This page summarizes the tools and techniques I used to create OpenOffice.org Writer: The Free Alternative to Microsoft Word. I’m not saying this is the best way to do this job, but it is a way that worked for me, using tools I had available.
I will add other comments to this page as I think of them. If you have any specific questions about the way I’ve done things, or why I did them that way, do ask.
My operating system at the time was Microsoft Windows ME. I wrote and formatted the book using OOo1.1, because that was the latest version available at the time.
I did not create the final PDF using OOo’s export-to-PDF function or by printing to PostScript from OOo1.1.1 and creating the PDF using Acrobat, because either method produced an unacceptably large file (around 5MB). Instead, I opened the file in OOo1.0.3 and printed to PostScript from there (using the Acrobat Distiller printer driver), then created the PDF from that file using Acrobat Distiller 5. This technique produced a PDF of just under 2MB.
Techniques for working with graphics
Making screen captures
In the original book (Taming OpenOffice.org Writer 1.1), I wanted the screen captures to be black and white, so the final PDF file would be easy to print on any printer, without using up a lot of ink or toner, and the printouts would photocopy well. Black and white graphics have good contrast, so they are easy to read on screen and in print. I often have difficulty reading the text on screens captured in colour, because field names disappear into the background, and they print poorly.
Therefore, before making screen captures, I changed the display to high-contrast white (Settings > Control Panel > Display > Appearance tab), but left the Colors (Settings tab) at True Color (24 bit).
For OpenOffice.org Writer, I used the default Windows ME color scheme.
In both cases, I captured screens using the Alt+PrintScreen keyboard keys, pasted them into Microsoft Paint, and saved them as .BMP files. Sometimes I cropped the screens (cut off unwanted portions) or made other changes before saving them, but I did not attempt to add any text to the graphics at this point.
(When .BMP files are included in an OOo document, they are converted to .PNG when the OOo document is saved. Both file types are bitmaps, as are screen captures.)
Adding callouts to screen captures
If I wanted callouts (explanatory text with pointers to parts of the screen capture), I inserted the .BMP into an OpenOffice.org Draw document and used Draw’s tools to add the text and lines. I used Select All and saved the selection as a .WMF (Windows Metafile). The text did not look good or print cleanly when saved to any bitmapped format (such as .PNG); it needs to be saved in a vector format. I need to do some more experimentation to see what other file types will work.
Adding graphics to the text files
I never paste a screen capture directly into a text (.SWX) file, although you can do that. Instead, I have the choice of linking the saved graphics files or embedding them into the text file. I prefer to embed. (Insert > Graphics > From File, choose file, deselect Link, then click Open.) Since my graphics files aren’t huge, this technique has not caused any problems. Linking may work better in other situations.
Most of the graphics I use are screen captures, and I want them to be in their own paragraphs in a particular sequence in the text (usually in a paragraph in numbered step in a procedure). Therefore I create a paragraph style for “Figure” which has an appropriate space before and after. To embed the graphic, I press Enter to create a blank paragraph, give that paragraph the style “Figure”, put the cursor in the blank paragraph, then insert the graphic. Usually I then have to select the graphic, right-click on it, and anchor it As Character.
I don’t place my graphics in frames, because I never did that in other programs and so I don’t think of doing it that way. Therefore I don’t know if my way is better or not, but some brief experimentation suggested that using frames was more trouble; I had difficult anchoring a frame as a character (to get the graphic to be placed where I wanted it), but I had no difficulty anchoring the graphic directly as a character and getting the placement exact.
I add captions to graphics manually, using Insert > Caption. The sequential numbering is automatic, and the caption otherwise works the same as it does if it’s included in a frame, except that it may get separated from the figure (on a different page) if I forget to define the Figure style as “keep with next paragraph”.
A few of my graphics do not go in their own paragraph. For example, I put small pictures of icons in the white space between the left margin and the text. These pictures are anchored To Paragraph so they will move with the paragraph, but they are otherwise “floating” so they can be manually moved into the correct
position on the page.
Techniques for working with a long, complex book
Working with chapters in separate files
When writing a book, I prefer to work with chapters in separate files, for several reasons: they load and save faster than one large file, and I can easily send individual files to an editor or technical reviewer. During the drafting stage, I am not concerned about the numbering of pages, figures, tables, etc; each chapter simply starts at 1. I sort out sequential numbering at a later stage.
The following description concerns the earlier version of the book. When I revised it to create the latest book, I worked with the final, complete book in one file. When working with multiple files, to ensure that all chapters followed the same styles, I created a template for the book. (Create a document, then click File > Templates > Save.) Then, each time I started a new chapter, I created a new file from that template. (File > New > Templates and Documents > select the template > Open. Save the new file as .SWX.)
Several times during the development of the book, I wanted to change some of the styles and add new ones. I did not make these changes in the individual chapter files; instead, I changed the template. Then, the next time I opened any of the chapter files, I received a message that my styles had changed and asking if I wanted to update the file to use the new styles; I answered yes.
If I forgot and made some style changes directly in a chapter, I could copy those changes into the template by using File > Templates > Organize (details in the online help, or in my book).
One file contained the title page, copyright page, preface, and a blank page for the table of contents. Each other file contained one chapter.
Instead of inserting cross-references from one file to another (a tedious process), I put the required cross-references in by hand but also marked them so I could find them again quickly and easily. Usually I mark items with double brackets ((like this)), so I can search for “((”, a combination that I do not use for any other purpose.
Combining the chapters into a book
I did not use the Master Document feature to combine the individual chapter files into one book, because at the time of writing the earlier book, I had not figured out how to create a cross-reference between files. I have since learned how to do this; see this page for instructions.
Therefore, I waited until the chapters were edited and revised, then I combined them into one large file. This technique worked fine, the resulting file wasn’t very large (around 1.5MB), and the cross-references between chapters were a lot easier to create.
Here’s the technique: Open the first file, go to the end, insert a page break (with next page style set to First Page, to correspond with the style of the first page of each chapter file), Insert > File > select the file containing the first chapter. Save under a new filename. Repeat until all the chapter files have been inserted. Check the first page of each chapter to make sure it has the correct style and a page break before; apply the correct style or inserta page break if needed. Go to the end of the big file and insert a page break
for a new page into which the index will go.
Adding a table of contents and index
After all the chapters were combined, I went to the blank page I had provided for the Table of Contents and used OOo’s tools to generate one. I did the same for the index.
To fix the cross-references between chapters, I searched for the markers I used “((” and replaced each manual cross-reference with a cross-reference using one of OOo’s tools. I could choose to leave the manual references (after verifying that they are correct), but because I often produce several editions of a book, I saved a lot of future work by setting up automatic references.
Layout of “tips”
In the original book, I used an offset style of page layout, where the single column of text is offset 3cm from the left-hand margin. One use of the white space between the margin and the text is for the word “Tip” that appears beside a paragraph or more of text. Tips are set off from the main text by a line above and below the tip text; this line goes from the left margin to the right margin.
The easiest way I have found to produce this layout is to use a one-row, two-cell table. I adjust the width of the cells so the tip text (in the second cell) lines up with the main text, 3cm from the left margin, and the word Tip is in the first cell. I give the table a top and bottom border but no vertical borders and format the text and spacing in each cell as I want it. I delete any text in the second cell, then select the table and save it as an AutoText entry.
Then, any time I want a Tip, I can insert one from the AutoText menu and simply type the tip text into the second cell.