Wednesday, July 30, 2008

OpenOffice Writer Objectives

I was asked to publish the objectives of our OpenOffice Writer test. The goal of this testing is to increase skills, and will also be used with new hires. Robust word processing skills are far more rare than many of you probably perceive. We are seeing that most people still use computer software as you would a typewriter.

The objectives:

Level 1
Level 1 File Management

-Create, open, name, and save files.
-Navigate a file structure to a specific file or directory.

Level 1 Text Formatting
-Copy, cut, and paste text.
-Format text with font, font size, emphasis such as underline.
-Format text with foreground and background color attributes.
-Align and indent text using formatting techniques instead of spaces or tabs.
-Use spellchecking tools to identify and correct misspelled words.

Level 1 Graphics
-Add graphics to a document using the Gallery or by navigating to a graphics file.
-Position graphics within a document.
-Copy, cut, and paste graphics from one spot within a document to another.
-Resize graphics.

Level 1 Lists
-Apply automatic numbering and bullet formatting to text.
-Select a specific number format and bullet format for the list.
-Indent list items to create subitems.

Level 1 Tables
-Create and delete tables.
-Create tables with or without specified attributes.
-Apply table formatting such as shading to existing tables.
-Add and remove rows and columns.
-Control table and column size.

Level 1 Page Setup
-Insert automatic data fields.
-Set margins and page orientation.
-Insert page breaks.
-Add content and page numbers to headers and footers, and format the content.
-Format pages with borders and shading.

Level 1 Printing
-Print to default or another printer.
-Print specific pages.
-Create a PDF copy of a document.

Level 2

Level 2 Text Formatting
-Apply spacing between lines and above and below paragraphs.
-Modify text appearance and capitalization through formatting.
-Apply borders to paragraphs.
-Indent paragraphs using an exact amount, and indent the first line of the paragraph differently -than the rest of the paragraph.
-Apply specified tab stops.
-Uses special characters in text such as an accent or other symbol.
-Link text to open a web site or document.
-Copy existing formatting from one piece of text to another.

Level 2 Graphics
-Control how text and graphics are positioned in relationship to each other, such as wrapping.
-Resize graphics proportionately.
-Apply formatting such as a border to a graphic.
-Modify the picture using effects such as grayscale.

Level 2 Lists
-Specify different number and bullet formatting for different levels in a list.
-Change level for an item, to demote it or promote it in a list.
-Restart or continue numbering to split or join lists.
-Add an unnumbered paragraph within a list.

Level 2 Tables
-Align tables.
-Control column size using automatic formatting.
-Remove formatting from a table.
-Merge and split cells.

Level 2 Page Setup
-Apply columns.
-Apply background graphics to page formatting.
-Change page number type and specify which pages page numbers appear on.

Level 2 Printing
-Use page preview.
-Use OpenOffice features to email a document in its current form, Microsoft form, and PDF form.
-Print specified-only pages of a document to PDF.
-Print multiple pages on a sheet.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Have Your Ammo Ready With OpenOffice

I've blogged about it before; users have a deep emotional connection with Microsoft Office. I'm not talking about those of you that are super power users and make use of advanced features. I'm talking about regular clerical and office workers that are not creating documents much beyond set margins/bold this/italic/insert graphics and print. What we have found is that a lot of people really struggle with word processing, regardless if it's OpenOffice or Microsoft Office. The problem with deploying the former is that they are then able to "blame the tool", and as an IT member it's important to ensure that management knows the root of their complaints. The biggest comment that they make is "it takes 10 steps in OpenOffice to do what you can do in Office in 1 step". Of course, we all know that's absurd.

I have been working with Solveig Haugland for a number of months in coming up with a word processing test that follows closely the skills required for MS Office certification. A huge side benefit of creating this test is that we created a grid matrix on these features and counted steps in both products to complete the tasks. This type of grid can then be taken to management and you can show them that the 10-to-1 complaint that you hear is unfounded. The beauty of this plan is that going into the future, the more they complain the more management knows that they don't know MS Office either!

Here is a summary of the data.

No MS Office equivalent to OpenOffice feature: 36
Openoffice can be configured to work like MS Office: 3
OpenOffice has fewer steps than MS Office: 4
Identical language and steps in OpenOffice and MS Office: 68
Slightly different language, but same number of identical steps: 41
Different steps, but not more clicks: 15

and the big one:

More steps in OpenOffice vs MS Office: 3

This disproves the theory soundly that users are hindered by the steps in OpenOffice. If you aggregate the instances of OpenOffice being easier, you actually can build a case for OpenOffice being fewer clicks on commonly used features.

