OpenOffice / StarOffice macros

So you've taken the plunge and installed StarOffice or OpenOffice and everything basically works; so far so good.

Now Bob from Accounts wants to automatically send summaries of last month's sales to each of the department heads from his Calc spreadsheet. Even more alarmingly he thinks you can just do this with a few lines of code or a recorded macro because he's sure he read something about it on a web site somewhere....

You can:

  • Tell Bob it can't be done.
    Bob now tells his best mate the CEO that this new system you said we should use doesn't work. Not good.
  • Show Bob the macro editor and recorder and let him try for himself.
    You are entering a world of hurt - Bob isn't a programmer and, despite what certain large software companies suggest, it takes programming skills to write programs (duh!). Bob will be back real soon now with lots of questions that start 'How do I...'. This is starting to look like option (a).
  • Try to do it yourself in your copious free time.
    You get points for being helpful but have to give them back when the rest of your work starts to suffer (you do have other things to do don't you?). And you know deep in your heart of hearts that you're not a programmer either - option (a) again.
  • Get someone who has done it before to help.
    Now why didn't you think of that earlier?

Why develop OpenOffice macros at all?

For the same reasons you once wanted to develop MS Office macros.

Using OpenOffice macros

For the end user, using a file which has macros should be much the same in either OpenOffice or MS Office. In both cases, well-designed applications will conceal the complications behind a single command button or menu item.

The OpenOffice/StarOffice macro programming environment offers a similar level of functionality to the MS Office 'VBA' environment, however it is much more programmer oriented and less friendly to end-users.

Converting MS Office files

Unless you happen to have a completely new environment you probably have a whole bunch of existing MS Office format files which you will need to use with OpenOffice. For many of these files the transition will be seamless - you can just open the file with OpenOffice, edit, save and share with MS Office users without worrying. Sometimes you won't be so lucky.

Before you decide to implement OpenOffice you should analyse a representative set of your existing document for compatibility with OpenOffice. The following table shows some of document content elements and how well they might convert. However, the difficulty or otherwise with which a given type of file will interoperate can vary greatly depending on the details of how it has been created in the first place.

Things that convert fairly easily:

  • Document construction templates
  • Formulae
  • Tables and charts

Things that don't convert so easily:

  • Graphs and charts
  • Frames
  • Slide transitions
  • Forms

These more problematic items can be converted and supported in OpenOffice, it's just that they don't convert so well. Of course this isn't a complete list.

Macro Conversion

Converting, or preferably re-engineering existing macros from Word and Excel should be part of your OpenOffice deployment project and scheduled well before end-users are migrated.

The next release of the commercial StarOffice product (version 8) includes an MS Office macro interpreter which, according to the specifications will run existing MS Office macros without conversion. There is some anecdotal evidence from beta test sites that it works well. We shall see...

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