Updated: February 24, 2010
Office suites are mainly intended for adults. But sometimes, kids write too. And when they do, they work with tools intended for their parents, functionality and looks wise. This makes the chance of a child liking big, complex word processors and spreadsheet software less likely. But what if you helped them a bit?
This is exactly what OpenOffice4Kids (OOo4kids) is for, part of the Education OpenOffice (EduOOo) project. While the parent project aims toward establishing a bridge between OpenOffice.org and the world of education, OOo4kids aims at the younger generations.
OOo4kids is designed with 7-12 year old children in mind, tailored for education and works on all major platforms and in many languages. And while international language support may be a lesser deal with the main releases, it is even more important here, because most children do not possess a very high level of technical skills in foreign languages.
So let's see what OOo4kids can do.
On Windows, the installation is fairly simple and virtually identical to stock OpenOffice, save for the different decorations. On Linux, if you can install the suite from the repositories, that seems like the best idea.
Once you fire up the program, you'll be taken into classic OpenOffice multi-purpose main view, from which you can start any of the sub-component programs of the suite.
The main view is meant to draw a child's eye, with big icons and some innocent background cartoon-like scenery. Not bad, except that I was not really sure what the icons meant.
Start the Writer,for example. You'll notice the difference in GUI immediately. There are far fewer icons and they are much bigger. The emphasis is on a few simple decorations, without the staggering plethora of functions normally available.
That said, I would prefer to see Styles being suggested or offered more often, since they are the the proper way of composing documents, and teaching the children from the young age could help them develop healthy writing habits later.
Not everything is smooth, though. Try launching Impress for instance. You will see a wizard, offering you to create presentations from several existing templates. Should you decide to use one, you'll leap from adolescence into the world of 40-year-old marketing hotshots, writing boring projects full of slogans like strategy, cost analysis, goals and whatnot.
Impress also has a much more complicated GUI, more akin to the stock suite than OOo4Kids, making the use of the tool significantly more difficult for children.
Is OOo4Kids perfect? No. But it's really a great idea.
OOo4Kids needs some polish. It requires more visual consistency, children-oriented templates, animations and widgets and even more simplified interface. I would go as far as revising the naming convention of some of the tools.
That said, OOo4Kids makes more sense for children than any other document-writing suite, be it Microsoft, OpenOffice or else. While not perfect, OOo4Kids does make some great progress into making the free, open-source office suite more suitable for children worldwide.
If you are a parent or perhaps you teach at a school and would like to expose children to the world of creativity without burdening them with geekiness, OOo4Kids seems like a very sensible way of doing it. The journey is long, but it is that much shorter because of this fine project. And yes, OO04Kids is still young and has yet to reach its full potential, but this is where you step in with your ideas. That way, you can make both the future generations and the software they use and love grow hand in hand.
I'd like to thank Chachazz for suggesting this program.
See you around and take care!