IBM Lotus Symphony sounds good, but 2.3 rocks

It’s great to know that IBM has joined the efforts to propagate open source office suites using ODF format. Thanks to the announcement over PLUG mailing list, I came to know about IBM Lotus Symphony. Followed the link and readily installed the suite in my laptop computer.

However, the long time it took me to install the package had me suspect that Symphony would run slow in my laptop. And it excruciatingly did. I came back to the thread about the IBM announcement and found out that the Beta version was specifically meant for Suse Linux Enterprise 10 and Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5, which require 900MB disk space minimum, and 1G RAM memory minimum. Tsk, tsk. I’m to blame because I didn’t refer to the Requirements page.

Two comments affirmed my glitchy exploration into Symphony:

  1. “It installs under Ubuntu Feisty. But that’s about it. I see in the program menu, bu it doesn’t run. I have to go back and look at their prerequisites.”
  2. “Install fine with Fedora 7 but I can say oOo still opens much faster. Its built heavily on Java and Eclipse technology which probably good because because plug-in development is very ccessible. It also uses its owned bundled IBM java version.”

On the positive side, Symphony appears to be the answer to Microsoft Office 2007 for its ‘Windowsy” look. It’s also user-friendlier in terms of the context-sensitive task panes at the right side of the window. But still, the bad news is that Symphony does not have equivalents for’s Base, Draw, and Math.

A day after the IBM-announcement post, I then learned about the official release of’s latest version at 2.3. Initially, I downloaded and installed it from’s site. No major changes except minor yet important ones. I tried to explore the Base and Impress and I felt that few  annoyances I had experienced were resolved already. With Base, the form and report wizards have come back. With Impress, handouts layout options were a bit changed for the better.

It’s unfair to compare Symphony from at this point in time. To Symphony, good luck. To, continue to rock.

Gmail’s attachments handling features, more Microsoft-friendly?

I can’t believe that Gmail doesn’t have an HTML viewer for documents produced using ODF. Look at the image that contains four document types and Gmail’s corresponding services for each type. The view-as-HTML feature is available only for PDF and Microsoft’s binary formats (.doc, .xls, etc.). Likewise, both formats of ODF and pre-Microsoft Office 2007 can be edited through Google’s web-based document processing service.

Interestingly, Gmail has not yet developed a service to OOXML documents more than the download one. Does this mean that Gmail is part of the “No OOXML” movement or it’s just waiting for the approval of the ISO for OOXML as another standard document format alongside ODF?

Hats off to Gmail for its current stance vis-a-vis OOXML. But let me go back to my earlier rant. Why doesn’t Gmail give to OpenOffice documents the importance it gives to Microsoft Office documents? It would be handier for us OpenOffice fans to have an HTML viewer for OpenOffice documents. (I wonder also if there is a program to view OpenOffice documents on a terminal as ‘catdoc’ does to MS Word documents.)

Is OpenOffice condoning Microsoft’s non-standard format?

Sun’s OpenOffice XML development team has created an import filter for OOXML documents. (For the uninitiated, this means that a person using OpenOffice [Microsoft Office’s open source equivalent] will be able to read and edit documents previously saved in Microsoft Office 2007.) However, there is no OOXML export filter (yet?), meaning that an OpenOffice user cannot save documents to OOXML format.

Why such decision to develop the import filter? Michael Brauer of the development team has this to say in his GullFOSS blog entry:

Well, it has always been in our strong interest that users can seamlessly interact with multiple file formats, including the binary formats of MS Office. So it is only natural that we care about OOXML now, too.

OOXML is the file format of Microsoft Office 2007. That means, sooner or later, people that use Microsoft Office 2007 and want to migrate to will look for ways to get existing OOXML documents into And at some point in time, users will receive OOXML documents, because Microsoft Office 2007 users will start sending them out, assuming that everyone can read them.

Brauer further said that an OOXML export filter is impossible. He emphasized that OpenOffice will always save to the ODF by default.

This move by the team came in the wake of the growing effort to pressure the ISO not to approve of OOXML as another standard for document interoperability, side by side with the internationally recognized open document format (ODF). One of the comments to Brauer’s post pointed out OpenOffice’s apparent support to a format that is “neither XML nor open.”

