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Creating stunning documents, spreadsheets and slide-shows with OpenOffice 4

With the cost of Microsoft Office going up, not to mention the subscription / non-subscription thing, it's nice to know there are alternatives out there. One of the best office alternatives has to be OpenOffice. And it just so happens that the Apache Software Foundation recently released a new version of their free productivity software, OpenOffice 4.

The main screen inside of OpenOffice 4
The main screen inside of OpenOffice 4

For those who are not familiar with it, OpenOffice is a suite of office productivity programs that rivals Microsoft Office. It has everything you could need for creating great-looking documents, spreadsheets, and slideshow presentations. Here's a complete list of all of the programs included in OpenOffice 4.

Program Equivalent to Program type
Writer Microsoft Word Word processor
Calc Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet
Impress Microsoft PowerPoint Multi-media slideshow presentation
Draw Microsoft Paint Graphic design
Base Microsoft Access Database
Math Design Science Mathtype Formula creation

OpenOffice 4 has some significant improvements over previous versions. A new Sidebar contains the most commonly used functions for that program, which can be docked, floating, or completely hidden. There is also much improved compatibly with Microsoft Office documents. The drawing, graphics, and gallery functions have also been enhanced, along with the copy & paste and drag & drop functionality.

The new Sidebar inside of OpenOffice 4 shown docked and floating
The new Sidebar inside of OpenOffice 4 shown docked and floating

OpenOffice does use Java, but it's not required for installation, as it can be added later on. Compatibility with other document formats is pretty impressive, but Star Office is no longer supported. OpenOffice can automatically load/convert and convert/save Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) and Design Science Mathtype documents. The only file types that it cannot save to is the Microsoft Office 2007 - 2019 .???x formats.

And since OpenOffice is open-source, there are hundreds of third-party extensions to expand on the functionality of the applications. Add in a copy of GIMP or Paint.NET, and you have a complete and free desktop publishing package.

OpenOffice 4 is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac operating systems. For more information on OpenOffice 4, just follow the links below:

Apache OpenOffice Open Source Project

Download OpenOffice 4

Six ways to make Windows 8 easier to use

Repairing computers for a living requires working on different versions of Windows. Windows 8 must have the most changes out of all the Windows releases I've seen in the last decade or so. It seems like what worked in previous versions of Windows doesn't work in Windows 8. So here are six ways to make Windows 8 easier to use.

1. Create Shutdown, Restart, and Logoff shortcuts

Microsoft made shutting down and restarting Windows 8 kind of hard. You have to go to the Start screen and log-off before you can get to these options. It just seemed like too many steps for me, so I just created my own shortcuts and toolbar for shutting down, restarting, and logging off.

How to create log-off, restart, and shutdown shortcuts on the Start screen in Windows 8.

2. Start menu replacements

Windows 7 style Start menu in Windows 8 using Start8
Windows 7 style Start menu in Windows 8 using Start8

If you're a die-hard Windows user and find the Start screen just doesn't work for you, there is hope. There numerous third-party shell menus out there like Start8, Classic Shell, and Pokki's Windows 8 Start Menu. Get one, and Windows 8 will feel just like Windows 7.

3. Power users command menu

The desktop and laptop versions of the Windows 8 Power User command menu
The desktop and laptop versions of the Windows 8 Power User command menu

This is one of the Windows logo key shortcuts for Windows 8 (see below), but I think it deserves to be listed separately. It contains links to some of the most used programs inside of Windows. From the Control Panel, Computer Management, and an Admin Command Prompt, if it's a commonly used Windows program, you'll probably find it here. Add it works on both the Desktop and Start screen.

Press To
Windows logo key + X Open the Power User command menu. There are over a dozen different apps you can run from this menu.

4. Start screen hidden search feature

Most people find it hard to find programs on the Start screen (Windows RT). But there is one cool feature that actually will help you search for programs. If you go to the Start screen and just type the first couple of letters of the name of the program you're looking for, Windows RT will bring up the Search charm with Apps pre-selected. Remember that there is no box or form field associated with this feature; you just type.

5. Windows 8 Keyboard shortcuts

The Windows logo key Windows logo key has been around since Windows 95, and with every new version of Windows, Microsoft just adds more key combinations. There are now forty (40) different Windows logo key shortcuts in Windows 8.

Windows logo key shortcuts for Windows 8.

