. I clicked, the icon did its bouncy ball thing and then….nothing. Not a thing. I tried clicking again. Still nothing. Fortunately, Mepis included a back up in the form of Konquerer, which looks and runs like Firefox and that ran okay. Inconvenient but not a bad problem.

But when I tried to open an Office XP document, that was another story. Again, the icon bounced around and the hour glass in the tool bar spun. And then nothing. It wouldn’t open anything. Open Office wouldn’t work at all. THAT was very annoying!

So the two applications I used the most decided to crap out at the same time at work. Not fun AT ALL! I tried rebooting to see if that fixed it. I tried downloading updated versions of Firefox and Office but got nowhere in the installation.

So I decided to try Kpackage and Synaptic. I now see why people are so in love with the Windows install wizard. While I have successfully used these in the past, I seemed to be trying to do too much. I spent a huge amount of time updating and installing upgrades and updates.

I restarted, and found the tool bar totally missing and an error msg saying something about a soundserver crashing It was apparent after another restart that I was dead in the water. It was time. Past time, probably.

I backed up the few files I had as the desktop icons were still there and I could access the flash drive. The CD ROM wasn’t wanting to mount and there was some other error associated with that. I was crippled but good.

So I inserted the Mepis 6.0 live CD and decided to have a look-see. After the initial splash I went ahead to boot normal. Then I saw a login in the command mode with an option to login using a GUI by hitting ctrl-alt-F7. After trying the command line and having it hang up, I went for the GUI which worked better. The thing about switching distros every couple of months is kind of like moving every couple of months…you don’t acquire quite so much stuff if you know you’ll be moving again real soon. And so it is that I didn’t have much to back up, which is good since the CD burner would not even work.

So I’m back to live CD mode which is highly, highly annoying. Right now, everything is highly annoying. especially that stupid animated aquarium in the live CD tool bar!



PCLinuxOS: Another Look, Plus: Installing Mepis

July 21, 2006

In my short review, I sort of dismissed PCLinux because I was concentrating on some specific goals with my home system, namely getting on the internet using the modem. I’m STILL working on that one.

Now, at work, after everything is finished for the day, I can play for a little bit. Since my work machine does not have a DVD, there is no fooling with either SuSE or Ubuntu so that leaves me with the later release of MEPIS or PCLinux. I chose the later, mainly because the IT guy here at the school gave me an old machine to play with that is currently being loaded with MEPIS 3.3. After 15 minutes, it is 40% into the installation.

Back to PCLinux…

I complained a bit about that Gnome desktop, but after spending more time with it, my whining was not exactly warranted. If you want a desktop looking like XP, PCLinux is a good choice. You have the green start button in the same spot, the taskbar looks similar…everything looks similar. I would say the PCLinux actually has a superior feel to XP, but that could just be because it is new.

The live CD comes with 15 games and 24 applications, 6 of which are part of the office suite. In fact, I am typing this up using Open Office 2.0 right now. It has Firefox, Thunderbird, Gimp….all of the standard stuff that all of the other distributions come with. PCLinux had no problems detecting my hardware or detecting the network. It’s obvious that this distro was developed to look and feel like XP for folks like me coming over and playing with another OS.

One annoying thing I discovered about using Open Office on this distrobution, is that it takes you through a registration process when launching it. Registration is not required to use it, but it is still a needless annoyance.

PCLinux scores higher than other distros in my book for a couple of reasons. First, it does not have the misleading hype that Ubuntu does. It is much easier for a Windows XP user to use because it looks and acts like XP almost exactly. I don’t need a lot of extra directions on using this, because of that quality. If Ubuntu wants to look different, that’s fine, but don’t go around saying that it is a substitute for Windows. It is not.

Secondly, the PCLinux distro beat Ubuntu and SuSE live DVDs because I was able to successfully locate and browse my hard drive, and even open documents using the Office application. I could not even open (or mount) my hard drive with Ubuntu or SuSE live DVDs. This feature makes the live CD version of PCLinux a likely candidate for rescuing data from a hard drive where Windows has crashed or become corrupted or excessively crippled.

