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Hidden Treasures in OpenOffice 2.0's Chart Tool 188

Jane Walker writes "Take a tour of the multi-layered charting tools of OpenOffice 2.0's Charting Wizard, as you learn to create, edit and master the art of making a polished chart." From the article: "The chart features in OpenOffice are like a mystery-lover's dream vacation: a huge, mysterious old house with lots of long halls, secret bookcases, dark closets and creaky doors that, when you peer behind them, reveal wonderful secrets."
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Hidden Treasures in OpenOffice 2.0's Chart Tool

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  • Yarrrr! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:35PM (#14871785)
    Deres gold in dem source code!! YARRR
    • I can only second that notion - whenever someone talks about "wonderful treasures" being "revealed", I get this image of an treasure chest on the bottom of the ocean, opening with a creak as the diver approaches to reveal sparkling gold dubloons and other riches.

      It's a very vivid image, too - and I *really* would like to know exactly where it comes from, because it sure is weird.
      • Re:Yarrrr! (Score:3, Funny)

        by ashridah ( 72567 )
        I'm thinking Super Mario 64 myself.

        Some of those water world levels had you swimming down to find treasure chests that'd open up with a nice creak. Had giant clams too :)

        • That's a good guess, but I actually had this even before I played Super Mario 64. It sure was an interesting experience when I *did* play it, though... *s*

          Personally, I think it may have been a cartoon or maybe a children's book or even a movie or so that I saw when I was young, but I have no idea which it may have been. Oh well.
  • Hidden Treasures? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by merreborn ( 853723 ) * on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:35PM (#14871787) Journal
    "Hidden Treasures"?
    "mystery-lover's dream vacation"?
    "huge, mysterious old house with lots of long halls, secret bookcases, dark closets and creaky doors that, when you peer behind them, reveal wonderful secrets"?

    Here's a hint: if you're trying to write a positive review of software, try not to use analogies that indicate that the UI is arcane and unintuitive!
  • Secret bookcases? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:36PM (#14871789)
    Why the hell do you want software that you have to dig deep through in order to get any benefit out of using it?
    • Jeez, but if you looked at the source code you'd know exactly how to use it! Whiner ;-)
    • by Tlosk ( 761023 ) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @05:07AM (#14873358)
      You're right, I should just be able to say into my microphone "Make me a snazzy chart according to my data and design whims. Make it so."

      Some things by their nature are always going to at least somewhat complicated if they give you any amount of control over the data layout and graphical design. Charting being one of them.

      The reason has little to do with the software but rather with the fact that many of the decisions to be made are arbitrary. There's no one best way of doing it, and depending on what you happen to be doing in particular (the field, existing standards, your audience, your data set) you may have very different rankings on what would be "better" ways of laying things out or what to display and how.
  • by palumbor ( 854887 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:38PM (#14871795)
    I feel as if I was just verbally assaulted by an informercial.
  • by orthogonal ( 588627 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:42PM (#14871820) Journal
    "a huge, mysterious old house with lots of long halls, secret bookcases, dark closets and creaky doors that, when you peer behind them, reveal wonderful secrets."

    Yeah, they perfectly emulate Microsoft Excel charts: you get to click around with the mouse, hoping you'll hit the magic spot to get the context menu for the attribute you want. "Ok, X-axis. Last time it I clicked here and then here. I mean here, wait over here." There's not even a damned menu that shows all the options.

    Whereas, with gnuplot I get no GUI but reproducible results from a simple text file. With gnuplot, I can set the colors, I can set the output size, I can specify the output format. No magic, no "secret bookcases." And I can pipe the data from other processes.

    gnuplot wins for anything serious.
    • by kebes ( 861706 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:56PM (#14871888) Journal
      I fully agree that Excel (and OpenOffice.org's Calc) has a horrible interface for making graphs. It is frustrating to actually get anything to look the way you want. Moreover, there is no simple way to get a graph "looking perfect" and then apply that formatting style to other graphs. You either have to start from scratch, or copy the graph and then change the data that it is pointing to. Both are tedious. I wish OO.o had a simple way to apply formatting from one graph to another (maybe it does... anything know of a trick?).

      However, despite how bad Excel's graph capabilities are, you may be interested to know that there is a better way to select and modify graph items. Instead of right-clicking madly, open up the "Chart" toolbar (right-click on the toolbar near the top and make the "Chart" one visible). When you select a graph, the toolbar will list all the items ("Data series 1", "Data series 2", "x-axis", etc.). You can now pick the one you want and open its properties quickly. This allows you to "get" the item you want.

