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Easing Compatibility Between OpenOffice, MS Office 186

Posted by Zonk
from the can't-we-all-just-get-along dept.
Jane Walker writes "An office suite expert describes how to format documents in OpenOffice and Microsoft office using program features that will make ease compatibility headaches." From the article: "No two office suites are alike, and the more manual, highly controlled items you have in your document, the more likely the formatting will get messy when you go from one office suite to another. But if you use the formatting capabilities to indent and add spacing--well, that's more like just labeling a box Kitchen and putting the box somewhere that makes sense. The formatting tips in this article will also give you more professional-looking documents that are easier to update when the content or formatting rules change."
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Easing Compatibility Between OpenOffice, MS Office

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  • Cripes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by XanC (644172) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @03:49AM (#15251819)
    He sure goes to a lot of trouble to do simple things in a more universal way. Is it the case that the more correct you are about word processor usage, the closer you get to HTML/CSS? Should we just skip word processors and use that or LaTex?
    • Re:Cripes (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @03:57AM (#15251836) Homepage Journal
      . Is it the case that the more correct you are about word processor usage, the closer you get to HTML/CSS? Should we just skip word processors and use that or LaTex?

      Find me a wysiwyg html/css editor (that outputs nice clean css/html after being edited by 5 people) that my secretary can use (he's a liquid-paper on the screen type) and I'll support that.

      It would be nice if we were all using CSS/html - but for knocking out quick documents word processors are far easier (even doing things the laborious way this guy suggests)
      • Re:Cripes (Score:3, Interesting)

        by 1u3hr (530656)
        but for knocking out quick documents word processors are far easier (even doing things the laborious way this guy suggests)

        Actually, it's not laborious. What he's doing, though he doesn't explain it, is building a style sheet. (Or perhaps "document template" as I think Word calls it now.) Once you've done that, you just tag a paragraph with the appropriate style (one click) and you're done. Most paragraphs keep the default ("Normal" usually) style. Word, and I assume OOo, come with a large gallery of pr

        • Re:Cripes (Score:3, Interesting)

          by david.given (6740)
          Actually, it's not laborious. What he's doing, though he doesn't explain it, is building a style sheet. (Or perhaps "document template" as I think Word calls it now.) Once you've done that, you just tag a paragraph with the appropriate style (one click) and you're done.

          I wish.

          I'm afraid that while this does work for very simplistic documents, as soon as you start going anywhere near structured text it all breaks down. The problem is that there's no containment model on OpenOffice; you represent a sectio

          • There's a big hole here; there seem to be very few applications that provide this kind of thing, I suspect because it's Really Hard. It doesn't mean I don't still want one, though... any suggestions?

            I've wondered the same thing for a while. As a programmer, it doesn't strike me as particularly hard to represent some sort of structured/nested style information, but it certainly is different to how all WP/DTP software works today AFAIK.

            I find it a great irony that HTML/CSS is pretty poor as far as decen

          • There's a big hole here; there seem to be very few applications that provide this kind of thing, I suspect because it's Really Hard. It doesn't mean I don't still want one, though... any suggestions?

            I'm not really sure what you're trying to do. Perhaps you want an outlining tool? MSWord does have a mode to do that, but it's famously buggy and unstable. I suspect that some coding environments might have a lot of the structure, but not the typographic features. There were some tools back in the DOS era tha

      • Re:Cripes (Score:4, Informative)

        by the_womble (580291) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @05:34AM (#15252063) Homepage Journal
        Find me a wysiwyg html/css editor (that outputs nice clean css/html after being edited by 5 people) that my secretary can use (he's a liquid-paper on the screen type) and I'll support that.

        What about Lyx? Simpler than a word-processor, near enough WYSIWIG, nice clean pdf, html, plain text or postscript output.

      • No, it wouldn't be nice if we were all using CSS/html. How would I write math?
      • Should we just skip word processors and use that or LaTex?

        Find me a wysiwyg html/css editor (that outputs nice clean css/html after being edited by 5 people) that my secretary can use (he's a liquid-paper on the screen type) and I'll support that.

