One of the PCs I use frequently is an old eMachines box with less than stellar performance. Many of the applications that I take for granted on my desktop at home won’t perform well enough to bother with, and some of those that do perform their jobs only grudgingly.
Try as I might, I don’t seem to be able to get happy with the “lightweight” word processors like Abiword, and I despise the Microsoft Works Word Processor for what it obviously is: a makeover of WordPad with just enough real word processing features to frustrate you and cause an upgrade to Office. In short, I always end up back with OpenOffice Writer — which isn’t a bad place to be at all….
Unless you’re on the eMachines I mentioned, which started out badly and has gotten worse as it ages. Try to run Writer on it and, if some background program cranks up and demands enough resources, as often as not the thing will freeze up and require a reboot. If there was no data loss, I’m lucky. (Don’t ask me why I don’t upgrade the thing; it’s a long story, beginning with the fact that it isn’t mine.)
I don’t use desktop word processing very often, preferring Google’s online service, but there are times when you just need the power of a full-fledged program for things like brochures or other projects involving object manipulation. So, when OpenOffice 2.4 arrived and I decided to upgrade, I figured I’d see what I could do about streamlining it a bit.
After downloading and clicking on the OpenOffice installer, there’s a hiatus during which it unpacks the installation files to the desktop, and then it presents you with a choice of a full or “custom” install. Now don’t think a custom install will save you any disc space. As far as I can tell, a custom install has everything there in the program file (about 375 MB worth). However, instead of loading it all up when you invoke, say, Writer, it tends to keep most of it to itself, greatly speeding up the load time and RAM use, and even reducing the processor load a tad.
The big question is what to install, and what you can afford to leave out. Turns out, if all you want is a kick-butt word processor, that’s most of it. So here’s a list the stuff on the menu, what it does, and what you can probably forget about.
- Calc — Performs calculations, analyzes information and manages lists in spreadsheets — the OpenOffice app compatible with Excel. If you don’t anticipate doing any of those things, you can probably forget about Calc.
- Draw — Creates and edits drawings, flow charts and logos. Ditto for Draw.
- Impress — OpenOffice.org’s equivalent of PowerPoint. If you don’t open those silly .ppt things that people insist on forwarding all over the Web, then you probably don’t need Impress. Even if you do bother to open the things, you can always do it in Gmail as a slide show, or use Microsoft’s PowerPoint Viewer.
- Base — Creates and edits databases. If you don’t know what a database is, you probably don’t need this, either.
- Math — creates and edits scientific formulas and equations. This is for typing, and importing to documents, equations and other math that can’t be reproduced by a word processor. If, like me, you can’t imagine what you’d use it for…
Optional Components — These are mostly add-ons that work with the applications listed.
- Java Runtime Environment — I have yet to use any portion of OpenOffice that requires Java. The only thing I know of that uses it is the mobile device filters (later). I’ve run Writer with it disabled for years, and the only change I can see is that it loads a lot faster.
- Graphic Filters — For reading non OO graphic formats. If you don’t work with graphics or want to import them into your documents, forget it.
- XSLT Sample Filters — One presumes that, if you know what these are, you know whether or not you want them.
- Python-UNO Bridge — this gives users the ability to automate OpenOffice applications using the Python Scripting Language. Probably not needed for everyday use, would be my guess.
- Online Update — allows OO to check for (you guessed it) updates. I’d keep it, even if you don’t plan to update. It’s good to know what’s happening in that department.
- Mobile Device Filters — These are text and spreadsheet filters for importing and exporting documents from/to Palm and PocketPC devices. I abstained.
- ActiveX Control — Enables Internet Explorer to display OpenOffice documents. Since I don’t use Internet Explorer except on Microsoft websites, and since I can always export documents in another format if I have to, I see no use for it — and ActiveX has enough security problems that I keep it disabled in IE anyway.
- Windows Explorer Extension — Keep this, unless you don’t want to see OpenOffice info, such as thumbnails, in Explorer. (Note: Windows Explorer, not Internet Explorer.
- Quickstarter — Pre-loads part of the OpenOffice program into memory and holds it there to help the applications start faster. I find that the stripped-down installation loads plenty fast enough to suit me, but if you’re constantly opening and closing documents and have at least 512 MB of RAM you might want to keep it. You can always disable it, if it seems to cause problems.
So, there it is. The good thing about all this is that, since OpenOffice is free, you can always download a fresh copy and install things you may be missing, or just begin an uninstall, which brings up the option to modify the installation instead.