      That having been said, it's a frustrating experience. There is no good way, for instance, to have proper-looking scientific/exponential notation on a graph in either Excel or OO.o calc. These are the types of things that I think OO.o could really be *ahead* of MS Office... It wouldn't take much programming (compared to what has already been done), and it would make OO.o immediately more useful than MS Office for certain tasks.
    • Egads, not gnuplot. Grace is the only way to go for this sort of thing.

      Let the flamefest begin!
  • by merc ( 115854 ) <slashdot@upt.org> on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:46PM (#14871836) Homepage
    Sorry, I digress. What I really meant to say was "But, does it have a flight simulator?"
  • by kentrel ( 526003 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:46PM (#14871840) Journal
    Ah, comparing something to Nancy Drew mysteries, the perfect way to a geek's heart.
  • by codergeek42 ( 792304 ) <peter@thecodergeek.com> on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:48PM (#14871852) Homepage Journal
    Open up OpenOffice.org Calc, and enter the following into any cell:


    Enjoy! :-)

    (Thanks to ChrisWhite on IRC a few months ago for this tidbit...)
  • by MrNonchalant ( 767683 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:53PM (#14871875)
    Because you know your software is usable when it's described as a huge, mysterious old house with lots of long halls, secret bookcases, dark closets and creaky doors that, when you peer behind them, reveal wonderful secrets.
    • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @10:02PM (#14871918) Homepage
      Yup, open source usability problem. "What it lacks in obviousness, OpenOffice makes up for in the many ways to find the tools. They're in four places." Bad sign. Worse if some of options are only in some of the places.

      This is an generic problem with open source GUI programs. Some features are reached through menus, some through toolbars, and some by right clicking. The interface tends to be determined more by who added the feature than by coherent design.

      The original "Macintosh User Interface Guidelines" are still a good read. You may disagree with some of them, but if you have no idea what they are, you shouldn't be designing interfaces.

      • Um, OpenOffice has a very long history as being a commercial, closed source program (Star Office). It has changed since its Open Source release, yes, but not that much so that you wouldn't feel at home. And I bet people wouldn't bash its GUI, if it still were a commercial program.

        Oh wait, it is still commercial! [sun.com] I think OOo 2.0 and also Star Office have a nice GUI, which is highly customizable and allows for a lot of efficient keyboard shortcuts. I also think that the changes from 1.x to 2.0 increased u

    • by Potato Battery ( 872080 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @10:59PM (#14872153)
      You are sitting in front of a computer. There is an icon on the desktop.

      >Make chart.

      Can't do that now.

      >Launch OpenOffice

      You are magically transported from the chair, though the monitor, to the other side, a huge, mysterious old house with lots of long halls, secret bookcases, dark closets and creaky doors. It is getting very dark. You could be eaten by a grue.

      >Light lantern. Make chart.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:53PM (#14871876)
    How about instead, they make the thing intuitive. There are SO MANY options turned on at start that it's not usable, and trying to find those is enough to make me remove OO every time and go use some other program.

    I'm trying to type and the the blasted thing is auto indenting, auto fixing, auto guessing my words and generally pissing me off. And finding those and more aggrivating options to turn off, is akin to battling library version conflicts while compiling in linux.
  • Wow (Score:5, Funny)

    by threedognit3 ( 854836 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:54PM (#14871878)
    Well I know this is going to make 15 people happy.
  • Once you're past the first few paragraphs it's a typical intro level tutorial. The article does not take you into any undocumented/hidden features, easter eggs, or into some Myst-like labyrinth of sub-menus. A typically written "Getting Started with..." guild for OO.o charts.

  • by Dante Shamest ( 813622 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @09:56PM (#14871885)
    "The chart features in OpenOffice are like a mystery-lover's dream vacation: a huge, mysterious old house with lots of long halls, secret bookcases, dark closets and creaky doors that, when you peer behind them, reveal wonderful secrets."

    I saw this movie. You're going to die horribly.

    And since you're a /. user, you're going to die a virgin.

    • by fossa ( 212602 )

      I was looking for some choie Tufte quotes on the futility of representing data on a low resolution [projection] screen, and I found this: Does PowerPoint make you stupid? [presentations.com], a pretty harsh slam of Tufte's disdain for PowerPoint. For those unfamiliar, Tufte hates PowerPoint the tool. He blames PowerPoint itself in part for the Columbia disaster [edwardtufte.com].

      The first article I linked defends PowerPoint on the grounds that in the wrong hands, PowerPoint can make horrible presentations, much like anything in the wrong ha

  • by Jerk City Troll ( 661616 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @10:07PM (#14871940) Homepage

    The chart features in OpenOffice are like a mystery-lover's dream vacation: a huge, mysterious old house with lots of long halls, secret bookcases, dark closets and creaky doors that, when you peer behind them, reveal wonderful secrets.

    So in other words, you're saying that its user interface is a complete and utter failure?

