Desktop Publishing with LibreOffice Draw – a school “newspaper” template

 I frequently use LibreOffice Draw for desktop publishing as I previously blogged about here.  I think this makes me unusual  since Scribus is the more-powerful, better-known open-source DTP tool.   But,  for one- or two-page items printed on a school/home printer, I find Scribus a little bit of over-kill.   (I’m not bashing Scribus!  I plan on leaning it better and reviewing it later.)

Anyway, I decided to contribute to the commons with a “newspaper” template for newsletters.  As an exercise in open-source discipline, I strictly used only open or free fonts and graphics.

iconAlthough I used LibreOffice Draw to create the template, it should work flawlessly in OpenOffice Draw (but I have not tested it.)

Although I’m pretty good with LO Draw, it still was a learning experience.  One of the biggest lessons I learned was that if one uses the “Styles” feature, every element (headline, subhead, body text) must to be in its own frame.  (frames can be joined)  I tend to do this, anyway, so it’s no big deal but this could be a deal-breaker for some.

You can preview the Newspaper Template with this PDF file.

I am keeping the file at Archive dot org since they get a lot more traffic than my site.

Here is the Newsletter Template page.   Here is a direct link to the zip file (will all fonts).





IBM Lotus Symphony – integrated office suite with some unique features

I normally wouldn’t review software on the verge of being orphaned but IBM Lotus Symphony is still worth considering. It is free and works on Linux, Windows and Mac. And, as you would expect with IBM, it is polished and stable.

Notably, Symphony is one integrated, multi-function program as opposed to a bunch of programs thrown together. Symphony has never crashed on me (great!) but if it did , all the documents would presumably go down at once (bad!). It’s strictly a personal preference  but I like the one-program approach.

Symphony back from the dead…

I used Lotus Symphony in the DOS days and was delighted when IBM brought it back about five years ago. It’s based on OpenOffice with a couple of innovations that make it worth considering. It is free software and I think IBM hoped to make their money off of support.   I suspect that IBM rightly perceived that companies are suspicious of open-source software and wanted the security of a big-name brand.

… only to be orphaned?
IBM quit development with version 3 in January 2012 and they released a service update at the end of last year. So, it’s still a fresh piece of software.

According to Wikipedia, IBM has given the project to Apache who will incorporate it in the long-overdue new version of OpenOffice. I hope they keep the main two features that make this product unique from LibreOffice – an integrated web browser and widgets.
This is a consideration if you chose to adopt Symphony. If the rocks stars at  Apache are smart (and they are!), you might be an early-adopter rather than an orphan.

The standard three modules integrated one tabbed interface.
As opposed to most suites, Symphony keeps you in one tabbed interface, whether you are doing word processing, presentations or spreadsheets. Unfortunately, thats all the productivity modules it offers. I wish it included the Draw module and I’m sure some business users would like a calendar/planner module.

The formatting controls are on the right side of the screen which takes advantage of the newer, wider desktop screens. On a laptop, it can be a little cramped. The formatting controls are smartly contextual and well organized – a problem with MS Office, in my opinion.

Integrated web browser

This is such a great feature that one wonders why every suite does not offer it. Many of us constantly use the web while we write, so it makes sense to bring the web into the word processor. Sadly, Symphony doesn’t support dragging content from the web tab into the word processor. This would be a great feature, if it did. You can still cut-and-paste.

Widgets – an easy way to customize Symphony

IBM offers only a few widgets but you can import Google Gadgets. This is huge since it gives Symphony many of the features of Google.

The most useful feature, for me, is that you can create a widget from an RSS feed. If a blog, calendar, newsletter, shared docs, etc generates an RSS feed (many do) you can create a widget from that feed and monitor it within Symphony while you write or work on your spreadsheet.

(Click here for my little rant on how how RSS could make your life simpler.)

This is a very useful feature that I hope the people at Apache keep in the next version of OpenOffice. This has potential to be a killer app.

The bottom line: a solid implementation of OpenOffice with a couple of innovative and useful features. But, you risk being orphaned.

Tool: IBM Lotus Symphony 3.0.1
Summary: customizable office suite with web integration.
Rating: very useful
License: open ethos (proprietary but free)
Alternatives: LibreOffice, Google Docs.

LibreOffice Templates for forms and frames

I tutored in a struggling school for several years where the teachers regularly used forms and writing frames. Some of the students seemed to appreciate the structure this brought to the research and writing process.

LibreOffice Writer templates are very useful for forms because tables and text boxes can automatically expand to the amount of text written by the student. An even more useful feature is the ability for the teacher to insert non-printing comments throughout the document which can be turned off when not needed. This makes for a much cleaner-looking document. 

Obviously, this is not cutting-edge technology but, when coupled with free, cross-platform software, it becomes useful. If all students have LibreOffice installed at home and school, the teacher can produce one template knowing that it will work for everyone. Templates can be stored on the school server or on the open Internet.

Here is a Cornell note-taking template that illustrates text boxes and non-printing comments. Be sure to turn-on the “View – Comments” feature if you can’t see my instructions.

LibreOffice Writer templates for forms and frames.
Description: Cross-platform word processor templates
License: GNU/GPL (free and open-source)
Alternatives: Google Docs, AbiWord
Rating: very useful

Desktop Publishing with LibreOffice Draw

LO Draw LogoI use LibreOffice Draw for almost all my desktop publishing (DTP).  It reminds me of early versions of MS Publisher but without the templates and wizards.

