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Create a Newsletter with OpenOffice/StarOffice Writer

Writer is a free, word processor for GNU-Linux, FreeBSD, MAC, MS-Windows, Unix, and more

Mike Angelo -- 25 November 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.

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 Writer to create a desktop publication. For an overview of OpenOffice, please see our article OpenOffice 1.1 -- A Complete Office/Productivity Software Suite.

Writer is the word-processor component of the OpenOffice.org and StarOffice office/productivity suites. It's powerful document-processing software, which can do everything from

(a) simple text-writing such as to-do lists, letters, and simple reports

(b) to creating more complex reports that include indexes, tables, and images

(c) to desktop publishing (DTP), which includes using columns and frames plus the complex report stuff.

That puts OpenOffice Writer and StarOffice Writer right up there with Lotus AmiPro/WordPro, Microsoft Word, and WordPerfect as a major document-processor. There are two reservations to that statement.

On the downside, OpenOffice Writer and StarOffice Writer do not have grammar checkers, whereas AmiPro/WordPro, Microsoft Word, and WordPerfect do have grammar checking. On the upside, OpenOffice Writer is the only major word-processing/document-processing application that is free and also available for all the major computer platforms -- GNU-Linux, FreeBSD, LinuxPPC, Mac OS X or X11, MS Windows, Unix, and more.

While StarOffice also is a multi-platform product, it is not free. Rather, it s a commercial version of OpenOffice. Nevertheless, OpenOffice and StarOffice are very similar in form and function.

Overview of Today's Newsletter Tutorial

In today's tutorial, let's create a simple newsletter using OpenOffice Writer. Although this tutorial is discussed in terms of OpenOffice, it pretty much applies to StarOffice Writer also.

If you have a major GNU-Linux distribution, you likely already have OpenOffice and its Writer module. 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. You also can purchase OpenOffice on CDs at a nominal cost. Download links in the Resources section at the end of this tutorial.

Figure 1 below, OpenOffice Demo Newsletter, is a simple newsletter created to test OpenOffice Writer as a DTP application. As you can see, OpenOffice Writer handled all the basic DTP elements of a newsletter. It can do columns and moreover it can mix columnar formatting with non-columnar formatting.

The OpenOffice Demo Newsletter publication title in the Masthead and the main headline were done in a non-columnar section of the page. The date-bar for the Masthead is a one-row table inserted into that same non-columnar section of the page.

The About OpenOffice and OpenOffice v MS Office Money articles are set in a two-column section of the page. The OpenOffice.org 1.1 image was grabbed from the OpenOffice.org Web site and inserted into the first column.

Figure 2, on page 2, shows the OpenOffice Demo Newsletter opened in Writer. The View menu options have been set to show the section and column boundaries mentioned above.

Next, the OpenOffice Demo Newsletter was exported as a PDF file and then opened with Acrobat Reader. That worked well. Moreover, the OpenOffice Demo Newsletter as opened in Acrobat Reader was such that the text could be copied and pasted to another document. Please see Figure 1.

A word of caution here if you use OpenOffice to create PDF files, make sure you also save your work in a file format that OpenOffice can read. That's because you will not be able to open your PDF files in OpenOffice. So, if you want to edit your PDF files at later times, you will need to have saved them in a file format that you can open in OpenOffice at later times.

For more about that, please see PDFs in our article OpenOffice 1.1 -- A Complete Office/Productivity Software Suite.

KDE's KSnapshot was used to make the screen-shot of the OpenOffice Demo Newsletter in order to produce a PNG version of it for this article about OpenOffice. (That procedure was done in order to get the file size down from 136-KB to 47-KB thus conserving substantial bandwidth.)

Equipment and Software Used

Incidentally, OpenOffice 1.1 comes with SUSE Linux Professional 9.0. So the OpenOffice Demo Newsletter, plus the screen-shots of it, in Figures 1 and 2 were written and done using OpenOffice 1.1 with SUSE Linux Professional 9.0.

The test box for that 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. This tutorial article 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.

Thus, we have tried OpenOffice with both Mandrake Linux and SUSE Linux. OpenOffice works nicely with both. (We did not use OpenOffice with MS Windows to write this article or create the demo newsletter. However, we have used OpenOffice 1.1 with MS Windows 98 SE and it works well there too.)

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 SUSE Linux Professional 9.0. Thus the article was written completely on Linux-based computer systems, even though MS Word was used too.

Enough of the background stuff. Let's move on to the hands-on tutorial on page 2 and create a newsletter with OpenOffice Writer.

However, before you click to turn the page, take a look at Figure 1, below. It shows how the newsletter you will create following the tutorial on page 2 should look when finished.

Figure 1. A simple newsletter created with OpenOffice Writer used as a DTP application. Please see above text for an explanation.

  • See The Hands-On OpenOffice Writer Tutorial on Page 2 ----->
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