It's paper-writing time again, which means I've spent many long hours lately with OpenOffice Writer (for now, I'm still using version 2.4).  Writer is a great application and a useful tool for getting work done.  But there are some components that I continue to find endlessly frustrating, namely...

...The Following List:
  1. Page numbering.  I defy a single person with no OpenOffice experience to figure out how to add page numbers to a document without consulting documentation.  First you have to know how to insert a header--not too hard, but most people aren't going to guess that headers are a prerequisite to page numbering.  Then you have to figure out that page numbers are considered a 'field'.  And if you wanted your numbering to start on the second page or to use Roman instead of Arabic numerals, good luck with that...
  2. Default document settings.  Changing the default settings of a new document in OpenOffice is similarly unintuitive.  It might make sense to programmers to store default settings in a document that users are supposed to edit if they want to change the default template, but non-geeks deserve a more intuitive process.
  3. Margins.  Speaking of default settings, why are the margins so small in the default document template? 0.79 inches?  Who made up that number?  If it's a common margin size outside of the United States--and those non-Americans out there will please let me know if it is--then why doesn't OpenOffice recognize that my system language is English-U.S. and choose a more appropriate page layout?
  4. Page refresh.  Writer has a tendency to forget to redraw parts of the screen while I'm scrolling through a document.  This isn't a serious impediment to productivity, but it's annoying.
  5. Changing language settings.  The Tools>Options menu isn't exactly the most intuitive place to put the utility where you switch between languages.  It's also a clunky way to access it if you need to change languages frequently.  I would much prefer to have a drop-down box in the panel where I could switch between different spellcheck dictionaries and character sets quickly and with fewer clicks.
  6. Thesaurus.  I abandoned the OpenOffice thesaurus in favor of kthesaurus long ago.  kthesaurus proves that there are better language tools available to the free-software community; why doesn't OpenOffice integrate them?
Lest I sound too negative, I should point out that OpenOffice does have some very useful features.  I especially like the ability to export to PDF in one click, and the HTML editor is pretty decent for simple tasks.  The number of languages supported is also impressive.

Most of the issues outlined above, moreover, are easy enough to overcome by reading the help files for a few minutes.  And that other office suite certainly has its own set of deficiencies, not least of which is a crippling price tag.  Even if Microsoft started giving Word away for free, I can't imagine any compelling reason to switch.

But OpenOffice remains a bit raw in some respects, and more attention to the needs of the general public--as opposed to the programmers writing the application--would go a long way in making word processing on Ubuntu even easier.

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