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OpenOffice.org and the Gimp on the N900 January 20, 2010

Posted by rm42 in Computers, Gadgets, Linux.


I have had my N900 for about one month now. During that time I have enjoyed several “Wow!” moments. For example, being able to use the web just as if I was on my desktop, including heavy JavaScript and flash sites such as Google Maps, Google Docs, GMail, Photobucket, etc. was amazing to me. Being a Linux user for many years, I really enjoy having access to a terminal application with access to root and to tools like the vi text editor. Being able to use Python to develop right on the device and to be able to use my own old Python programs, such as 7Squeeze, gave me that very warm feeling of validation. But, the N900 had one more big Wow! moment in store for me, one that I truly did not expect.


Just one year ago I was still using a Palm device. The device had the ability to manage my appointments and tasks and, through an application called Documents to Go, was even capable of viewing and editing Microsoft Office files. Unfortunately, it did not have support for ODF files (Open Document Format) which is the format I prefer to use in order to avoid data obsolescence. So, I only carried the files that were critical for me to be able to access anywhere at any time.

Documents to Go on the Palm TX did a fairly good job with my documents. There was a little bit of formatting lost, but I figured that it was unreasonable to expect 100% fidelity when converting a closed, proprietary format such as that of Microsoft Office. I did send DataViz a request for them to support ODF, but so far I don’t think they have implemented it. The application was a bit sluggish, but again, I was willing to live with that in view of the fact that even a regular home desktop takes a hit when opening programs like Microsoft Office.

When I read that Documents to Go was to be available on the N900 I was very happy. That would mean that I would be able to carry those critical documents with me and access them any where and any time (even offline). Unfortunately, for the moment, the application does not allow one to edit documents, only to read them. Fortunately, on the N900, Google Docs is fully functional, but that requires a data connection all the time, and paying for a full data plan is one expense I was looking to avoid. Well, at least the situation looked like it was only going to be temporary. KOffice was in the works, as well as Abiword, and others. And, Documents to Go would surely release a version with full edit capabilities shortly.

Enter Geekdom

But then I heard about something called Easy Debian. It supposedly would let you run full blown Desktop Linux programs right on the N900. My initial reaction was, “yeah right”. You see, over the years, I have seen many geek attempts to stretch the capabilities of a platform with “proof of concept” type products. For example, I remember a port of Python to the Palm OS called Pippy. It was a cute little Python interactive shell that allowed you to enter some Python code, but it was certainly not something you could create a real program with. Nevertheless, even Guido Van Rossum, the creator of Python, got exited when he saw his creation running (somewhat) on a Palm device. So, I figured that those raving about Easy Debian where probably just a bunch of geeks happy to see some Linux programs running on the N900, even though they were probably useless in practice.

Nevertheless, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to give Easy Debian a try, “just for fun”. The first hurdle was that Easy Debian is still only found in the Extras-Devel area of the Maemo repositories. That area is where developers upload their programs so that other developers can access them and help them with development. Once a program reaches a reasonable level of polish it is promoted to Extras-Testing so that eager non-developer geeks can put them through their paces and help to pin point where further development is still needed. So, many, many programs in Extras-Devel are definitely not in a usable state. In fact, many, many, of them can render your N900 useless. Therefore, I was very cautious about giving this a try. Only when I was convinced that the program was in good enough shape, by talking to many testers and to the developers themselves, I gained the courage to give it a try. If you are brave enough, the instructions for installing Easy Debian are found here (I actually volunteered to bring those instructions up to date).

The Wow! moment

So what was the end result. To my amazement, the result is a fully usable, completely functional, Linux desktop environment (LXDE) that you can run inside the N900 with a set of fully usable, completely functional applications, including the Gimp and OpenOffice.org. I know, you are probably saying to yourself “yeah right”. But, I kid you not. This is the bomb! And here are just a few screen shots to prove it (taken with the Gimp running inside LXDE inside the N900).

This is the default LXDE desktop:
LXDE on the N900

And, tataaa!, here is the OpenOffice.org Welcome Screen:
OpenOffice.org Welcome

So far, I have only tried Writer and Calc, but I see no reason why the rest of the suite would not work as well.

