Part 3 of The Great, Frugal Summer-Doldrums Software Adventure
Your Assignment, If You Choose to Accept it: Design Your Own Printable Business Cards
For many people, trying to create even a relatively simple design project, like your own printable business card page, seems more like Mission: Impossible than something they could throw together in a hurry. This is where templates come to the rescue! Both LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice prominently advertise their templates on their download sites. So, how do they stack up against the Redmond Giant, Microsoft?
Templates in LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice
For me, the issue came up when I needed to print out some personal business cards for a networking meeting. Naturally, I needed them right away. My first inclination was to import a set of cards (10 per sheet) that I had previously designed in Microsoft Word. They were designed and tested with the standard Avery business card sheets I use.
Unfortunately, even with all the improvements both LibreOffice (LO) and Apache OpenOffice (AOO) have made to translators to import Microsoft documents, both programs failed miserably in importing my Microsoft Word file. Each card contained a small graphic plus two blocks of text, repeated in a table of ten boxes. Although both suites imported the graphics, the text was missing and it was a general mess. (The same attempt with the German Softmaker Office fared better, but was still unprintable as imported.)
So I searched each of the open source office websites to see if there was a usable template to get up and running quickly.
The Search for the Temple of Templates
The first problem was finding the templates. Although the download sites for both LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice advertise the use of templates prominently as a feature, neither have an easy-to-find link on their download sites to the templates. Suddenly, a quick search for a template turned into a quest worthy of Indiana Jones! A quick Google search fixed that, but that shouldn’t be necessary.
LibreOffice templates are located at http://templates.libreoffice.org/template-center. When I looked for business card templates, I couldn’t find any. This wasn’t too surprising, though, when I discovered there were only 168 templates on the entire site. Some of them are fairly high quality, but the number was very disappointing, and none were of use for something as simple as printing business cards.
Apache OpenOffice keeps a stronger library of templates at http://templates.services.openoffice.org/en with almost 1400 templates, including a business card template in the format I was looking for. Success! One of the reasons AOO had so many more templates was because many of them date from 2009 and 2010, before Apache OpenOffice was even a twinkle in any programmer’s eye. Obviously, there was a concentrated effort to provide templates for the older OpenOffice and the Apache Foundation inherited the collection.
After exploring Apache OpenOffice several days later, I discovered there is a built-in way to get to templates.And it’s not by using the templates command from the opening splash screen. (That allows you to open existing, already downloaded, templates, but doesn’t get you access to the online repository.) In AOO, go to File->New,scroll down and select Templates and Documents and, at the bottom of the screen, select Get more templates online….
This does not work with LibreOffice! I could not find a corresponding link anywhere in LO. (If there is one, dear readers, please let me know where.) So, for this particular detail, the advantage again goes to Apache OpenOffice.
Fortunately, whichever site you use, the templates are interchangeable between LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice.
Curiously, neither of the sites had any database templates. One would expect at least some simple contact managers, databases for book, recording and video collections, or the like. (Or maybe something a bit more creative, even.) Templates would be a good teaching tool for databases, too.
Getting Down to Business (Cards)
So, here was my downloaded template, which uses the old obsolete, OpenOffice logo:
Now I could create my own business card. (Yes, by reading the manual, I probably could have just as quickly created a table template that would have done the same thing. But that would have been an even more boring blog post.) I had my own graphic to include and my own contact info, so the only graphic element I needed from the template was the blue-colored bar. I inserted my logo, created a text box for contact info, and voilá, instant business card.
Here, The New Sidebar Shines
It was while inserting and resizing the graphic, and trying different font sizes and settings, that the new sidebar really showed its worth. I could have done all the editing, with great difficulty, with the menus by hunting for the appropriate commands. I could also have used the mini-menu from right-clicking the mouse, which would have been easier than menus. But having the sidebar with most of the formatting features splayed out in front of me was a big help for adjusting the graphic and in formatting the text precisely. In fact, I plan on using the sidebar more in the future (even in LibreOffice – I’ll show how in another post).
Once I had one card designed the way I wanted it, it was easy to paste the design over the pre-formatted ones and create a full page of cards. After this, it was also easy to proof and print on standard business card stock (Avery and others have perforated paper stock just for this purpose.) I find printing using my printer’s high quality setting for matte paper works superbly.
Another Sidebar Tip
One more tip on using the sidebar: There is a tiny, easy-to-miss, icon in each section of the sidebar (Text, Paragraph, Page, etc.) which will pop up the appropriate full-featured menu item, say, for character formatting. This is actually quite handy for finding controls not on the sidebar itself.
An alternate way to design the same project – with Draw
For somebody with experience doing page layout or creating an old-fashioned pasteboard, it would have been possible to design the same page using the program’s Draw module. I could have either created an entire printable page in Draw, or just designed a single card and copied it over into the Writer template. (If I had thought of it, that might have actually have saved me some time. I was laboring under Microsoft Office attitudes where you generally do entire designs using a single program!)
Looking at Draw, you have all the tools for page layout in front of you. For simple projects, it works much like many of the popular page layout programs, such as Microsoft’s Publisher. Without tools for text flow, however, it would be difficult to do extended newsletters or book projects. But, when I gave Draw a closer look, I was impressed.
People looking for a full-featured page-layout program should take a look at the free Scribus, which is to page layout software what LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice are to Office applications.
With either LibreOffice or Apache OpenOffice, there are often alternate ways to accomplish various projects. For page design, either Draw or Writer can get the job done (or both). Likewise, managing mailing lists can be done in either Calc or Base, depending on whether you’re more comfortable with spreadsheets or databases.
For an experienced Microsoft Office user, however, the template collections for the open source programs are quite disappointing. Hopefully, now that both the Document and Apache Foundations are getting more comfortable developing their software, they might be able to spend some organizational time getting more people (and companies) to voluntarily share templates. For a creative volunteer with a flair for design, this could be a quick way to build a reputation in the open source community without having to learn how to program.
Fortunately, the situation is better with clipart graphics, although Microsoft’s collection still reigns supreme here, too. There are some advantages to being a huge corporation with massive profits when it comes to hiring designers to create artwork and/or templates. Just sayin’.
Nonetheless, with the current availability of templates, and with the artistic resources of the internet, there are creative solutions to every graphic need. No need to forsake LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice just for templates. Also, for many projects already in Microsoft format, importation is often still a viable option, too.
Have you switched from Microsoft Office to LibreOffice or Apache OpenOffice? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
See Frugal Guidance 2’s earlier posts about LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice:
The Pulp Science Fiction graphic was created with the Pulp-o-Mizer Cover Maker on the Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual website.