Computer Update

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I was going to post something else today, but I've sort of run out of time. The comments have been unusually busy lately in some very old posts, in case you haven't checked the list of recent comments. There's an intense discussion going on here, but several other posts from a while back have had some traffic. But the majority of my time has gone to getting my new computer up and running. It arrived on Tuesday, and I've spent almost all of my free time doing something or other to install applications, copy files, get it working with the printer, and so on.

The email was the biggest problem. Since I can't find my Office discs, I had to install Thunderbird for email and OpenOffice for what's supposed to be the equivalent of Word and Excel (but the difference is huge in terms of functionality). Thunderbird for some reason can't handle an Outlook PST file, which are the nice and convenient way Outlook stores its data all in one place. The only way to convert Outlook files to Thunderbird is to open the Outlook file in a computer with a working Outlook program and then to install Thunderbird on that system. Then you copy the Thunderbird files to the new machine, and you're ok. So I had to get Outlook up and running with my new file (a very large file, by the way, which takes a while to copy from one computer to another via an external hard drive)) on an old computer, install Thunderbird on the old computer, and then copy those files back to the new computer. Wouldn't it be much more effective just to accept the PST file in Thunderbird? It also didn't register which messages I had read and which I had marked as unread or flagged, which means I have a few years of unread messages now that aren't marked as to whether they contain something significant. I'm not impressed by Mozilla with this, even if I've liked a lot of what they've done in the past.

After all this, I think I'm finally up and running on my new computer. I've been a long-time Dell customer, and while I've had lots of problems in the past they've always done their best to fix the problems in a timely manner based on the terms of my contract. In this case, they've gone well beyond what I could have expect, and I have to give them credit for that. Not only did they replace a four year old computer whose contract is up in two months, but they even sent me a free cable to use for printing now that I don't have a parallel port to use with my existing printer. So I think Dell has easily made up for whatever trouble I've had with all this, and this couldn't have come at a better time in terms of finances and what would have been a very soon need to think about getting a new computer.

5 Comments

I had some of the same problems as you a few years ago when I migrated from Outlook to Mozilla, although I did it for different reasons. It certainly wasn't as smooth as it might have been. But, believe me, Mozilla have done as much as they reasonably can to make this process a smooth one - this is very much in their interest! The problem is that the Outlook PST file is in an undocumented proprietary format which cannot be read by any program other than Outlook. That is by the way the same reason why Open Office doesn't work very well with Microsoft's document and spreadsheet formats.

What you might consider doing, if you still have your Outlook files installed on your old computer, is to sort your unread, flagged etc messages into a separate folder and import that separately into Thunderbird. I had to go through stages like this several times, although on only one computer, to get the import to work as I wanted.

I think that would be as much or more work. I've got so many folders that I'd have to select each message individually doing one folder at a time. If I'm going to do that, I might as well just turn on the other computer and observe which ones are read or flagged while marking them on the new one.

It's nice to know that it's not Mozilla's fault. They do themselves a disservice by not pointing out the reason in their FAQ.

Well, I can't remember exactly what you can do in Outlook, but in Thunderbird you can sort messages by their unread tag, and then you can select them as a block.

For more technical details of the problems I faced, see this bug report and its comments. Note that we concluded that in many ways a better way of transferring messages from Outlook to Mozilla was via an IMAP server, which could be a local one like Mercury, but see my ironic point at the end of comment #8! Although all of this happened several years ago, I don't think any of these bugs have been fixed properly.

What are the major differences in functionality btw. open office and ms office? I've been telling my students who can't afford ms to do open office. what pitfalls do i need to point out to them?

Most of my difficulties have been in the spreadsheet. Several things I rely on for efficiency in Excel do not work in OpenOffice. One is that I can't copy one box and then paste it in the rest of the row, something I have always relied on for figuring out the formula for calculating a grade and then mass-producing it for the rest of the class down the column. When I try it in OpenOffice, it says I can't copy from one box to many. Excel simply does it.

Another is simply annoying. I type "1" in attendance when a student is present and then "ok" when they're excused, with an empty box meaning they're absent. Then I add up the "ok" boxes in each row to see how to adjust the calculation for that student. In terms of functionality, it works fine in OpenOffice, but it insists on capitalizing the letter 'ok' to make 'Ok', which just looks really stupid. It does this with any letter I start something with, and CTRL-Z doesn't remove the auto-correct the way it does normally.

I'm guessing that the auto-correct feature in general doesn't have as many entries as Office's, and I think the same might be true of the inline dictionary that it uses for spell-check.

There's an extra step whenever you want to delete anything in OpenOffice. You hit "delete", and it then asks you what kind of information you're willing to delete. Instead of just deleting it, which is all I ever want it to do, it insists on asking me a question that's never necessary for me. I understand that some people might consider this a safety feature, but for me it's just an annoying waste of time and effort that really adds up when you have a lot of data to delete.

As far as I can tell, there's not much different yet that affects me in the word processor specifically (although some of the above features apply there too), but there is one thing that annoys me. As far as I can tell, you can't make the text bigger without changing the font size. I'm used to having my text much bigger than the default size in Word. You can set it at 125%, for instance. It seems OpenOffice is stuck at one size for each font size, or if there's some way to change that it doesn't look obvious the way it is in Word. Maximizing the window doesn't seem to affect this. I'm pretty sure it does in Word.

Another annoying habit it has is asking me if I want to save it as a Word or Excel document and perhaps lose formatting. For each file, the first time I save it after opening it will lead to this message, and given that I'm regularly working with several files at a time, going back and forth, opening others as I need them, it can get tedious to keep clicking on "yes" when this message pops up.

These are just the things I've noticed in a few days. It may well be that I've already caught all of the ones that would affect me, but I expect I'll be finding more, particularly in the spreadsheet.

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