Here is how using Writer on the N900 looks:
N900 OpenOffice.org

Yes is is a bit cramped. Well, OK, it is quite cramped. But, it works. Also, I hope you have good eyes, because on such a small screen things can be quite tiny. Fortunately, the N900 renders things very crisply thanks to its 800 x 480 resolution. I was showing this to one of my coworkers, who happens to own an iPhone, and he was amazed at the crispness of the screen. Remember, the iPhone has only half the resolution of the N900. Also, be very grateful that the N900 has a resistive screen. Without it, it would be impossible to use the tiny buttons and scroll bars found on regular desktop applications. But, thanks to being able to use a Stylus, the use of these programs is quite pleasant. I just wish the screen was a tinny bit larger for those struggling with their eyesight.

Now that we are talking about being cramped, here is how the Gimp looks running inside the N900:

N900 Gimp

As you can see, the different windows that make up a Gimp application cannot all fit next to each other on the screen. However, that is not a problem at all in practice. First, as you can see above, each window can be clicked on in the LXDE taskbar, in order to bring the one you want to the fore. Also, even better, you can make use of LXDE’s multiple desktops and put the main window in one desktop and the others in a different one. Now, aren’t you happy that the Gimp interface designers resisted the use of a single window paradigm. They were just looking farther than most. 😉


Now, I admit that some things are a bit tricky and take some practice to get used to. For example, to enter caps and numbers, rather than simply pressing the shift or the function key once, before pressing the desired key, one has to press the shift or the function key at the same time as the desired key in order for it to work. Also, some large dialogs have their OK and Cancel buttons right against the bottom edge of the screen and clicking them can be very tricky. It is possible, but again, it takes some practice.

One other thing about Easy Debian that is very cool is that you can create shortcuts to its applications right from the Maemo Applications Menu. Doing that has a couple of benefits, especially for OpenOffice.org. First, it allows you to get to a point of being able to write faster. On my N900 it takes me less than 15 seconds to get to the OpenOffice.org Welcome Screen. And then, it takes me just a bit over 30 seconds to a fully launched Writer. And second, you gain a tad bit of screen real estate since you do not have an LXDE taskbar.

This is how you can create a shrtcut for OpenOffce.org. On the N900 all application shortcuts reside in:


What you can do to make your own is copy an existing one from there to your home directory like this for example, to copy the Word to Go shortcut (use the Terminal, it is your friend):

cp /usr/share/applications/hildon/wtg.desktop /home/user/MyDocs/

You can then edit the file with a text editor like Leafpad (or vi if you are familiar with it). The most important value to change is the Exec value. Make the Exec line look like this:

Exec=debbie ooffice

or like this if you prefer to go straight to Writer:

Exec=debbie ooffice -writer

Also, the Icon line should look like this:


The other values should be self explanatory.

Save the file with a new name, say oofice (it will keep the same extension, don’t worry). In order to copy it into the hildon directory you have to become root like this:

sudo gainroot

Then simply copy it back like this:

cp /home/user/MyDocs/ooo.desktop /usr/share/applications/hildon/

While I am here let me give you a good tip for the command line. Use “Ctrl i” on the Terminal to let the N900 auto complete file and directory names for you. Just type the first unambiguous letter(s) and press “Ctrl i”. That saves a lot of time and typing.

The end

Wow! The N900’s potential continues to amaze me. I now have the full power of OpenOffice.org and the Gimp on my pocket at all times. I don’t have to compromise on file format. I don’t have to compromise on features. I don’t even have to compromise on performance. The only compromise is screen size. But it is not that bad, at least for my good set of eyes. After all, the size is what makes the N900 a portable device, isn’t it?.


1. Ben - January 21, 2010

Hi, great job! I think you should try OOo4Kids on your device, it’s lighter than OOo and more suitable for low screen definition computer (already ported to XO laptop).

2. JakeDTH - January 21, 2010

“Are you ******’ with me!?”

Can I do the same thing on a Palm Pre?

Note from the editor:
Edited due to language. Please keep this site clean. Thanks.

3. Sanders - January 21, 2010

It is a testament for free software to be able to run a full debian distro on a mobile device of that nature.

But it is only me who thinks that trying to run desktop apps which have interfaces designed for conventional computer monitors on such a small device is a bit problematic?

rm42 - January 21, 2010

As mentioned in the article, it can be tricky sometimes, and you definitely need a high quality resistive (as opposed to capacitive) screen.

