Reviewed by: Jim Huddle CNE MCNE MCSE CBS ES-RC P+, November 2004
Published by: O'Reilly Community Press, go to the web site
Requires: Previous word processing experience
MSRP: $24.95

A year or so ago I submitted a review of OpenOffice v1.0.1. If you happened to read that you might have gotten the idea that I liked the suite. Just in case I wasn't clear then, I did like and I still do. OpenOffice is now at v1.1.3 and just keeps getting better. One way to tell that a piece of software is making it is the number of books you can find about it. There actually are quite a few of them about OpenOffice, including the inevitable (or unavoidable) for Dummies. Writer became an O'Reilly offering when the company bought the rights to the author's self-published book Taming Writer 1.1.

This is not a starter book for folks new to using word processing software. It concentrates on showing intermediate and advanced users how to use the publishing features of Writer. To quote from the book's preface, “The typical users include academic writers, technical writers and other business and professional writers—anyone who produces books, research papers, proposals or other documents requiring the use of more than the basic [word processing] features.” That might sound a little scary if you typically just use word processing to write letters or the occasional product review; it was to me anyway. Once I actually got into the book I was surprised to find that it held some great information I could use. For one thing, the book has the best configuration instructions for Writer I've ever read.

Author Jean Hollis Weber takes a straightforward approach explaining how to do things in Writer—you don't waste time getting through flowery prose or historical information. But the author's style is not stiff or grounded in boring technical language. It's just concise and to the point. Nor does she try to cover all of Writer's capabilities. She does concentrate on giving the user who writes for a living the information needed to use Writer in a very productive manner.

Now that I've tried to say that this book is for writers, and really not for the general schmucks like you and me who just write simple stuff, please allow me to back up a little. Have you ever wanted to create a table of contents and index for something you've written? Ever needed to have a first page that was formatted differently from the rest of your document and didn't get clobbered when you changed the formatting on the text? Ever wanted to have some of those really cool chunks of text adjacent to a paragraph (they're called Side heads by the way) that lead readers into the subject material? Well, I have, and in the past I've either been too lazy or too dimwitted to figure them out. (My wife and daughter insist on the latter explanation. My son on the other hand, has apparently learned that some things need not be considered or remarked upon. He's a good man).

If you use OpenOffice Writer then you can easily follow the book's procedures for setting up sideheads and hundreds of other things. The book covers creating and using templates, fields (very cool), and graphics. There's also a chapter called Working with Large or Complex Documents, something which is beyond my current needs, but which would have been useful a couple of times in the past. The point is that although it's aimed at writers, just about anyone who uses Writer can get quite a bit out of this book. It's a good reference and procedural how-to manual. I like it well enough that I'm going to recommend it to an agency I know that wants to convert to OpenOffice. Since the majority of those folks carry weapons, I don't do this lightly. Recommended.

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