If your Governmental agency is struggling with funding, this is an excellent first step to take to reduce costs. It scales well on Linux and can be deployed to hundreds of people easily.

If you need training for your organization or would like to speak to Solveig about the test, feel free to contact her from her web site.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


I am starting to get some numbers for those of you interested in GNOME performance, and for those that are considering deployments. Our GNOME server is up to 106 concurrent users. More and more people are coming over each day, and it's interesting to watch the server scale. We have two identical machines, each able to run the entire City. Our total user load should be around 300 concurrent when finished, split between the two servers.

Raw data:
- Looks like it took around 8GB to get 106 users logged in + OS
- Looks like we could get about 300-400 total on this machine without swapping.
- The parent dbus-daemon is the top process 99% of the time.
- The python process for avant-window-navigator is a steady chew on the server.
- 17 users disabled gnome-panel and enabled avant-window-navigator
- Total of all CPUs sits around 10-15% consistently.
- Server is 4 CPU, dual core, 3.66Ghz
- 74 of 106 logins enabled Compiz and 3D effects.
- 15 total users are using NX from low bandwidth remote sites (no 3D for them).
- I can't add .desktop files with this user load, it hammers the server too much

Anyway, things are running well and looking forward to project completion in 30 days.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Training Classes Continue, Cleanups

I have been busy working on the new desktop deployment. I have been training employees and granting permissions for those that will have USB and Sound/Video/Audio access. Those permissions are based on paperwork and signature from their Directors. When we discussed deploying sound to desktops, one of my concerns was employees streaming radio stations which consumes network both on our intranet and on our internet connection. It only took a few days and sure enough that has started. A quick message to those folks halted that practice. I put mplayer and gnome-mplayer into their own group and then set them to 770 so that a Firefox user with some skill won't be able to execute them, even if they find the binaries.

During the training, I found that my hastily designed zenity UIs for weather-wallpaper and xplanet were not robust enough. So today I whipped up a few screens with Glade that are far more user friendly. (shots below).

Monday, July 07, 2008

New Desktop Going Live

After over a year of work, terminal upgrades, patches and custom UI's we have locked in a date for the whole City to migrate to the new OpenSuse desktop. It's going to be really nice to finally complete this project. It will allow the user to fully utilize all of the features of the new thin clients. The go-live date is August 25th.

For the next 6 weeks, I will be offering training classes to City employees. The class will cover things that are very basic to us; logging in, finding software, creating shortcuts, customizing fonts/colors/themes/wallpapers and then logging off. By default, City users will not have Compiz enabled. I will also be offering some classes in how to use Compiz, which will allow them to enable 3D effects. I perceive that most users will want to use metacity, and just get in and do their work.

There was enough interest in using the avant-window-navigator that I created a small custom GUI for them to enable/disable that type of panel. (shot below).

If they have selected the second or third option, it automatically runs avant upon startup. When avant runs, I automatically force in few applets each time it's run, so if they accidentally delete a mission critical icon, it's back upon next login. I force in an icon to get to the "Application Browser", and also always force in the Calendar applet and Quit applet. I didn't feel comfortable completely deleting their regular gnome-panel, so I issue the following two commands when avant runs:

/opt/gnome/bin/gconftool-2 --type Boolean --set /apps/panel/toplevels/bottom_panel_screen0/enable_arrows True
/opt/gnome/bin/gconftool-2 --type Boolean --set /apps/panel/toplevels/bottom_panel_screen0/auto_hide True

This allows them to turn off avant and get their panel back. It does leave a few pixels visible on the bottom however. Not perfectly clean. I didn't see any gconf settings to completely hide, yet retain a panels attributes.

Here is how avant looks at a 45 degree, on our thin clients. It was very well received:

I also have been tinkering with the idea of creating "super themes" which configure GTK + Wallpaper + Compiz all at the same time. In the future, there probably should be a mechanism for GNOME users to pick up all of these settings with a single download and install. For fun, I created the theme below:

Up next for me is probably a 1 year R&D project to get "caught up" again. I'll be staging OpenSuse 11, testing the latest version of Compiz, experimenting with newer versions of Debian on the HP thin clients, upgrading the X version, and testing the proprietary ATI driver for performance. It never ends.