I’m sitting in between two positions here. On the one hand, I find the developing team’s move as permissible, because of the concern they’re giving to potential OpenOffice users migrating from Office 2007. On the other hand, I sense that the initiative is not helping neither the no-ooxml movement nor the OpenOffice advocacy any.

I suggest that the developing team repackage the import filter into a kind of OOXML-import plug-in that is not part of the OpenOffice distribution. Instead, let that be hosted by SourceForge or itself. Of course, that means an extra effort on the part of users but at least that implicitly sends the message that OpenOffice does not condone non- or anti-standard formats.

How to bring multiple images into a single PDF file

I observed that a few bloggers have not found a better way to capture and distribute scanned  articles. Take, for instance, the two-page article by Malu Fernandez that drew outrage from the blogosphere for its derogatory remarks about the overseas Filipino workers.

A couple of bloggers that scanned the two pages into two separate .jpg files and uploaded the two files for everyone’s access must have been unaware that there is a way for the two .jpg to be unified into a single file under the PDF format. Here’s how:

  1. Open a new OpenOffice Text document.
  2. Insert each image (.jpg file) into a page, depending on how you’d like them to be placed. If they are pages of an article, place each image in a page. (Tip: Insert a manual page break for every image.) The command for inserting an image is: Insert->Picture->From File.
  3. Review the layout of the pages.
  4. Save the document. Or, you may not have to do so if you’re just concerned about the PDF output.
  5. Export the document (or the buffer if you’ve not saved the document) to PDF format: File->Export as PDF.

This howto is most applicable in a situation where a voluminous document cannot, for various reasons, be re-encoded, so the better way to get an electronic version out of it is by scanning each page.

And I’m sorry that this howto applies to OpenOffice only. As far as I know, Microsoft Office does not have the built export-to-PDF feature. Although, there’s a licensed plugin from Adobe Acrobat Writer.

Erroneous media reports on FOSS: Thanks but…

The Manila Times online reported on the findings of Halalang Marangal (Halal) about the results of the May 14, 2007 elections. It’s another feather in the cap of the political and electoral reforms movement as well as that of the free and open source software (FOSS) movement.

However, I’ve got three bones to pick about that report. First, it took about three weeks for the media outfit to cover the Halal’s report that was released last July 20. Even if the news title sounded like it was  just underscoring the open source technology used in coming up with the report (by Halal), still the story itself read like it should have been told several weeks ago.

Second, the story failed to name correctly the OpenOffice spreadsheet program. The program used was actually Calc, not Impress, as what the story said. (Impress is the equivalent presentation program for Microsoft Powerpoint.)

Third and last, the story did not give a sufficient account for the open source technology used, which should have bolstered the title. I don’t think that it was only the open-source spreadsheet application (OpenOffice Calc) that was used by Halal to come up with the report. The news did not mention (or the writer had failed to ask) the database backend used. I have learned that Halal has developed a system wherein formatted text messages from field volunteers are automatically loaded to the database, which runs on MySQL. Although, I’m not sure whether data processed from the Calc were culled from the database or manually inputted.

I cannot be assured that it is only Manila Times that has committed this “permissible-for-now” disservice for FOSS. While the Manila Times’ report was a good marketing spiel for FOSS, still the lapses mean one thing: There is need for efforts, however painstaking they would be, to enlighten media about FOSS and its nitty-gritty. For we don’t expect such kind of erroneous reports  in the future.

Allowing an edit-free Impress presentation

If for various reasons you are forced to allow someone else to present the Impress-made stuff that you produced, chances are you would worry that the presentation would be changed unnecessarily. You need protection for some data in the presentation, like financial data.

One solution is to export the presentation to PDF format. Of course, animation and effects will not be saved to PDF. At least, the static look (object positions, color, font, etc.) of the slides will be retained. Also, any PDF reader has the feature to display each of the slides in full screen, so it feels like you’re also viewing the slides on Impress.

(Note: I wrote this entry as my reaction to Mr. Jerry Liao’s article on He advised on his article that PowerPoint presentations may be protected by saving each of the slides to .jpg and then insert each of the images to another presentation file. Isn’t that tedious?)