6. Windows 8 restart options

Windows 8 restart option screen
Windows 8 restart option screen

It used to be when you had a problem with Windows, you could press F8 at startup and get to the boot options. This was the primary way to start Windows in Safe Mode or boot to other media. But with newer computers using Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) and Windows 8 booting faster, pressing F8 at boot is hard, if not impossible. But there are a couple of ways to get there once Windows 8 is started. Note: If you want to boot from removable media, make sure that the media you want to boot to is attached (USB) or inserted (CD/DVD) before proceeding.

If you are logged off:

  1. On the logon screen, in the lower right-hand corner, tap or left-click the Power Icon. Hold the Shift key down while you tap or left-click on Restart.
  2. On the restart options screen, tap or left-click Troubleshoot.
  3. Tap or left-click on Advanced options.
  4. From here, you can choose what startup settings you want to use or boot to a bootable CD/DVD or USB drive.

If you are logged on:

  1. Press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + C to bring up the Charms bar.
  2. Tap or left-click Change PC Settings.
  3. Tap or left-click General.
  4. Scroll down to Advanced startup and tap or left-click Restart now.
  5. On the restart options screen, tap or left-click Troubleshoot.
  6. Tap or left-click on Advanced options.
  7. From here, you can choose what startup settings you want to use or boot to a bootable CD/DVD or USB drive.

And if you would like to enable the Advanced Boot Options menu, you can do that too. Just remember that there is no timer on the Advanced Boot menu anymore. If enabled, Windows 8 will wait for user input every time the system starts. How to enable the Advanced Boot Options menu at start up in Windows 8.

Restore the Start button and Start menu to Windows 8 with Start8

The biggest complaint I have heard about Windows 8 is that the Start button and Start menu are gone. No doubt this was a radical change in the way users interact with Windows. Being a Windows logo key fanatic since its introduction in Windows 95, I found the new Start screen to be less of a headache than most. But I still missed the Start button. The folks over at Stardock have recently released a great program called Start8 that brings both of them back and more.

Windows 7 style Start menu in Windows 8 using Start8
Windows 7 style Start menu in Windows 8 using Start8

Start8 is, in my book, the ultimate Start button replacement for Windows 8. Now before I go on, let's see if we can make some sense about all of the Start items. The Start button is located by default on the left-hand side of the Taskbar and has the Windows logo on it (Windows 95 - Windows 7). The Start menu appears when you left-click on the Start button (Windows 95 - Windows 7). The Start screen is the Windows RT (Metro) interface used in Tablets and Smartphones (Windows 8).

Windows 8 style start menu in Windows 8 using Start8
Windows 8 style start menu in Windows 8 using Start8

With Start8, you can get back the Start button and Start menu with a choice of what style you would like to use (Windows 7 or Windows 8). The Windows 7 style looks and feels just like the original. The Windows 8 style is a hybrid, with the Start screen appearing in-place of the Start menu. Both are highly configurable and can use custom images for the Start button.

Here's a breakdown of the styles and included features:

    Windows 7 style
  • Choice of themes (Windows 7 rounded edges, Windows 8 squared edges, black selection edges)
  • Use large icons
  • Show recently used apps
  • Open submenus when you pause over them with your cursor
  • Highlight newly installed apps
  • Show user picture
  • Choice of which shortcuts to display on the right-hand side of the menu
  • Add additional shortcuts to the right-hand side of the menu
    Windows 8 style
  • Choice of four different sizes or full screen
  • Display Start menu full screen with the Taskbar still visible
  • Choice of what the Start button and Windows logo key do
  • Can default to the applications view

Start8 is produced by Stardock, makers of ModernMix and Decor8. Here's a quote from the Stardock website:

What is Start8?

Microsoft Windows® 8 is shipped without the "Start" menu. Stardock heard the cries from Windows 8 users. We put the "Start" menu back in Windows 8. We accurately recreated the most used desktop feature billions of users depend on every day and packed it with additional functionality.