This is the OS you might give to someone with extra simple needs, mainly email, internet and a few basic office applications. There is nothing terribly complicated or sophisticated here. For $1.95 from it is a fair distribution. For some people, this could be a suitable substitute for Windows with a minimum of fuss as long as they are not using a modem to get online. That one single snag seems to trip up almost all distros. PCLinux is #10 on Distrowatch, but I think it warrants being a bit higher simply because of the ease of use factor.

Having said all of these nice things, PCLinux still does not beat MEPIS (#4 on the DistroWatch list). PCLinux does look more like XP than MEPIS, and runs more like it. However it does not have as robust of a group of applications. I have a number of needs, and PCLinux meets only part of the list. MEPIS meets more of them than anyone else I have tried so far. It is the only one, for instance, that includes personal finance software with the distrobution. Okay, so there are only a few games, who cares? I can always boot up a live CD of the others and play all the games I want!


Mepis took about 30 minutes to install on a machine running less than 800 Mhz with a 10 gig hard drive. I began counting applications, and lost count. There are over 100 with 14 games. Many of these applications (probably over half) are Linux geek tools for tweaking the system, programming, compiling and using the command line so you propeller heads might want to give this distro a serious look.

So now I do have a machine that is 100% committed to Linux since I went ahead and reformatted over Windows. So far, I’m liking it but I haven’t actually tried to do anything constructive with it. One of the things I’m going to work on is getting it up on the network in order to download and install some more applications. WINE is at the top of my list, as I’m intensely curious as to how it works and behaves with various windows applications.




Open Office

July 13, 2006


Here at home, I have both MS Office XP and Open Office installed.

At work, I have two machines I rely on. One is an XP machine hooked up to the network which I have no administrator privileges to install anything. But the other machine is a Win98 machine where I can install anything I want but it is not connected to the network. The Win98 foes not have any version of MS Office, so I use Open Office exclusively on that machine. It also happens to be the machine connected to the scanner and printer.

This creates some interesting challenges, sometimes. If someone sends me an email with an XP Office created form attached, I save it to a floppy and then take it to the 98 machine to open it using Open Office and then print it out. Predictably, there can often be some formatting differences which make my forms look different that anyone else’s. That is only slightly annoying.


More annoying is that is does take longer to open Open Office and then it does not automatically appear on the desktop, but sits in the taskbar waiting to be clicked on to open it. But it is simply slower.


A bigger annoyance for me is the Open Office equivalent to Excel (I think it’s called Calc or something). I go to Excel to create simple line graphs because I’m so familiar with it and it is faster. But Open Office does not render those graphs out the same way they come out on Excel, and the differences are not always minor. I don’t need much, just a nice, clean, simple line graph with data points lining up with the points on the X axis.


Open office wants to complicate things and include extra lines. And do you think I could get a simple black circle to mark my points? I might get some sort of 3-D textured button, but no black dots. And black points generated in Excel get changed to triangles in Open Office. That is a major annoyance. And I still haven’t figured out how to get a trend line in OO.


I like Open Office for word processing, only I wish it was faster. I need to spend more time with this to get more familiar with the program. Having it as the only thing connected to my printer at work has been helpful in forcing the issue for me. My coworkers have seen it and have tried it but are still unsure about it. The free price tag doesn’t hurt, definitely. If I ever finish my advanced degree, I won’t have much of a problem letting go of Office XP.


At some point, I wouldn’t mind getting sufficiently savvy with the open source stuff to begin educating other teachers on it. But I need to do a lot more with it to feel comfortable.


I actually did get some in-service on Excel in order to make my graphs, but as far as Power Point and Word, I’m entirely self-taught. So why does Open Office seem so much harder to learn? It just might be part of learning something that is more sophisticated.


Feeling good about Open Office is important, because this is THE flagship application for users advocating open source over proprietary software. Most Linux distros come with it and it has been hyped as the substitute for MS Office products. But if it seems awkward, unfamiliar and slower, it is not going to win anyone over. I am looking forward to the day where I don’t have to worry about calling in to authenticate my registration for Office XP. I’ll be happy when OO becomes the office application of choice. But it hasn’t quite happened, yet.