I’m an old school graphic artist who starts with a blank page and draws my own guides.   If you like this “blank page” approach to DTP then you might like LO Draw.  If you like hand-holding, then you probably want MS Publisher, Pages or a similar program with templates and wizards.

Most sites recommend Scribus for opensource DTP.  Scribus is a fantastic tool but is probably overkill for most educators who publish with a laser printer.

The trick to desktop publishing in LO Draw is using the layers. First you draw your guidelines on a bottom layer (I use light blue) and then lock the layer and set for non-printing.

Here is an LO template for a 3-panel brochure which uses the layers feature as I suggest.

LO Draw Screenshot

Then “paste up”  your document on a top layer as you would with a commercial program using photos, text boxes, lines, etc.
LO Draw is best for short projects like bookmarks, brochures, newsletter, flyers, etc.  Although I’ve not tried it, I don’t think it would work for a long document like a book.


Tool: LibreOffice Draw (for Desktop Publishing)
Description: A powerful tool for DTP but with few extra features.
License: GNU, free and opensource
Alternatives: Scribus
Rating: very useful

Educational Technology Clearing House – art and photos for schools








The Educational Technology Clearing House provides clip art, stock photos, presentation art and maps, all organized around educational themes. The organization is especially useful, allowing teachers to browse according to subject.

Most of the clip-art (“ClipArt ETC“) is similar to what you find in the famous Dover books/CDs.  In my youth, during the Golden Age of Photocopying, I had great fun with Dover but I don’t see kids using it much these days. Even so, ClipArt ETC attractive and potentially useful.






The “ClipPix ETC” section  is organized into twenty different categories and is very high quality although, I suspect, most students would have better luck finding exactly what they want on Wikimedia.

Presentations ETC is potentially the most useful, providing 20,000 different items for themes/backgrounds/buttons/letters/etc. The themes I looked at were very attractive and imported nicely into LibreOffice Impress. I didn’t test them but they also have themes for the Mac-based Keynote program.

If, like me, you prefer to build your own themes, the site also provides some very nice backgrounds and buttons.

Unfortunately, most of the designed are very corporate-looking, perhaps better for teachers than students. One would have hoped that an educational site would have lots of youthful designs.

The least useful is probably the map collection (“Maps ETC“)  since most are old but they are organized nicely, should you need an old map.

This service is provided by the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, part of the College of Education at the University of South Florida. The license for students and teachers is clearly stated on the front page, typically limited 25 or 50 items per project.

Tool: Educational Technology Clearing House
Description: Well-organized photos, clip art, presentation graphics and maps
License: free with quantity limitations
Alternatives: Wikimedia, Flickr
Rating: useful

The LibreOffice challenge — learn it this summer!

LibreOffice WelcomescreenWhy not learn LibreOffice this summer? Install it on your laptop and learn it at the beach! If you have even a passing interest in the open-source world, this is the place to start. For educators, there is no better tool.

Once you have learned it, make LibreOffice files one of the formats you accept for assignments. It could be your first step to solving the chronic problem of students giving you files you can’t read.

LibreOffice is a split from OpenOffice because of some sort of dispute. You can think of it as essentially the same product but definitely install LibreOffice rather than OpenOffice which hasn’t been updated for awhile. This may change, of course. As far as I know, all the file formats are the same. Usefully, Google Docs imports/exports to LibreOffice file formats.

The components of LibreOffice are:


A word processor with similar functionality and file support to Microsoft Word or WordPerfect. It has extensive WYSIWYG word processing capabilities, but can also be used as a basic text editor.


A spreadsheet program, similar to Microsoft Excel or Lotus 1-2-3.


A presentation program resembling Microsoft PowerPoint. Presentations can be exported as SWF files, allowing them to be viewed on any computer with Adobe Flash installed.


A vector graphics editor and diagramming tool similar to Microsoft Visio and comparable in features to early versions of CorelDRAW. It also includes features similar to desktop publishing software such as Scribus and Microsoft Publisher.


A database management program, similar to Microsoft Access.


An application designed for creating and editing mathematical formulae. The application uses a variant of XML for creating formulas, as defined in the OpenDocument specification.

(From Wikipedia

I suggest you first learn “Writer” “Draw” and “Impress”. If you are a math teacher, you’ll surely want to learn “Math.”

I use Writer the most. (I’m using it right now.) Writer reminds me of Microsoft Word 95.

For class presentations I use Impress. Nobody seems to notice that I’m not using PowerPoint. I put my presentation on a thumb drive along with a portable version of LibreOffice. While other students often struggle getting their presentations to run, mine always go flawlessly

For desktop publishing I use “Draw.” It took me awhile to learn “Draw” but I can now do almost anything with “Draw” that I did with Microsoft Publisher.

I have yet to learn “Base”. I’ve tried! The learning curve is steep.

I use “Calc” as well, but not for teaching. Like Word, it seems like Excel from about ten years ago.

Seeming like a 10 year-old Microsoft Office is not a bad thing. If you are like me, I don’t need all the fancy menus and extra features of the current version of MS Office. I find the old-style menus more intuitive. If you are super power user, LibreOffice is probably not for you.



LibreOffice Portable for your flashdrive

Description: a free office suite available for Windows, Mac and Linux. Reads and writes to MS Office and Google Docs.

License: free, GNU

Alternatives: GoogleDocs (free but not open-source)

Rating: very useful