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December 11, 2003

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Creating a Simple Contact or Personal Information Manager with OpenOffice/StarOffice Calc

Calc is a free spreadsheet for GNU-Linux, FreeBSD, MAC, MS-Windows, Unix, and more

Mike Angelo -- 11 December 2003 (C) -- Page 1

Article Index
OpenOffice.org Note

Due to some trademarking concerns, the OpenOffice software suite and its development organization both are officially named OpenOffice.org. However, it's lots easier to say, write, and read just plain OpenOffice rather than OpenOffice.org which is somewhat more cumbersome to say, write, and read. Thus, in this article we use the easier to deal with name of OpenOffice -- in pursuit of linguistic efficiency.

Microsoft Office & OpenOffice Licensing Note

The applicable Microsoft greedy, end-user agreements (EULAs) taken together with Microsoft's horrible Product Activation system mean that With MS Office 2003 and its product family including MS Excel, you are restricted to installing Office 2003 on only one desktop computer and one laptop computer for each copy or license for MS Office 2003 that you buy from Microsoft.

OpenOffice, including Calc, is Open Source Software and thus not only free, but you may install it on as many machines as you like.

Please see the Microsoft Product Activation Note in the right-hand sidebar in our article, OpenOffice 1.1 -- A Complete Office/Productivity Software Suite.

For more about why Linux is so much a better choice, please see our article Gaël Duval Tells Why Mandrake Linux Is Better Than MS Windows

To learn how to run MS Windows-based software and accessories in GNU-Linux, please see our article Crossover Office 2.1 Runs MS Windows Software on GNU-Linux Systems

In this hands-on tutorial, you will learn how to use OpenOffice/StarOffice Calc to create a simple contact or personal information manager. For an overview of OpenOffice, please see our article OpenOffice 1.1 -- A Complete Office/Productivity Software Suite. Also, you might find it helpful to review our OpenOffice/StarOffice Writer tutorial if you already have not done so.

Calc is the spreadsheet component of the OpenOffice.org and StarOffice office/productivity suites. It is powerful number-crunching and data-organization software. That puts OpenOffice Calc and StarOffice Calc right up there with Lotus 123 and Microsoft Excel as a major spreadsheet application.

A reservation to that statement is that OpenOffice Calc is free, and also available for all the major computer platforms -- GNU-Linux, Free BSD, LinuxPPC, Mac OS X or X11, MS Windows, Unix, and more. That puts OpenOffice Calc way ahead of Lotus 123 and Microsoft Excel, the comparable IBM and Microsoft spreadsheet products.

While StarOffice also is a multi-platform product, it is not free. Rather, it s a commercial version of OpenOffice, but much less expensive than MS Office. OpenOffice and StarOffice are very similar in form and function. Thus you can apply this tutorial to both OpenOffice Calc and StarOffice Calc.

Overview of Today's Calc Tutorial

In today's tutorial, let's create a simple contact manager with OpenOffice Calc. This contact manager tutorial is about Calc's use for data organization rather than for number crunching. Although this tutorial is discussed in terms of OpenOffice, it pretty much applies to StarOffice also.

The purpose of today's tutorial is:

(a) to introduce people that never have used a spreadsheet to spreadsheet basics,

(b) to introduce people that never have used OpenOffice Calc or StarOffice Calc to Calc basics,

(c) and to help MS Excel and Lotus 123 users migrate to OpenOffice Calc.

Thus the focus of this how-to article is on the basics of setting up Calc and navigating it rather than doing complex number-crunching tasks. We will take a tutorial walk through Calc's number-crunching function in an upcoming MozillaQuest Magazine tutorial.

If you have a major GNU-Linux distribution, you likely already have OpenOffice and its Calc module. OpenOffice is included with many prominent GNU-Linux distributions.

If you are an MS Windows user you might not already have OpenOffice installed. Whichever of the above listed OSs you use; you can download and install OpenOffice at no charge to you. Download links are in the Resources section at the end of this tutorial on page 3.

If you prefer commercial software to open source or free software, try the commercial version of OpenOffice, StarOffice. Sun's StarOffice is $80 for the boxed product. There is a link to Sun's comparison of StarOffice to OpenOffice in the Resources section at the end of this article.

On the other hand, Microsoft Office is very pricey. For just MS Excel 2003 alone, Microsoft's listed price is $229 (new, upgrade is $109). The Standard MS Office 2003 suite, which includes Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word, lists for $399 (new, upgrade is $239) on Microsoft's Web site. The full blown MS Office 2003 Professional suite lists for $499 (new, upgrade is $329) on Microsoft's Web site.

