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OpenOffice.org Mail Merge and Labels
My Mail to Your Mail
March 12, 2008
The OpenOffice suite has come a long way since its birth as Star Office. It is no longer a self-contained monolith, but a nice normal Linux-style modular application that lets you choose the bits you want, and there are hundreds of bits to choose from. The main components are Writer, Calc (spreadsheet), Impress (slide show), Base (database), Math (equation editor), and Draw. It supports dozens of languages both in your own documents and the Help pages. Officially it runs on Linux, Solaris, Mac OS X, and FreeBSD. It runs on nearly all Microsoft Windowses, from 98 to Vista, and I used to have a working installation on an antique Windows 95 box.
But OpenOffice doesn't always get the credit it deserves, and instead gets criticized for not being a perfect free-beer clone of Microsoft Office. That is not the point of OpenOffice, though its file conversion abilities are excellent, and certainly superior to MS Office's, which would rather poke its eyes out than interoperate. OpenOffice stands on its own as a powerhouse cross-platform office suite with its own sophisticated capabilities. If it doesn't do what you want, check out the Extensions page and see if your dream feature is there. That page also links to information for anyone who wants to write their own extensions.
"Mail merge" is a term that covers form letters (both paper and email), postcards, address labels, envelopes--any single document that you wish to send to a lot of different people. Once you have a database of contacts you can use this to automate all kinds of tasks, such as sending reminders to customers with overdue invoices, product announcements, Christmas cards, and what have you.
In OpenOffice it is very easy to create return address labels, business cards, party invitations, or any similar document that is a sheet of the same thing. So we'll do that first, and then do a mail merge.