Tips to help users migrate to OpenOffice

Jack Wallen
Feb 22, 2010
Updated • Dec 27, 2012
Linux, Microsoft Office

The office suite. Ah the importance you hold over the PC user. You help our business to flow, you help us to draft our papers and novels, and you help us communicate. But what of those users who previously were using Microsoft Office or any other office suite? How does one gain any sort of efficiency or familiarity with another office suite - especially when there is so little time to do so? It's really not so difficult. After all, the features are, for the most part, all there.

In this article I am going to present a few tips to help you help others migrate to the open source office suite. In the end, your users will enjoy a full-featured office suite that will cost $0.00 per seat to use (CAL about that?).

1. Change the default file type

For most users the default "save as" file types in OpenOffice will cause more trouble than not. They will create a document and then, when their co-workers/instructors/friends/etc recieve that .odt file, have no idea that Microsoft Office won't be able to play nicely with their work. Although I prefer the open document format, I generally switch all default file types to the Microsoft equivalent. This is done in Tools > Options > Load/Save > General. Make sure you go through the drop-down and change all the necessary default formats so that when your user saves that precious document, it will open in other office suites.

2. Avoid the ribbon

I don't know about you, but I am not a fan of the 2007 Ribbon interface of Microsoft Office. Of course there are plenty of people using it. Now if you are coming from a standard interface to a ribbon interface the migration is much more difficult. I would imagine coming from a ribbon to a standard interface doesn't hold nearly the challenge. But even still, what do you do? If you're really desperate you can hold off until Project Renaissance comes to fruition. This project aims at create Open Office's very own ribbon-like interface. Otherwise, ween your users off of the dreaded ribbon before migrating them to OpenOffice (if you think they will have any issues going back to a standard interface.)

3. Tool for tool, feature for feature

One thing that always surprises new-to-OO-users is that the open source suite does contain just about every feature they are used to using - and more. You will want to show the new users where all of the Open Office tools are: Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw, and Base (if installed). And once they see where all the tools are, show them that generally OpenOffice mimics MSO feature for feature. Keyboard shortcuts are similar (<Ctrl>c, <Ctrl>v, <Ctrl>p for example), menu entires are similar, spreadsheet formulas are similar. One of the best ways to ease a new user into OpenOffice is by showing them how little difference there truly is.

4. No personalized menus

MSO offers a feature some users grow to depend upon. After using a feature a number of times that feature will find its way to the top of menus in MSO. That is not the case in OO. Instead, in OO, the menu entries are static, so your users will need to get to know the full location of all the menu entries they need to use.

5. Auto-correct/auto-format

This is a huge feature in both suites. And fortunately, for new OO users, it works very similar in both suites. But OO offers one other tool that MSO doesn't - word completion. You will find this in Tools > Autocorrect > Word Completion.

6. No side panes

Starting with Office XP, Microsoft introduced side panes to MSO. OO does not have side panes. The closest OO has to side panes are docked and/or floating windows for Navigator, Styles and Formatting, Gallery, Function Wizard, and Data Source Explorer. If your users insist on having sidebars in OO you can open the equivalent floating window, click on it's title bar, and drag it to the side of the OO window until you see a dark outline where the window can dock. When you see that outline release the title bar and the window will dock.

7. Where is Print Preview?

Many users like to view their documents before printing. Print Preview allows the user to see what that document will look like in printed form. If you look through the OO menus you will not find a Print Preview. You will find, however, a Page Preview (File > Page Preview) They are the same thing.

Final thoughts

The migration from other office suites to OpenOffice really isn't that difficult. In fact, many users might hardly notice the difference. But there are users that might wind up in a panic when they see their old friend MSO was replaced with OO. With these tips it shouldn't be all that difficult to ease their worries. What about you? Have you found a tip or two to help ease the migration? If so, share.


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  1. Justin said on February 23, 2010 at 11:30 pm

    Office 2007 supports ODF since SP3. So, do ahead and send ODF files with liberality. There is no reason to continue proliferating proprietary file formats. If the recipient doesn’t know how to open an ODF file it is a great opportunity to inform them about and about SP3 support for ODF.

    1. Roebie said on February 24, 2010 at 4:56 pm

      The commercial world doesn’t work that way. A customer expects to receive his stuff in a format he already knows. Too bad, I agree, but that’s the way things work.

  2. Paul said on February 23, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Thanks Jack,
    Learned many new tricks today.

    I am a big fan of Auto-complete, one of the many reasons I like OpenOffice so much, apart from the fact that it is free.

    Another useful feature in OpenOffice is”Export Directly as PDF”, I don’t think MSO has this useful feature.

  3. edwin said on February 23, 2010 at 10:09 am

    I have been using OpenOffice 3.1.1 for the past 6 months. For the beginning, I wasn’t get use to the interface, esp on the spreadsheet. I have been using MS Excel for about 5 years, with advance knowledge formulating tools, macro features and even used to shortcut keys. I would say I encounter difficulty after migrating to OO spreadsheet.
    But being supporting to open source, I still prefer to utilize more OO application to MSO. Especially now, Im using OO writer to do my draft for my blogs.
    I hope to see more content on this application. Thanks for your tips!

  4. Larry Warsinski said on February 23, 2010 at 12:52 am

    I started using Word 20 years ago. I had customized it to work quickly and efficiently for me. When I went to Office 2007 and the “ribbon”, I found that Word no longer worked with me. Tasks that used to take a few mouse clicks now required me to click on the ribbon, click on a specific task, click on what I wanted to do, go back to the ribbon, click on the next task, and keep on going back and forth until I got it the way I wanted. Basically, the Word ribbon hinders my work.

    So now I have moved over to OpenOffice (I was already starting to use Linux). It takes a learning curve, but it works remarkably well. It’s far easier than the ribbon.

    I just wish there were easy ways I could import my document templates and apply them to documents. Weekly, I need to created a document in one template, and then convert it to another template with the same style names (but different font and paragraph formatting). There may be a good and easy way to do this in OpenOffice, but I haven’t found it yet.

    Better documentation for people moving over from Word — and many of these common tasks — would really help.

  5. Seth said on February 23, 2010 at 12:46 am

    You can create one or more custom menus in OpenOffice. I do this to gain quick access to features I use often without changing the standard menus. Go to “Tools > Customize” and select the “Menus” tab. Of course you can also change the standard menus and tool bars can be customized as desired.

  6. lefty.crupps said on February 22, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    > Everything is right there ready to be used, not hidden under an obscure menu.
    Until you want something that *isn’t* right there, and there is no way to find it via a regular menu entry, which is how every other app functions.

  7. Pejeno said on February 22, 2010 at 3:20 pm

    I wasn’t a fan of the ribbon interface either, but once you get used to it, you can see why they designed it the way it is and its advantages over the menu based interface. Everything is right there ready to be used, not hidden under an obscure menu.

  8. roebie said on February 22, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Our company “depends” very much on PivotTables (Excel) and VBA (Excel, MSAccess and Word). I’ve always heard that nothing similar exists in OO.
    Is that still true and if not are they in anyway compatible?

    1. Alan said on February 22, 2010 at 10:31 pm

      Hi roebie,
      Although I’m not a spreadsheet expert, I understand that the “data pilot” feature in calc is OpenOffice’s answer to pivot tables. Also, I’m not sure where VBA support is in the “official” version of, but there is a community-modified version sponsored by Novell available from which boasts some level of Excel VBA compatibility. It might be worth a look.

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