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X11 and OpenOffice on Mac OS X

by Wei-Meng Lee

Apple recently released X11 for Mac OS X. It's the X Windows System that allows programmers to build graphical Unix-based applications and is based on the open source XFree86 project. While you may not be a programmer, knowing how to install X11 on your system can allow you to run the hundreds of applications available under X11.

Today I'll show you how to install X11 for Mac OS X on your system and how to start using OpenOffice, a popular open source free Microsoft Office-like application for Unix-based systems.

Installing X11

X11 for Mac OS X (Public Beta) can be downloaded from Apple. After installation, you should be able to find the X11 icon in your Applications folder:

Screen shot.
Figure 1. Locating the X11 icon within the Applications folder.

Double-clicking on the X11 icon will launch X11, displaying the xterm window:

Screen shot.
Figure 2. X11 comes with xterm.

To launch an X11 application, you can use the xterm window or use the Applescripts included with the application. We will see more about this in the next section.

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Installing OpenOffice

One very useful application that you might want to install after getting X11 running is 1.0. OpenOffice is an open source application that's free for Unix-based Operating Systems. OpenOffice for Mac OS X is currently in Final Beta. You can download it from their web site. Of course you'll need X11 installed to use the application.

OpenOffice shares the same code base as StarOffice 6. The main difference between the two is that StarOffice offers fee-based support, while OpenOffice is entirely free, depending on the wide developer community to contribute to it.

When you install OpenOffice, it will prompt you saying that XDarwin does not exist in the Applications directory. This is alright; you just need to inform it that X11 is now your X Windows.

Screen shot.
Figure 3. OpenOffice will look for XDarwin.

Nearing the end of the installation procedure, OpenOffice will display the following screen:

Screen shot.
Figure 4. Instructions for running OpenOffice.

The screen contains instructions to run OpenOffice, either from the AppleScript executables or manually, using xterm/Terminal.

When OpenOffice is installed, you should find the OpenOffice.org1.0.1folder within your Applications folder:

Screen shot.
Figure 5. The OpenOffice folder.

To run OpenOffice, double-click on the Start AppleScript icon. Note that this procedure may not always work. Wait for about a minute or so to see if OpenOffice launches, otherwise you have to manually start OpenOffice. If you realized that nothing has happened after double-clicking the AppleScript icon, try the next step.

Launch X11 and select the Customize... item under the Applications menu. Add a new item by clicking on the Add Item button:

Screen shot.
Figure 6. Adding a new application to X11.

Under Name, type, and under Command, type /Applications/OpenOffice.org1.0.1/program/soffice

To launch OpenOffice, go to the Applications menu again and select the newly-added

Screen shot.
Figure 7. Launching OpenOffice.

If everything goes well, you should see the registration form:

Screen shot.
Figure 8. Registering as an OpenOffice user.

You can now start using OpenOffice!

OpenOffice is positioned as a total replacement for Microsoft Office. It thus includes a word processor, a spreadsheet application, a drawing application, and a presentation application:

Screen shot.
Figure 9. OpenOffice includes four major applications: a spreadsheet application, presentation application, word processor, and a drawing application.

I tried to load a Word document created using Microsoft Office and it loaded correctly in OpenOffice. Basically, the look-and-feel is similar to that of Microsoft Office. A couple of things of which Mac users should take note:

  • Each application runs within its own window. As such, the menu for each application is at the top of each window and not at the top of the screen. This follows the Windows convention.
  • Command shortcuts use PC format, such as Control-C for copy, and not Command-C as in Mac OS X.
  • You can copy and paste items between applications in Mac OS X and OpenOffice.

Overall, I'm happy with OpenOffice, though I encountered some annoyances with the scroller-wheel of my mouse when using the application.

To give the word processor a real-world test, I wrote the draft of this article using it (normally, I will use Microsoft Word on my PC for this task). My only complaint is that I didn't discover this gem of an application suite earlier enough; I had just paid for a Microsoft Office license for Mac OS X!

Wei-Meng Lee (Microsoft MVP) is a technologist and founder of Developer Learning Solutions, a technology company specializing in hands-on training on the latest Microsoft technologies.

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