Additionally, MS Office and its component applications such as Excel come with very consumer un-friendly licensing and the horrible Microsoft Product Activation mechanism. For those reasons we recommend OpenOffice 1.1 and StarOffice 7 over MS Office 2003 or MS Office XP. Moreover, you can save lots of money by using OpenOffice 1.1 or StarOffice 7 instead of MS Office 2003.

Please see the Microsoft Office & OpenOffice Licensing Note in the right-hand sidebar above.

Figure 1, below, is a simple contact manager or personal information manager created to test OpenOffice Calc as a data-organization application, the OpenOffice Demo Contact Manager. The view in Figure 1 is what you would see if you were to print the OpenOffice Demo Contact Manager data.

Figures 2 and 3 on pages 2 and 3 show the OpenOffice Demo Contact Manager opened in Calc.

Figure 1. A simple contact manager created with OpenOffice Calc used as a data-organization application. Please see text for an explanation.

There are many contact manager and personal information manager programs readily available. However, it is very easy for you to create your own.

By using OpenOffice/StarOffice Calc to create your very own contact manager or personal information manager you have the advantage of being able to customize it just the way you want it. Moreover, since OpenOffice/StarOffice and its Calc spreadsheet module run on most major operating system platforms, you can open a Calc-based contact manager or personal information manager and work with it on almost any computer system. You cannot do that with Microsoft Office or Lotus 123.

Equipment and Software Used

OpenOffice 1.1 comes with SUSE Linux Professional 9.0. So the OpenOffice Demo Contact Manager, plus the screen-shots of it, in Figures 1, 2, and 3 were written and done using OpenOffice 1.1 with SUSE Linux Professional 9.0. This article also is being prepared using OpenOffice Writer running in SUSE Linux Professional 9.0.

The GIMP's acquisition feature was used to make the screen shots. Then The GIMP was used to crop and scale the screenshots.

The SUSE Linux Professional 9.0 box is a 300-MHz AMD K6 system with only 128-MB of RAM and a 256-MB Linux Swap File. (You can run a GNU-Linux desktop distribution with only a 128-MB RAM and a 256-MB Swap space. Nevertheless, we recommend that any Linux desktop system have at least a 256-MB hard RAM and a 512-MB Swap space.)

OpenOffice also comes with Mandrake Linux. So, this tutorial article also is being written using OpenOffice 1.02 opened in Mandrake Linux 9.1 running on an HP OmniBook 6000 laptop computer. It has a 1-GHz P4 CPU, a 128-MB RAM, and a 512-MB Linux swap File.

However, because OpenOffice does not have a grammar checker nor is it able to provide word counts of selected text blocks, MS Word 2000 was used to put the finishing touches on this article before it was moved to the layout phase. Fortunately, the same HP OmniBook 6000 laptop system running Mandrake Linux 9.1 mentioned above has CrossOver Office 2.1 and MS Word 2K installed on it.

Some of the finish work also was done with Word 2K running via CrossOver Office 2.1 on the SUSE Linux Professional 9.0 system. Thus the article was written mostly on Linux-based computer systems.

Also, some of the article writing as well as the work with Calc were done with OpenOffice 1.1 running under Windows 98 SE on an AMD 750-MHz Duron-based computer with a 384-MB hard RAM.

The Hands-On OpenOffice Calc Tutorial

  • Getting started

To create your contact manager, first please launch OpenOffice (or StarOffice) Calc. If OpenOffice did not open in Calc when you launched it; simply click on File > New > Spreadsheet on the main menu bar.

If the default font for you is not Nimbus Sans L, then please change the font to Nimbus Sans L now. If Nimbus Sans L is not available in your copy of OpenOffice or StarOffice, please pick another sans-serif font such as Arial or Albany.

To change fonts, go to the second drop-down box from the left in the Object Bar. That's the middle toolbar at the top of the Calc desktop in Figure 2 on page 2 and Figure 3 on page 3.

Alternatively you can go to the Menu bar and click on Format > Cells > Font to open the Font tab. Then in the Font selection pane, scroll down until you see Nimbus Sans L. Then click on Nimbus Sans L and then on OK.

If you are already familiar with OpenOffice Writer or StarOffice Writer, you might have noticed that this font management system almost has the very same look, feel, and procedure for changing fonts in Writer. That's because OpenOffice/StarOffice is a well-integrated suite of office/productivity applications. Well-integrated suite means that the OpenOffice/StarOffice desktop and workspace has the same underlying user-interface architecture across all the OpenOffice/StarOffice applications.

Nevertheless, there are some differences. For example the route to the fonts in Writer is Format > Character > Font but is Format > Cells > Font in Calc.

  • See Labeling the columns or data fields on Page 2 ----->
  • Article Index

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