Monday, November 2, 2009

Review of OpenOffice for Kids - OOo4Kids

There has been some buzz lately about a student-specific productivity suite called OpenOffice for Kids (or OOo4Kids) and considering my recent blog post pushing for the use of OpenOffice in schools, I felt the need to give it a good looking over.

Just like OpenOffice, the OOo4Kids word processing software is called Writer, and is completely compatible with Microsoft Word. It can save files with many different extensions including .doc, .rtf, and OpenOffice's native .odt. Because it's based on OpenOffice 3.0, there's no added features exclusive only to Ooo4Kids, so pretty much all the pros I listed in my early blog post apply to OOo4Kids as well.

The biggest advantage is an optimized layout directed at the tasks most often performed by children. Take a look at the side-by-side comparison of the default toolbars in OpenOffice and OOo4Kids. It's streamlined with only the most common icons active. I'm curious how it was decided what would make the cut because several tools that I find rather important (italics, bold, and underlined, for example) are missing.

Tools can still be added to the toolbar by manually activating them, but I don't think this is the kind of configuration the targeted audience is easily capable of performing. For example, to add a table in OpenOffice, go to Insert in the top menu and select table. This is missing in Ooo4Kids. Instead, here are the instructions from the help tutorial on creating a table:
To set the Behavior of rows/columns options for tables in text documents, choose Tools - Options - OOo4Kids Writer - Table, or use the Fixed, Fixed/Proportional, and Variable icons on the Table Bar.
I'm on the fence about the need for a student-specific version because I never really found OpenOffice that difficult to use in the first place. I don't teach at the elementary level, however, and that's where OOo4Kids is really intended. If the goal of the project was to create a simpler, more streamlined version of OpenOffice, then they succeeded. The problem, however is that the usefulness of tools is subjective.

Like all things open source, OpenOffice for Kids can be configured to your liking, and will surely improve as a community of users grow around it. And hey - If it's another advantage to adopting OpenOffice over Microsoft Office (since there is no student-friendly flavor), then I'm all for OOo4Kids.
A screenshot of OOo4Kids in action
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