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Helping OpenOffice feel a little more familiar

When I start using a program that’s supposed to be a replacement for a different program, as OpenOffice Writer is for Word, there are always little differences that bug me. Fortunately, OpenOffice is very customizable, and I’ve found a quick trip into Tools -> Options easily solves most of my problems. Here are a few things I changed straight off to make OpenOffice (and Linux itself) a bit more comfortable for writing.

Feeling locked in

To start off with: that gray boundary around the text. I mean, what?

I get that it’s supposed to help me see where the margins are, but c’mon, I think I can see that easily enough from the text itself. And there’s something off about text that directly touches a border, like I’m looking at a poorly-formatted webpage.

To get rid of this claustrophobic box, untick “Text Boundaries” in the View menu. Much to my surprise, after turning the boundaries off once, they never came back to haunt me again like so many options in Word did. Nice!

A little too familiar

I couldn’t go one quotation mark without that little box in the lower-right corner popping up. Back in my days of writing on OS X, I remembered that box being a minimalistic image of a lightbulb against a purpleish background. Nowadays it is the cheesiest damn thing I’ve ever seen. Before it was just an annoyance, and I never bothered to turn it off; now it’s a borderline embarrassment. Who thought a cartoon lightbulb with a face was a good idea? And if this is supposed to be OpenOffice’s version of an “Office Assistant” – which I’ve no doubt it is – isn’t OO aware of the near-universal hatred for such a thing? If we’re starting afresh with an open-source office suite, why take the pains to replicate that which is undesired in the first place?


Tools -> Options -> -> General -> uncheck Help Agent. It never bothered me again.

A single problem

Sometime after I switched off the lightbulb I realized that, for all its fanfare about correcting double quotes, OpenOffice does not, by default, correct single quotes.

To set right that which is wrong, go to Tools -> AutoCorrect Options (it’s just above regular ol’ Options) and select the “Localized Options” tab. There you’ll find the option to correct single quotes as well as double quotes. Sanity has been restored.

That which is left behind

After changing these three simple settings I found myself warming up to OpenOffice a lot more. There is one last thing I’d like to have back from my Microsoft experience, though, and that’s the fonts.

Before I go any further, I’m going to put up a huge Disclaimer here: There are thousands upon thousands of free fonts. There are even a lot of good ones, including those that come with a fresh install of Linux Mint. I will be exploring free fonts and free font alternatives later on, because getting tied to Cambria and the like while I’m trying to get away from Microsoft Office is at best silly and at worst awfully hypocritical.

Still, I have documents that I’ve already started writing before I switched to Linux, and I’d like to see them in the proper font. Sure, I could change them, but then I have even older documents I might want to reference, and so on and so forth. Long story short, it’s easier to have these fonts available than not. I’m just not going to limit myself to them, that’s all.

As for why I had to go through the following process to get my fonts back instead of simply copying the fonts over from my Windows 7 fonts folder (after all, I am in a virtual machine): the Fonts folder in 7 won’t open up without crashing the whole system, and there’s only so many reboots one can take before one starts thinking “there must be an easier way!” As it turns out, there is.

If you want to legally(ish?) download the new fonts available in Vista and 7 (Cambria, Candara, and the like) you’re in luck – you can download and extract the fonts from the Microsoft Office 2007 Compatibility Pack. And if you don’t want to go through all that trouble, there’s a script that can do it for you instead.

(Note: As of this writing, there’s what I can only assume to be a bug in the script that forces you to run apt-get install curl before running the script itself. So do that before following these steps if you have trouble.)

chmod +x vistafonts-installer

If the script executes correctly, you’ll now have a wider selection of fonts available in ~/.fonts. Unfortunately there’s one more bug I haven’t mentioned when it comes to these fonts – font smoothing doesn’t work on some of them. Again, this wouldn’t be a problem if we installed truly free fonts instead, but it’s better to have some backwards compatibility than none at all.

Oh and, if you’d like to start exploring free fonts instead of grabbing back Microsoft’s, check out It’s my favorite site for that sort of thing.


3 Comments on “Helping OpenOffice feel a little more familiar”

  1. I love this! If only I actually used OpenOffice anymore. I move between computer on a daily basis I started using Google Docs and I haven’t stopped.

    When I do though I would love some icons that matched my theme. Thats my only complaint. I use the Faenza icon set (I tryed it and I won’t go back) but OpenOffice won’t use it.

  2. […] infuriating trend among fullscreen editors – minimalism to a fault. A word processor should bend to the will of the writer, not force them to just “deal with” what they’re given. I’ve had better […]

  3. […] kinds of software I’ve mentioned so far – a thesaurus, a note-taking program, a bunch of word processors – getting everything started up once you decide It’s Writing Time […]

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