Tuesday, October 2, 2012

OpenOffice to the Rescue

A curricular need became a small technical issue earlier this past week and today I believe a solution came forward in the form of a free software product called OpenOffice. OpenOffice, which is now being developed by Apache.org, is a free alternative to the every popular and over hyped Microsoft Office.

Many people use the components of Microsoft Office in the form of Word, Excel and Powerpoint. Many teachers and organizations build files on those software programs and distribute them to other teachers across the state of Iowa. Recently the FFA organization needed to use a set of files developed in Microsoft Excel with a series of embedded macros. North Mahaska is standardized on iWork software and usually Numbers (the spreadsheet program) could easily open Excel files. However, specialized macros and programming can make using Numbers impossible. The FFA files are a case where Numbers will not work as a replacement for Excel.

The first response is often to look at pushing out Microsoft Excel to a bunch of student laptops so the work can proceed and students can open the files. However, software licensing makes pushing out the software a problem. In fact, we simply are going to try to stay legal on software license when a situation like this one forces a decision on the technical staff and administration. So what other options can save money and fulfill the software requirement?

OpenOffice seems to be the answer in testing the Excel files with their macros enabled. So earlier today, I built the OpenOffice 3.4.1 package and made a JSS policy to push out OpenOffice to the 21 vocational agriculture students. That was actually pretty straightforward and within 30 minutes over half the students had OpenOffice ready to go in the background. However there are two additional issues that need to be addressed for the students to successfully use OpenOffice.

Issue 1 is that the security settings of OpenOffice will not allow automatic execution of macros. However, a simple instruction sheet provides instructions for modifying OpenOffice security for macros. Go to Preferences --> OpenOffice.org --> Security and here you can change the macro security settings to allow the user to enable macros on individual files. The other option is to trust all files with macros on the user's home directory.

Issue 2 is that OpenOffice likes to save files in .ODT format. The user can save their files as Microsoft Word documents directly within the "save dialog box". (see the diagram Dialog 1) For a more permanent solution to saving files as .DOC or .DOCX, a trip to the OpenOffice preferences will allow the user to select the file format to use in saving files. (see diagram Dialog 2)

Dialog 1

Dialog 2

No comments:

Post a Comment