Living free with Linux: 2 weeks without Windows

Can a dedicated Windows user make it for two weeks using only Linux? Preston Gralla tried it and lived to tell this tale.

As I mentioned earlier, Ubuntu had installed Version 2.4 of OpenOffice.org, although I knew that Version 3.0 was available. But unaccountably, Ubuntu's Update Manager didn't inform me that an upgrade was available, even though it did tell me about numerous upgrades of other software I've never heard of, and certainly will never need. (If I ever needed xulrunner or Yelp, though, the Update Manager was here to help.)

Since Update Manager didn't seem to want me to upgrade, I decided to try it on my own and downloaded Version 3.0 for Linux from the OpenOffice.org site. I unpacked what I downloaded, but when I checked the unpacked files, there seemed to be no installation file to run. So I checked the OpenOffice.org site for download instructions. I found them and they weren't easy. It involved first opening a terminal prompt and then finding the proper directory for the unpacked files. I found the directory, which was named -- I kid you not -- OOO300_m9_native_packed-1_en-US.9358 .

Once there, I had to issue the command rpm -Uvih *rpm . I tried it, but was told that "the program rpm is not currently installed." To install it, I discovered, I had to type the command sudo apt-get install rpm . (And Linux is supposed to be easier to use than Windows?) I followed the instructions to install rpm, and then once again typed rpm -Uvih *rpm . Still no dice: I was told that it wouldn't work because I had to "use alien." At that point, I simply gave up. Version 2.4 of OpenOffice.org, I knew from previous experience with the Windows version, works just fine.

OpenOffice.org's Writer is a surprisingly powerful word processor, and the Linux version looks and works just like the Windows version. For my needs, it did just about everything I asked. The interface's layout, although clumsy-looking and a bit cartoonish, gives instant access to all the tools one needs, including search and replace, drawing, creating tables and hyperlinks, and even creating backgrounds for documents. Those who don't like Office 2007's ribbon interface will find it superior to the latest version of Microsoft Word.

Because OpenOffice.org supports the .doc format, I could create documents in it and exchange them with others. (Working with .doc files is a must for writers -- for many, it's the lingua franca of journalism.) However, it has one serious drawback for writers or anyone who collaborates using .doc files: It doesn't support Word markup (redlining) and comments. So at times, I had to send the marked-up file to my Windows PC and work on the document there. Those who collaborate using markup in .doc files need Microsoft Office -- Linux simply won't cut it.

The OpenOffice.Org spreadsheet was similarly easy to use. I'm not a spreadsheet jockey, so don't need to create complex spreadsheets and can't compare it to Excel for sophisticated tasks. But for most simple tasks such as budgeting and the like, it was simple and straightforward. Its graph creation is particularly useful, with a simple wizard that practically creates its own charts. For tasks like that, it's clearly the equal of Excel.

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld
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