    Innovation
  • Windows 7-style Start menu with Windows 8 enhancements
  • Search for Windows 8-style (Modern UI) apps
  • Pin desktop and Metro apps to the start menu
  • Jump List support
  • Unified Search for apps, settings and files
  • Boot directly to the Windows 8 desktop
  • One click access to shut down, devices, music, documents, and videos
    Control
  • Configurable Start menu size
  • Windows 8 Start screen accessible from the Start menu
  • Clean, streamlined UI enhances Start8's usability
    Customization
  • Optionally disable the desktop Windows 8 "hot spots"
  • Supports WindowFX 5.1 start menu animations
  • Includes .ADMX template (in Group Policy folder)

Start8 is only $4.99 and, in my opinion, worth every penny. For more information on Start8 or Stardock, follow the links below:

Stardock

Start8

How to enable the Advanced Boot Options menu at start up in Windows 8

When performing computer repair on a Windows-based system, the one feature I like is the Advanced Boot Options menu. By pressing the F8 key at startup, you would get the advanced boot options menu, enabling safe mode, boot logging, debugging, etc. With the fast startup options inside of Windows 8 and modern motherboards, getting to the boot options menu is hard. Here's how to get the Advanced Boot Options menu back in Windows 8.

Warning! There is no default timer when the Advanced Boot Menu option is enabled in Windows 8, and the system will wait for user input every time it starts or restarts. This works excellent when troubleshooting Windows 8. You can also choose which Windows Boot Manager (WBM) you want to use, Standard (Windows 8) or Legacy (Windows 7, Vista). The first thing we have to do is edit the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) store using an administrative command prompt and bcdedit.exe.

Bcdedit is a command-line tool that modifies the boot configuration data store. The boot configuration data store contains boot configuration parameters and controls how the operating system is booted. It needs to be run at an administrative command prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 8.

How to enable/disable the advanced boot options menu in Windows 8

The standard advanced boot options menu in Windows 8
The standard advanced boot options menu in Windows 8

The first thing we have to do is turn on the advanced boot options. Type or cut/paste the following code into an administrative command prompt:

bcdedit /set {globalsettings} advancedoptions true<

To turn off the advanced boot options, type or cut / paste the following code into an administrative command prompt:

bcdedit /set {globalsettings} advancedoptions false

How to enable / disable the legacy advanced boot manager in Windows 8

The legacy advanced boot options menu in Windows 8
The legacy advanced boot options menu in Windows 8

This next step will change which boot manager loads and is an option. If you want to boot using the older legacy boot manager used in Windows 7 and Vista, type or cut/paste the following code into an administrative command prompt:

bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy

To restore the boot menu to the default, type or cut/paste the following code into an administrative command prompt.

bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy standard

Customize the Start screen in Windows 8 with Decor8

I've been using Windows 8 for some time now, and there has been one thing I wanted to change but couldn't. It's the limited choice of colors and images you could use on the Start screen. Come to find out, the folks over at Stardock have a great product called Decor8 that does just that.

The background settings inside of Decor8
The background settings inside of Decor8

With Decor8, you can change everything on the Start screen. You can use your images for the background and adjust all of the colors: background, accent, standard tile, and text. You can even change the color of the Charms bar with Decor8.

The color settings inside of Decor8
The color settings inside of Decor8

Decor8 also has some cool background effects too: fade, blur, color, and contrast. You can change how the parallax scrolling (where the background scrolls, but slower than tiles) works. You can even create a custom color scheme from the background image. Here's a quote from Stardock's website.

What is Decor8?

Windows 8 limits your start screen customization options to only a few provided background images and a few pre-defined color schemes. Decor8 removes these limitations and provides the freedom to personalize your start screen with your own images and colors.

    Background Images
  • Choose from more background images to personalize your start screen
  • Add your own photos and images
  • Select multiple images to create a custom slideshow
  • Randomize background images in timed intervals for a fresh look
  • Apply effects to scroll, fade, blur, recolor and add contrast to your background images
  • Choose your own image for your lock screen background
    Color Schemes
  • Decor8 will automatically create a color scheme to match each of your background images
  • Or you can customize the color scheme, it's up to you. Custom color schemes can also be applied to your charms bar
  • Choose one of the standard Windows color schemes Create, save and apply your own color scheme
    Customization
  • Control how many rows of tiles are available on your start screen

Decor8 comes from Stardock, makers of ModernMix, and is only $4.99. I found it to be well worth the $5 bucks. For more information on Decor8, follow the link below.

Decor8 - Personalize the Windows 8 Start screen with Decor8

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Diagnosing PC problems can be time-consuming. From running memory checking software to scanning for viruses, these are processes can take some time. We base our in-shop service on the actual time we work on your computer, not the time it takes your computer to work!

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Phoenix, Arizona 85008
(602) 795-1111

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in servicing laptop and desktop computers. Since 2008, our expert and knowledgeable technicians have provided excellent computer repair, virus removal, data recovery, photo manipulation, and website support to the greater Phoenix metro area.

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