        It's weird. When I first came to work for my current employer we used to have something called an "editorial staff". That was back in the day when we were able to afford secretaries. (i.e Un the dark ages when document preparation was considered a skill requi

    • The problem (apart from the microsoft-induced part, with useless and/or closed formats) is word processing itself. What we all need to do is move towards document processing, which will represent data in a way that is meaningful to computers (titles, sections, subsections, addresses, names, code, haiku, etc.), and format it for printing WHEN printing, automatically. This way, you can easily load it into another program, and you don't have to worry about whether the page is too big or too small, or if it'l
    • Apple is actually using the concept of CSS in Keynote (which is their competitor to PowerPoint). I don't know if their XML based file format contains actual CSS code but I wouldn't be surprised at all if it does. If you think about how presentation software ought to work, this makes quite a bit of sense.
  • by iamdrscience (541136) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (ppirtmleahcim)> on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @03:52AM (#15251829) Homepage
    Go to "Save as" and select the type ".txt". You'll never have to worry about formatting isssues ever again.
  • yes, but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ajs318 (655362) <sd_resp2NO@SPAMearthshod.co.uk> on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @03:56AM (#15251834)
    Too many people think it's OK just to use rows of spaces for formatting.

    The worst example of this I ever saw was a document where the page numbers were typed, by hand, aligned using spaces, within the page themselves {not in the footer}; and there were no page breaks, just loads of hard returns. I was tasked with fixing a minor spelling mistake. This should have been an easy job; but the correctly-spelt word was one letter longer, which caused the line to wrap -- thus making an utter arse of the formatting.

    I fixed it, but I got a bollocking for taking too long. I suppose I would have got just as big a bollocking for messing up the formatting.

    I think a great service would be done if word processing software could detect attempts at such manual formatting, warn the user there is a better way to do it; and then do it properly, automagically. It can't be that hard. I'll concede that spaces and hard returns do have a place, but that place is far away from proportionally-spaced fonts.

    Oh yes, one more thing. Bring back Wordstar/Protext-style rulers which can be inserted into the document anywhere, not just one ruler at the top of the screen which changes as you move from one paragraph to another. It's as confusing as fuck and it's probably half the reason why people use spaces for formatting in the first place.
    • Re:yes, but (Score:4, Interesting)

      by BrynM (217883) * on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:05AM (#15251858) Homepage Journal
      Too many people think it's OK just to use rows of spaces for formatting.
      What's always bugged me are people on the other end of the sectrum - the ones that make up for a lack of content in a document by formatting the living hell out of it. No, a bullet list is not a paragraph! No, a three page table of contents does not make the content itself three pages longer!

      I guess the worst is people who do both such as a title page that has linebreak characters and spaces to center the title on the otherwise blank page.

    • Re:yes, but (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ex-geek (847495)

      Too many people think it's OK just to use rows of spaces for formatting.

      Many? I would say most.
      And this includes many geeks who never bother to read a manual and are therefore completely unaware of even the most basic formatting principles of WYSIWYG-type word processors. Believe me, I know a couple of these guys, who staunchly maintain that WYSIWYG is completely unpredictable. Yet most of this supposedly unpredictable behaviour stems from the fact that they are using Word oder Openoffice like a text editor

      • Actually the disease you speak of is a direct result of the design of Word and its propriatary format. I was reading an interview with an MS programmer on the Office team and the topic of reveal codes came up, he basically said that because of the way Word stores object's it's completely impossible to have a meaningfull reveal codes feature. This should be obvious to anyone who has looked at the horror which is Office generated HTML. To this day I cringe several times a month when working in Word when I rea
    • i like those "page intentionally left blank" pages. oh wait, there's a lot of those returns and spaces to center it. never mind...
    • "I think a great service would be done if word processing software could detect attempts at such manual formatting"

      Instead of writing mind-reading software and popping up a paper clip, they could just make the default document come with page numbers in a footer. This would clue people in that these capabilities exist. Those that just want a simple text document won't mind, or can use notepad, or figure out how to remove the footer. Removing something is usually simpler than figuring out how to add it. Now

    • but the correctly-spelt word was one letter longer, which caused the line to wrap -- thus making an utter arse of the formatting.

      Just break out a thesaurus, and start replacing words with shorter or longer synonyms until the formatting stops being an utter arse. You might lose your job, but many documents like that and you might want to lose your job.

    • Re:yes, but (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Hast (24833)
      You seem to have spent more time in Word than I'd like to. At my office we do use proper formatting for our documents.

      My biggest problem in Word is that sometimes the sections get messed up. Particularly if you have a list of subsubsub-sections. All of a sudden Word decides that "no, those subsections are unreleated". And when that happens you are *so* screwed.

      Basically you have something like

      1. Blah

      1.1 BB

      1.2 BA

      1.4 WTF

      1.5 Yadda

      And so on. Trying to get them into order again is extremely frustrating and using
      • I had a friend who had a nightmare scenario based on what you have described. He had a many page (30+) document with a complex structure, he went in to check something and accidently hit the space bar, it completely reflowed the entire document and autosave preserved the broken changes while he was trying to figure out WTF happened. Undo was no help and he had to copy and paste everything into a new document and redo the formatting because there was no way to bring back to original formatting within that Wo
  • Good tips (Score:5, Funny)

    by suv4x4 (956391) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:07AM (#15251862)
    However from practise, any tips how to react in these situations:

    ME: "Please don't use enter for spacing between paragraphs, it's wrong"
    CO: "You pedantic freak! It's exactly the same on the screen, and when I print it it won't even be there, who cares?"

