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.

OpenOffice.org also has one great feature that Microsoft Office lacks -- it will open any kind of Office document from within any of its applications. In Office, for example, if you're in Word and want to open an Excel document, you need to open Excel, then browse to a spreadsheet and open it. In OpenOffice.org, software works the way it should: When you're in Word (or any other OpenOffice.org application), you can press Ctrl-O to launch the open dialog, and browse to any document you want to open, whether it be a word processing document, spreadsheet or other OpenOffice.org document. When you open it, the right application automatically launches.

Sharing files

As I detailed earlier in the story, I had serious problems connecting my Linux machine to Windows Vista PCs on my home network. Because I often use multiple PCs, this made sharing files difficult, to say the least.

The kludgiest way to do it was to send files from machine to machine via e-mail. An even better solution (in some circumstances): Use Google Docs. If I had to work on a file on the Linux machine that I had created on my Vista PC, I opened Google Docs on my Vista machine, imported the file into Google Docs and then later opened it up in Google Docs in the Linux machine. After I finished working on it, I could open it in Google Docs on my Vista PC.

Google Docs doesn't have as fully featured a word processor as OpenOffice.org or Word, but for straight-ahead writing and editing, it did what I needed. That isn't to say that Google Docs is perfect. The original file's formatting was sometimes changed or lost, and I occasionally had a hard time with boxed text. As with OpenOffice.org, I couldn't use some advanced features, such as tracking changes. Still, though, for most basic tasks, it worked well.

Google Docs does have an offline feature that lets you store and work with files when not connected to the Internet, but I found it to be less than perfect. To do it, you have to first install Google Gears, which I did on both my Vista and Linux machines. I found using Google Docs offline to be somewhat flaky on my Vista machine -- it would occasionally freeze -- but it worked without a hitch on my Linux system.

In addition, there are plenty of weird gotchas I came across using Google Docs offline. You can't edit spreadsheets or presentations offline, for example. And you won't be able to create any documents offline. You have to first create them online, then sync them with your local PC to make them available offline. So it's far from a perfect solution, but it works in a pinch, especially if you always have an Internet connection.

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld
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