By way of introduction, I thought I’d say a bit about my background and interests, and how I came to be involved with OpenOffice.org.
My first exposure to computing was in 1969-70, when I did the statistical analysis for my Master of Science degree (in plant ecology) using punch cards and Fortran IV. This experience did not whet my enthusiasm for computers or programming, but 11 years later (after moving to Australia and working as a scientific editor for various research organizations) I got a job editing an in-house magazine for CSIRO’s Division of Computing Research (later CSIRONET).
When I encountered my first word processor (on an Apple IIe), I was hooked. For most of my life I had written (and later edited and published) material using a typewriter. Finding an easy way to make corrections was wonderful. Later (around 1986) I met a personal laser printer, and again fell in love. Never mind that it was huge and cost around A$12,000. I must confess that my first look at a Macintosh left me unimpressed, but within a few years I embraced GUIs and desktop publishing. Then in 1988 I got a job writing and editing user guides for a company producing desktop laser printers. I’ve been involved, one way or another, in technical writing and editing for software products (and the occasional hardware) ever since.
After declaring myself “retired” a few years ago, I began writing and self-publishing books, turning boxes of notes and teaching materials into books on electronic editing, online help, and Microsoft Word. Eventually I decided I wanted to get off the treadmill of costly software upgrades (no longer needing to have whatever product my clients required), so about two years ago I started looking at open source software. I wanted to move to Linux, but I also wanted to be sure that I could replace all the Windows programs I use regularly with something with the same or better functionality, without the necessity of dealing with command line interfaces. Been there, done that, years ago; not interested in doing it again if I have a choice.
Someone suggested OpenOffice.org as a possible candidate for the office suite I wanted. Since it had a Windows version as well as a Linux version (among others), it was a good candidate to try out.
When I first tried OOo, it was at around version 1.0.0 or 1.0.1. The help files were pathetic in those days; I described them at the time as “badly written, badly organized, badly indexed, and frequently wrong.” To be fair, the help has improved a great deal since then, though the indexing still needs a lot of improvement. I’ve had enough experience that I can work out the basics in about 15 minutes and then go looking for the more advanced stuff like fields, templates, styles, master documents, complex page layouts, and so on. At the time no books about OOo had been published, although one (the OpenOffice.org Resource Kit) was in the works.
After spending a ridiculous amount of time figuring out how to do what I wanted (with a lot of help from the various discussion lists on the OpenOffice.org website), I had an impressive stack of notes. I thought, “I might as well turn this into a book,” which I did. Later I updated that self-published book to OOo1.1. Recently O’Reilly republished the second edition as OpenOffice.org Writer: The Free Alternative to Microsoft Word. Now I’m looking at the other components of OOo as well as open source programs to replace other software; I’ll talk about some of that later.
My other interests include accessible websites, CSS, science fiction, and travel in the Australian outback. More about that later, too!