Open Office Web Casts – best OO feature you didn’t know about

While I have no end of gripes about Open Office, and ways that it could be improved, it also has some really shining gems that make me very happy. One of these is the Export to Webcast feature, which is buried beneath so many levels of dialog that you probably don’t know it exists.

The feature can be found via a File -> Export action. File -> Export conveniently defaults you HTML export, under which the webcast option exists.

The export is going to create a lot of little files. As such, you should create a sub directory to put the export into. I usually name it pres, just for consistency. Click Export… to continue.

You’ll want to create a new design (which you can save at the end of the process). Click Next to continue, otherwise you’ll get the defaults for HTML export, which is static content.

Select Webcast option on the left, and Perl on the right. The 2 URLs you’ll be giving are the absolute URLs for where you will host these on your web server. The URL for presentation corresponds to where the image files for each slide will be. The url for perl scripts needs to be a directory where your web server will execute .pl files. I’m using /pres for both, as I have an appropriately pre configured /pres for the webserver that I use. Click Next to continue.

Set image type to PNG, otherwise you’ll get really nasty JPEG artifacting. Select the appropriate screen size as well. A 1024×768 presentation will actually give you 800×600 images, and it probably the size you want.

Now you’ve got a directory ready to be served on an http server for content. On our LUG webserver the document root for mhvlug.org is ‘/var/www/mhvlug/html’. I’ve pushed all the content to ‘/var/www/mhvlug/html/pres’, and set up the following apache stanza:

  <Directory /var/www/mhvlug/html/pres>
      AllowOverride all
      Options +MultiViews +Indexes +ExecCGI
  </Directory>

No you can send your users to a URL like http://mhvlug.org/pres/ and they’ll see something like this:

Notice that green line on the bottom of the page? That’s a 1 pixel high frame that is doing a meta-refresh every 5 seconds, looking for what slide you are on on the server. When it detects a slide change it will turn red, then on it’s next load it will change the main screen. There is as much as a 10 second delay on slide flips, but that is pretty livable for more circumstances.

So, how do you control this, you ask? Well, you go to the fully qualified URL of your exported presentation, in this case http://mhvlug.org/pres/getting_work_done_on_linux.html. You see almost the same thing as everyone else, except your bottom frame as a set of controls. The ‘-‘ and ‘+’ buttons do what you expect, as does entering a number and click ‘to a given page’.

There is no security in any of this, it is purely convenience (though a little hacking up of a .htaccess file could restrict things further). While the whole thing is pretty hackish in nature, it turns out to work quite well. The fact that you just tell listeners to point their browser at a short URL, and leave it be drops the barrier to entry on using this really significantly.

I’ve used this approach in 2 presentations in the last week that I gave over the phone, and it has worked really well. While there are definitely ways to make this better, the fact that it is a built in, and it is “good enough” can’t be overstated enough.

Next time you want to give a presentation, instead of just emailing out a PDF, give the web cast approach a try, I think you’ll like it. 🙂

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