  • I am not trying to troll here. I read the post a couple days ago that OO is 10 years behind MS Officer and i remember Office 97 having that flight simulator in the dark. Hehe. Go figure :P
  • I have been trying to find error bars in OO.org for an eternity, and I see them in one of those screen shots. YES! (I don't have any real statistical need, but they're part of the requirements for my ugrad. physics lab reports. Hopefully it'll all spit out into Microsoft formats correctly)
  • Maybe Calc does have an ancient mansion to explore, but I still can't display the equation of a trendline. As a college physics student, this means I write my lab reports in Writer and make my charts in Excel.
  • due for a rewrite (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Harlan879 ( 878542 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @10:29PM (#14872039)
    Uh, ridiculous. The charting code works, barely, but it's full of weird bugs, interface wackiness, and major, huge, usefulness-preventing limitations. My understanding is that a from-scratch rewrite of the Chart code was on the table for 2.0, but they didn't have the resources to do it and it got delayed, probably until 3.0. I use Chart for quick-and-dirty graphs when exploring data, but for real production graphs I use Grace [weizmann.ac.il].
  • Hot-linking sheets to a CSV file First of all, you can link a sheet to a CSV file (a comma-delimited format that is very easy to generate from the computer language of your choice) It will auto-update the data and hence any charts linked to it from other sheets automagically when you reenter the spreadsheet file. To do the linking, right-click on a tabsheet tab, choose "new tab", then create it from the CSV file via the option in the appearing dialog and make sure the "Link" checkbox is checked. Scatter X
  • by layer3switch ( 783864 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @10:36PM (#14872069)
    "The chart features in OpenOffice are like a mystery-lover's dream vacation: a huge, mysterious old house with lots of long halls, secret bookcases, dark closets and creaky doors that, when you peer behind them, reveal wonderful secrets."

    Somehow when I read that, I kinda figured the article had to be written by a woman. If it was written by a man, it perhaps could have been written like this;

    "Some of the chart features in OOo are convoluted and hidden. Some may find it annoying, and others may find it surprisingly enriching."
  • by Arthur B. ( 806360 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @10:37PM (#14872072)
    really... I work in finance where virtually everyone uses excel. Try plotting a 1000 points chart in OOo. It will take a very noticeable time and the default behavior will be to have an ugly "row" written under every point! In excel the graph appears instantaneously and looks neat. Actually excel is the only software I miss under linux (cxoffice rulez though)... many people mention photoshop, but the gap between OOo calc and excel is 1 order of magnitude more than between photoshop and the gimp. At least for my use. It's really too bad :( Kchart is also slow as hell by the way.... I wonder what;s specific with excel's implementation of charts...
  • You Know (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 2443W ( 946731 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @10:40PM (#14872086)
    ... the funniest part of this all is that i just finished cursing the chart creator after spending ~ an hour trying to get a chart to have something intelligent on the x axis. I got so frustrated that i took a break and decided to check /. for anything new. Instead of a treasure hunt a easily useable chart creation interface would be nice. Like maybe one that doesn't want my x axis values to by the titles. If I could just manually assign the values along the axis...
  • My favored analogy for a sprawling, unplanned, grew-by-accretion software product is the Winchester Mystery House [winchester...yhouse.com] in San Jose, California. So the chosen analogy happened to strike me in the worst possible way. I've worked on and with too many WMH projects already.
  • Try this... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dskoll ( 99328 ) on Tuesday March 07, 2006 @10:46PM (#14872111) Homepage
    Try making a chart with more than a few hundred data points. Go eat supper while your computer grinds, churns and overheats.

    Then resize the chart. Eat, grind, churn, overheat.

    Head over to GNUPlot. Plots those hundreds of data points in under a second. Thank you.
    • Re:Try this... (Score:2, Informative)

      gnuplot is great. Excel won't even do 500 element charts and can't import csv's with more than 65535 items. Ridiculous.
    • Re:Try this... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yeah, but its user interface still sucks. I use gnuplot because I regularly need graphs with over 13,000 data points in them, and I haven't found anything better for that kind of volume. But, really, the interface is trash. You really need scripts to get anything done in a sane amount of time.
      • Re:Try this... (Score:3, Informative)

        by radarsat1 ( 786772 )
        You should try using Octave as a front-end to GNUPlot! It works like matlab, you can actually manipulate the data to boot.
      • Re:Try this... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by fossa ( 212602 ) <pat7.gmx@net> on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:06AM (#14872432) Journal

        Agree completely. My typical data analysis goes something like this: I have several 2D (x&y) data sets. I add more as time passes, creating an abstract time axis. I'd like to able to do something like:

        • select all 2D data sets
        • perform some identical numeric manipulation on them, creating new data sets. example: calculate mean and std. deviation. of data sets taken on the same day
        • extract some of the data vs. the time axis creating a new data set (the time series)
        • plot the time series using various plotting options such as error bars at the std. deviation
        • repeat with minimal effort as new data is added
        • repeat with minimal effort with completely new data sets

        Perhaps that isn't a very clear picture of what I'm doing, but if anyone knows of something that can do such a thing, or a better workflow, please speak up. In the past, I have used octave + gnuplot, but the procedural style of octave is a drag (doesn't auto-update like, say, excel does when something changes), and it's difficult to "save" a data manipulation session (scripts may be written, but transporting them to other data sets may not be so easy). Perhaps the only way to go is to bite the bullet and make scripts... Also, tweaking a plot with gnuplot is a tedious code, compile, run cycle. Saving the parameters of a GUI plot (like excel, kaleidagraph, etc.) for reuse is difficult howerver. Isn't there something that does both?

        • Also, tweaking a plot with gnuplot is a tedious code, compile, run cycle. Saving the parameters of a GUI plot (like excel, kaleidagraph, etc.) for reuse is difficult howerver. Isn't there something that does both?

          Scripts aren a good idea (and programs like ploticus may have the autmation you seek down to a tee), but nearly all high-level plotting software which has a nice GUI also has some way of not only templating, but also saving plotting styles. One can even just replace the data in a plot that is alre

    • I think you've really exposed the weak point in OOo's system here. Clearly, they're missing the two most important steps to world domination:


      All this eating and grinding and resizing without any hope of a black box mechanism leading to profit is surely the undoing of that project.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Man, I admit I was confused for a few years. I kept trying open office, after an hour and no paper written I gave up. Wait for new release. Try it again. Same deal. I just want to type up some plain old stuff, nothing fancy...like what's with all that stuff??? What's it for?

    No one told me it was a VIDEO GAME! Now it makes sense! Who sells the official OO.ogre joystick?
  • Value labels? (Score:3, Informative)

    by j1m+5n0w ( 749199 ) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @12:33AM (#14872535) Homepage Journal
    My experience with OOo's charting tool is thus:

    I create a bar chart (showing time to completion for various benchmarks) from a spreadsheet. So far so good. Next I consider: gee, it would sure be great if each bar was labeled with its value. For instance, if a bar has the value 86.51, it should have the text "86.51" floating somewhere in its vicinity. Unfortunately, no option to enable such behavior (which seems as though it would be the expected behavior for most users) seems to exist, so I resort to inserting text over the chart.

    I think I'll stick with gnuplot or similar in the future.

  • It's tutorials like this that help MS Office keep its marketshare, and ensure that Office 2006's only real competition is against prior versions of Office.

    No serious business is going to have its employees use OpenOffice when, for less than $400 per desktop, can buy Office and save on employee training, collaboration, and efficiency.
  • Be warned that many of the comments and FUD here are by lying astroturfers [wikipedia.org]. Probably sock puppets [wikipedia.org] too.

    The reality is that this review is a useful introduction to open office chart, and open office chart and open office in general work just fine.

    Remember, OO is open source; you can download it any time you like and make your own decision. No need to believe me or the astroturfers.

    M$ and other companies have multi-million dollar incentives to pollute forums like slashdot. e.g. M$ makes $40,000,000,000+

    • Warning: the parent post has been mod'ed down from +4 to +1. Probably by astroturfers who don't like being exposed for the lowlife they are.


      Marketing talk is not just cheap, it has negative value. Free speech can be compromised just as much by too much noise as too little signal.

  • by theguyfromsaturn ( 802938 ) on Wednesday March 08, 2006 @08:42AM (#14874061)
    I'd have to say that the charting tool is the weak point in OOo. Very weak. The best thing that can be said about it, is that it allows you to have the first column as data labels for X-Y scatter plots where the second column ix the X. It sure beats the Excel "now you have to change the labels one by one manually". I sure has come in handy when I wanted to quickly ascertain that the pile layout I calculated on the fly was good by having it plotted with the label of each pile indicated. You could also map cities with their names beside them and many other nice things. Another good point is how you can easily use image files for the markers of the data series... but can still easily revert back to the original system markers. That is something I never managed to figure out how to do in Excel (the reverting back thing). That being said, the charts seriously need to allow the user to specify independently the x and y range (and why not the label range) of each data series independently. Oh, for quick chart building, using the current behaviour as the default is OK... but you should be able to have the X to the right of your y if you so wish.... and not all the series sharing the same X column if you don't want to. Another problem is the lack of styles for charts. OOo has styles for everything, but there is no way to quickly change the formatting of a chart. You have to change every bloody Title, scale numbering, chart background on every chart that you ever do. This is just dreadful.

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