4. Links 21/1/2010: GNU/Linux at NZ Government, Haiku+KDE, Firefox 3.6 Out | Boycott Novell - January 21, 2010

[…] OpenOffice.org and the Gimp on the N900 I have had my N900 for about one month now. During that time I have enjoyed several “Wow!” moments. For example, being able to use the web just as if I was onha my desktop, including heavy javascript and flash sites such as Google Maps, Google Docs, GMail, Photobucket, etc. was amazing to me. Being a Linux user for many years, I really enjoy having access to a terminal application with access to root and to tools like the vi text editor. Being able to use Python to develop right on the device and to be able to use my own old Python programs, such as 7Squeeze, gave me that very warm feeling of validation. But, the N900 had one more big Wow! moment in store for me, one that I truly did not expect. […]

5. Sovelluskehitys helppoa Maemolle « Rakas sijoituspäiväkirjani - January 21, 2010

[…] ja niitä voi tulla eri kautta. QT:n kautta ja nyt on mahdollista jopa asentaa täysiverisiä Linux desktop ohjelmia N900:n Easy Debian softan avulla. Esimerkiksi OpenOffice applikaation. N900 on siis täysiverinen Linux […]

6. Blue-14 - January 22, 2010

Thanks for the info This will be My next Phone, I have been a Palm user from my Visor Prism Days, My treo has served me well, And the N900 is what I have been waiting for.

7. John - January 22, 2010
rm42 - January 22, 2010

That is great. The thing is that I need more than a viewer. So, until something better comes along, it is OOo for me. It is so good to have options isn’t it? 🙂

Nicu - January 25, 2010

I think OOo is a bit of overkill on the phone, it is slow even on a desktop and something like Abiword should be enough. I see OOo more as an exercise into pushing the limits of the system.

rm42 - January 25, 2010

Personally, I have started using it in earnest and I love it. It takes about 1 minute for it to be fully loaded, but after that it is full speed ahead. Wait until you actually try it.

8. Nicu - January 25, 2010

Wow! GIMP on the phone… this is the step whist started me craving for a N900!

However, about the part where the developers resisted implementing a single window mode… that is coming in the next version, 2.7.x/2.8 (but still with the option to disable it)

rm42 - January 25, 2010

So glad that the single window mode can be disabled. 🙂

I took a look at your blog. You mentioned that you are concerned about the price of the N900. I can sympathize with you as you can see in this other article I wrote:


Remember that other phones are just as expensive or more:


Unfortunately, most people fall for the subsidized price trap and end up paying much more in the end. I got a great deal for my N900 by looking around a bit. Also, I only pay $5 for my internet data plan though AT&T. It only gives me 5 MB per month, but since I have wifi available most of the time, I am doing fine so far. I can get unlimited data for $15 with AT&T. (Edge speeds only, but it is usable.) And, I am not locked in. When or if I see a better deal with another network I can switch.

Nicu - January 25, 2010

Yeah, that’s my thinking too: unlocked phone and internet as much as possible over wifi, the 3G data plans for phones are a steal.

9. Openoffice y Gimp en el N900 gracias a Easy Debian | Nokia N900 - January 25, 2010

[…] temporaryland.wordpress.com Únete a nuestra página en […]

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[…] The Definitive N900 Thread See OpenOffice.org and the Gimp on the N900 An alien’s viewpoint […]

11. Tom Winans - January 29, 2010

Question to you folks: How do you get open office onto the N900? I am quite new to this and this seems a bit mysterious …

rm42 - January 29, 2010

You need to install Easy Debian. OpenOffice.org comes in with it. I provided a link on the article to the installation instructions, but here they are again:


12. melon - February 1, 2010


I downloaded the image file (a zip file) from my pc and copied to my N900. Then, i run the installer. However, it seems not working?

please advise

rm42 - February 1, 2010

Where did you download the image file from? It shouldn’t be a zip file but a bz2 file. I suggest that you go to the Maemo forums for help with this. There is a thread specifically for answering questions about Easy Debian. See here:


13. Karl - February 8, 2010

What do you use for contacts on your main computer? (I’ve used jpilot for my palm treo) . non of the reviews address syncing with a computer.

rm42 - February 11, 2010

I take it you are a Linux user since you used jpilot. Unfortunately, the Ovi Suite does not work in Linux. I am currently not doing any form of syncing. I do run the backup program regularly though. There is apparently something in the works for being able to sync with Google Contacts. But, I can’t help you there. Go to the forums. I am personally waiting for those tools to mature a bit.

14. Helen - February 23, 2010

Nice Post, i like the article in your blog…
i will visit this blog more often…
Nice info in there…

specially about
OpenOffice.org and the Gimp on the N900


15. jFROMcolourtheatre - March 8, 2010

Hi rm42,

Fantastic post that you have here.

Incidently, after adding GIMP as a shortcut using your “Exec=debbie” technique, everytime I try to draw something in GIMP (using that shortcut), a single click with the stylus brings up the “right click” action straight away.

