Enhance OpenOffice.org with free extensions and templates

Give your Writer documents, Calc spreadsheets, and Impress presentations more impact by using the great add-ons for the productivity suite.

You could create every document, spreadsheet, and presentation you work on from scratch, but if you're like me, you'll likely spend more time futzing with the file's layout and design than entering the data that comprises it.

That's why I rely on the many free templates and extensions for my favorite productivity apps. I've written in the past about places to find add-ons for Microsoft Office , but there's also a wealth of free extensions and templates for OpenOffice.org's Writer word processor, Calc spreadsheet, and Impress presentation program.

Start at OpenOffice.org's Extensions page. Click one of the options at the top left to list the extensions by application, category, popularity, or other criterion.

One extension that workgroups may find helpful is O3Spaces Workplace Community Edition, which offers version control, check in/check out, and other collaboration features for OpenOffice.org and StarOffice apps. The add-on combines an AJAX Web client with a desktop component that you can access via a system-tray icon. It even works in mixed Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org/StarOffice environments.

I'm less impressed with OpenOffice.org's templates for Writer, Calc, and Impress. Still, I have to admit that they're better layouts than I would be able to devise on my own. One compilation of OpenOffice.org templates that business people will likely find indispensable is Sun Microsystems' own Professional Template Pack, which provides an abundance of templates for business letters, presentation backgrounds, and worksheets.

Preview your templates in OpenOffice.org apps
Before you can select the right template for your needs, you need to be able to see it. Previewing templates in OpenOffice.org apps isn't as easy as you might think. If you click File > Templates > Organize, you see the templates installed on your system and can place them in new or different folders, but you can't see what they look like.

You can view some of the templates via the applications' wizards: click File > Wizards, and choose one of the top five categories. When the wizard opens, choose From template and select one of the templates listed in the window below the radio buttons.

OpenOffice.org's presentation wizard
Preview the templates in OpenOffice.org by running a wizard and selecting "From template" on the first screen. OpenOffice.org

Another way to get a glimpse of your templates is to click File > New > Templates and Documents. With Templates selected in the left pane (it should be highlighted automatically), double-click a folder in the middle pane to view the templates in that category. Select one to preview it in the right pane. When you find one you like, click Open and start entering your data.

OpenOffice.org's Templates and Documents dialog box
Preview the templates in OpenOffice.org via the Templates and Documents dialog box off the File > New menu. OpenOffice.org

A wonderful resource for OpenOffice.org templates, tips, and tutorials is Kaaredyret's all-purpose site.

Monday: customize Windows' context (right-click) menu.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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