Wednesday, July 29, 2009

More problems with Word

You may hear from "Microsofties" who claim that OpenOffice just doesn't render Microsoft Word documents properly. In my 6-7 years running Linux at work, I used OpenOffice exclusively to write and edit documents, and to create and modify spreadsheets. I never had a problem exchanging documents with others. Of course, I was careful to save documents in the Microsoft Word "DOC" format, and spreadsheets in the Microsoft Excel "XLS" format.

It's true that sometimes Word will fail to render a document properly. But it's not the fault of OpenOffice - sometimes, Microsoft Word fails to properly display other Microsoft Word files. Just this morning, I saw an example in action in a meeting:

Last night, one of the attendees sent out some notes for us to read before the meeting. We all dutifully printed out our copy of the document, and brought it with us to the meeting.

Despite the fact that the document was created with Microsoft Office, and that we all run Microsoft Office, there were 3 different versions of the printed document at the meeting. You could tell by looking around the table that one version of the notes (printed from Microsoft Office for Macintosh) arranged the text around a table in a weird way. Another version (printed by Microsoft Office 2007) put a page break in a different place and put an extra blank line between a table and its caption. The original version (Microsoft Office 2003) was formatted as intended.

This was a simple 3-page document in "DOC" format, with an enumerated list of paragraphs, so it didn't take long for us to realize our copies printed out differently, and to figure out the correlation between versions of Word and how the document printed out.

I think it just goes to show: if you have a document that absolutely must preserve formatting, send it as a PDF.


  1. I've found OpenOffice to be quite consistent with Word 2000 and 2003 for formatting. Never tested it against Word 2007, but your point about different versions of Office is totally valid.

  2. This is of the course the heart of the problems with; Microsoft Office compatibility. When you strive to be compatible with an enormous, twisted, inconsistent, poorly designed and abominably implemented bug, well, you have no choice but to be a bug. Worse, the bug is a constantly moving target to ensure that even relatively clean and architected "bug emulation" becomes twisted and destructive after a while.

    What we need is something completely different. But it's already been pretty much proven that nothing that's not compatible has a chance because of Microsoft's monopoly-driven stranglehold. Catch-22. Either you die (or eke out your life in a small niche, as many do), or you mutate and grow into an enormous ugly bug that can never have quite the same properties as the monster it strives to exceed.

    Still, given the choice between an enormous ugly expensive bug and an enormous (and albeit slightly more ugly) free bug... I'll go for the free bug. ain't all that bad... for the price.

  3. If you factor in other formats, the problem gets worse. A friend e-mailed me a copy of a letter he had written to our local MP for me to comment. For some reason, he used MS Works to produce the file, and didn't use the MS Word which comes with Works, but instead used the built in Works word processor application.

    After attempting to open the file in two different versions of MS Office and downloading two different file converters from Microsoft without success, I decided as a last resort to try and open it using OpenOffice on my Linux machine, not thinking for a second it was anything but a forlorn exercise. OpenOffice identified it as a Microsoft Office file and opened it without any fuss.

  4. Sometimes OpenOffice gets the margins a little wrong on 2003 docs that I get sent, but that's a very minor issue. I personally send out my C.V. by email as a PDF, to preserve the layout and fonts. On occasions where I'm asked to send a .doc, I send a .doc detailing how infinitely stupid of them it is to specifically request .doc, and an accompanying PDF. I actually got a job interview out of one of those too, which was surprising.

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