Installing OpenOffice (sigh)

Michael Geary | Sun, 2004-10-17 16:01

“Hey Mike, we just got a new HP computer from Fry’s. They said it was ‘fully loaded,’ but it doesn’t seem to have Word and Excel on it. My daughter needs those to write her term papers and stuff. I don’t know why they aren’t there. Can you put them on the computer for us? I guess that’s kind of like piracy or something, I don’t know much about that. Can you help us out?”

“Sure, Mary, I can help you out. No, I can’t put Microsoft Office on your computer. But have you ever heard of Open Source software? It’s completely free and legal to give away copies. There’s a great program called OpenOffice that should do everything you need. I’ll burn a CD for you [Mary just has a dial-up connection] and bring it to church tomorrow. Then give me a call when you’re home later and I’ll talk you through installing it. Don’t just run the Setup program without talking to me first. Since you’re running Windows XP, there are a couple of little things you need to do specially when you install it.”

Couple of little things indeed. I almost wish I’d given her that pirated copy of Office she wanted. Then I could have just said, “Take the CD home and put it in your CD drive. It will install automatically. Have fun!”

Instead, we spent close to an hour on the phone.

You see, you don’t just install OpenOffice, not if you have multiple user accounts on your XP system like Mary and her daughters do. The normal OpenOffice install doesn’t know beans about multiple users. Instead, you have to first unpack the downloaded setup program (I did that ahead of time and put the unpacked version on the CD). Then you do a “network install” from the command line by running the Setup program in the unpacked directory with a /net option.

Finally, you log into each user account and hunt down another Setup program, this one located in the Program Files directory where OpenOffice was installed. This second Setup is where you enter your name and initials and other information, like what happens automatically with Microsoft Office. It also asks you a really confusing question about Workstation vs. Local installation, but luckily the default is OK.

All of this is after you’ve installed Java. (I did plan ahead and put the JRE on Mary’s CD.)

Now, Mary is a smart lady, but she’s not a technogeek, and she’d never even heard of a command line. I’d love to get all my friends set up with OpenOffice, but I don’t want to spend an hour on the phone every time. If OpenOffice is for normal people and not just geeks, it needs a setup program that works smoothly for a multiuser Windows installation, a single setup with no command lines and no special switches.

(Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s Open Source, so instead of complaining I should submit a patch…)