Producing a handouts version of OOo Impress presentation

This is a follow to my entry re the subject matter.By default, the two-by-three-in-a-page format does not maximize the page’s space. In order to do so:

  1. With the Impress file open, make sure you’re on the Handout tab.
  2. Check the page size whether it suits your need (Format->Page).
  3. On the right pane that shows the various layout options, click on the two-by-two option.
  4. Click back on the two-by-three option.
  5. In printing, make sure that the Quality option is set to Default. The printout would show nothing if you set it otherwise.

Take note that this layout is not saved if you choose the .ppt version. You have to repeat the procedure in order to print the maximized six-slides-in-a-page layout.

Floating toolbars may drown you

Navigating your long OOo Writer document interspersed with tables and indented paragraphs cannot be more annoying when the related toolbars keep afloat. Have you noticed that everytime you’re pointing or moving the cursor inside the table, the Table toolbar appears and when you move outside the table, the toolbar disappears? Intelligent, right? But not all intelligent things are desirable at the same time.

Try to move the cursor from a non-table area down until you get to the table and you’ll be surprised that the table toolbar is behaving like you’re inserting a table inside a table. Is that what you really want? Errr! Wrong guess. Actually, the context-sensitiveness of the floating toolbar also means it grabs the position of the cursor from the table. To return the position back to the buffer area, you have to press the <Esc> button. Which should should be tedious as far as your document navigation is concerned.

There are two options to keep away from that annoyance. One, drag the toolbar up the toolbars area so that it gets stuck in it. Two, hide or disable it (View->Toolbars->Table). The advantage is it doesn’t take up window space but the downside is that you no longer have access to the table command buttons.

OOo Writer, your proxy desktop publishing tool (creating a booklet/primer)

I remember that I produced an 8-page primer two years ago using OOo Writer. It was a paradigm shift for me. Before my FOSS life, I believed that all complex documents (large sizes, brochures, primers, ads, etc.) could only be produced by desktop publishing apps and the best one was Aldus PageMaker (now Adobe PageMaker).

You’re right. OOo Writer can be your friend in case you need a tool with which to produce complex documents like primers. I’m not saying that FOSS DTP tools like Scribus are no longer relevant. Use Scribus if you want to work with overlays, story management, master pages, and the like. In fact, you may combine the powers of both apps. Go see this howto.

Going back to the topic: Making a primer with OOo Writer. In my experience, here’s what I did:

  1. Open a new Text document.
  2. Format the page at 5.5 in x 8.5 in (portrait) with a footer to show document title and page number.
  3. Write the primer, taking into consideration the divisibility of pages by four. My first draft was nine pages. I revised it to eight pages so that brochure-type printing will not create blank pages.
  4. Print the document to a file. Before I did this, I went to the print dialog (File->Print). I clicked on the “Properties” button to make sure that the printer paper size is set to 8.5 by 11-in and the orientation to Landscape. Then I went back to the Print dialog. I clicked on the “Options” button. I clicked on the Brochure field and then pressed Enter. I checked the “Print to file” field and pressed Enter. I was asked to enter a file name. I did assign a file name and pressed Enter. The printing process took a while.
  5. Convert the postscript file to PDF using a terminal with this command: ps2pdf /path/to/source/filename /path/to/target/filename.pdf.

If you want to see my work outputs (and let me also introduce a national peasant federation in the Philippines), here are the .doc (exported from OOo Writer 😦 ) and PDF versions:

primer-on-unorka.doc unorka-primer.pdf

Printing large documents with OOo Writer?

If you have done a large document (bigger than the standard size or the printer’s capacity) using Writer, cool! Congratulations for evading the temptation to go the desktop publishing way.

But don’t fret when you realize that OOo Writer doesn’t have the feature to shrink a large document to paper size when printing it out. OOo Draw has such feature, but it doesn’t have the capacity to handle frames the way Writer does. I had that dilemma.

acroreadoptions.pngIt took me long before resolving to print the shrinked version through a PDF viewer. I exported the document to PDF. I fired up my favorite viewer xpdf. But I could not find the shrink/enlarge option in there. Tsk, tsk. I resorted to Acrobat Reader (my second favorite), which expectedly has that option (see image). That solved my problem.

But I wondered why xpdf didn’t have that feature. I thought that maybe xpdf automatically shrinks a large document to paper size. So I dared to open my document with xpdf and printed it right away. My theory was proven correct. (Does xpdf also automatically enlarge a small document into paper size? That’s another question.)