I can barely get 1 cm worth of a line drawn before the right click action comes into place.

Any advice on this issue please?

Thanks in advance!

16. Paul - March 14, 2010

Hi, I came across this Gr8 post recently and although not a techie and new to N900; as an avid Psion user for the past 18 years, 3, 3a, 5MX (latter still in use); I brought the N900 to finally become “wholly connected” and to replace the venerable, but well proven Psion business applications; because I realised that like Psion in its day, the N900 would have a great following, 3rd party support, and a community ready to exploit its potentual to the limit. Not wrong so far! – Having just downloaded Openoffice it looks great. My question is…How do I get email attachments to recognise Openoffice instead of Docs to Go viewer on the N900? Any help for this “born again” enthusiast would be very welcome!

17. Rob - March 14, 2010

I installed this on my N900 and entered the “navigation” view mode in OpenOffice (I have NO IDEA how I did it) and now I can’t get out of it to the “normal” document view (making OO useless).

How do I close the “Navigation” view?

18. Rob - March 14, 2010

I mean “NAVIGATOR”… I’ve been trying for 1 hour…

rm42 - March 17, 2010

If you were running OpenOffice.org in standalone mode (from the Maemo desktop, outside LXDE), close it using Ctrl+q. Then open the X Terminal and enter the following command:

cd .openoffice.org

If the above command succeeded you should now be in the .openoffice.org directory. To verify this use the following command:


The result should be:


If that is the case, and only if that is the case, enter the following command:

rm -r *

That will delete everything in that directory and its sub-directories. After that, when you launch OpenOffice.org it will recreate all the files in there, essentially starting from scratch.

If you want to use the Navigator, do so by launching OOo from within LXDE since you can close it very easily from there.

S - July 5, 2010

This is ridiculous my 1 hour wasted as well. And still whatever I do, re-opening Openoffice ends up at the navigator undockable. Real frustrating experience in 1st day N900 openoffice.

S - July 5, 2010

rm42 ‘s reply above finally ends my trouble, TQVM!
rm -r * —-> must be exact, one space after M, another space between R and *.

19. nick - March 23, 2010

Hi, I have had no luck getting the equation editor to work in open office. For example, in writer, you go to insert-object-formula. But the formula is not enabled. I figured that I had to install openoffice.org-math but when I try that I get the error.

Depends: openoffice.org-core
E Broken package

Is this feature not ready for prime time or is there an alternative way to enable the equation editor.

Thanks for your assistance.

20. Richard - April 30, 2010

Great post!

Does “export as pdf” work?

Important for me as I am quite a business kind of user! 😉


rm42 - May 3, 2010

Yes, “export as pdf” works well. 🙂

21. Vlaxiti - May 5, 2010

so lets say that i created a file. How do i copy it to the real phone directory (into maemo) just by copying( cp whatever -> to the directory of the file of the phone??
i havent my n900 yet

THNX in advacne

rm42 - May 5, 2010


22. dekrit - June 8, 2010

Thanks for the review. I am a linux user and just got my N900. Yeah, this is really a great device.

23. DM - June 15, 2010

Hey! How di I get a GIMP Icon on my Maemo menu?? Been trying all day, think I’m making a mistake…

Can anyone help?

rm42 - June 15, 2010

Follow the instructions I gave above for the OOo one, but with the following modifications:
Name=The Gimp
Exec=debbie gimp

What you use after “Name=” is what is used by the AppManager. As for the icon, I went into LXDE and used the file manager to copy gimp.png from “/usr/share/icons/hicolor/24×24/apps” into a temporary folder in MyDocs. Once outside LXDE, using the terminal as root, I copied it into Maemo’s “/usr/share/icons/hicolor/24×24/apps”. It works!

24. bijs - July 27, 2010

I have installed it, but the open office is having a black theme. It’s annoying and im not able to view properly while viewing files. How to get the original (white) theme?

rm42 - July 30, 2010
25. Eder - September 22, 2010

Great job. I’ve just bought and looking for openoffice working on it! Cool. Great article, I’ll give it a try.


26. What is a good Linux Phone - September 24, 2010

[…] gig if you wish…..and much much more! http://openattitude.com/2010/03/19/e…-for-the-n900/ https://temporaryland.wordpress.com/2…p-on-the-n900/ if you are prepared to wait a little time then Nokia is releasing at the end of the year a new […]

27. Shaon - November 14, 2011

Great! I was actually looking for a open source or free office for N900. anyway, this info is awesome!

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