    CO: "Shit Word is retarded, the tab ends on different places each line, what the HELL is that?"
    ME: "Use indenting, it's more predictable"
    CO: "Indenting? Why do you never explain what I wanna know, I don't care what indenting is, I wanna fix the damn tabs"

    CO: "Oh great, perfect, I wanna make all headlines gray, this means whole hour hunting them down and reformatting it. THANK YOU WORD, BUT NO THANK YOU."
    ME: "Man.. this is why I told you to use Headings 1, 2, 3... It's easy to format at once from the styles palette, and you also get automatic Outline view and Table of Contents..."
    CO: "Oh shut up, geek..."
    • by cerberusss (660701)
      <dream>
      I have had great success in advising to use LaTeX in these situations!

      CO: "OMG, Word is, like, total crap!"
      Me: "I can advise LaTeX."
      CO: "Great! Can you get me a Linux shell?"

      </dream>
    • Doesn't ThinkGeek sell LARTs nowadays ?
    • First couple of times: Friendly advice
      If they don't want to learn: Ignore them

      I've noticed there's a certain class of people that'll much rather bitch and moan than learn a better way. Those are the same kind of people that complain about spy/ad/malware but clicked "ok" to five of them in the last hour. It's a waste of breath.
  • Not so easy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Zo0ok (209803) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:12AM (#15251871) Homepage
    Haha!

    Microsoft Office for Mac and Windows dont handle "Styles and Formatting" in completely consistent ways... not to talk about what happens when you mix older versions of Word on PC with newer.

    I'd say: formatting is ALWAYS a mess in MS Word, REGARDLESS how you do it.

    My tip: invest some time in a template with just a few styles. Stick to those styles - dont improvise and be creative.

    I like to write in HTML, just using P,B,U,I,TT,H1,H2,H3,TABLE (with friends), UL, OL... however, it is hard to print it in a nice way... Anyone has any ideas about how to make really nice printouts from HTML (that look as nice as a LaTeX report) without writing my own XSLT-tranform and make an XSL-FO of everything?
    • Re:Not so easy (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pimpimpim (811140)
      Indeed! As a student I had to do lots of group projects. People wrote parts of the report at home, and we merged it all at a PC at the university. We had already gotten courses in styles, so (almost) everybody used that. Success !?! What happens if you mix different version/document language styles? You just get them all in your document! Very nice... So now we had a main report of which half was in 10pt, the rest in 12pt for standard text, and also lots different heading 1, 2, etc.

      The only solution to ma

    • Re:Not so easy (Score:3, Informative)

      by Fred_A (10934)
      I suppose you could use DocBook [docbook.org] and then output to whatever format you like. Being SGML (or XML) it's a bit like HTML.

      OOo Writer has DocBook filters as well (bit of a work in progress apparently).
  • In other words... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anne Honime (828246) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:15AM (#15251877)
    ...Learning good typography skills makes for prettier documents. Yeah. Old news. But alas, it's the purpose of word processors to avoid learning proper typo, and LatTeX is already far better at typesetting than any suite out there.

    As long as word processors won't erase superfluous spaces, doubled returns, and start of line tabs, I see no hope of a global users' skills rising.

    • It amazes me how many corporate document styles will tie down all sorts of specific functions in a word processing package, yet are typographically so poor. The best book I found of the subject was Typography for Desktop Publishers [wikipedia.org] by Mark Hengesbaugh, written when Desktop Publishing was in its infancy, and before people equated DTP with hacking together a Word document and printing it on a domestic bubblejet printer. DTP and word processing has killed the craft of typesetting: the promise was that the drud
      • I'm less concerned about "highlights" like drop caps than I am about the basics: choosing co-ordinating fonts; choosing the spacing for things like margins, leading, and associating headings with the following text; using correct punctuation; and other design decisions that directly affect the entire text of a document.

        This sort of detail isn't just important because it can make a document look pretty, though of course that has its advantages. A well-typeset document will also be be read significantly fas

  • by iangoldby (552781) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:24AM (#15251897) Homepage
    I wrote my doctorate thesis using MS Word 5.1 on an old 68k Macintosh. (OK, it was some years ago...) I learned a lot about Word, and was very careful to use styles for everything, exactly as this article recommends. There were a few limitations - character styles were not supported back then. But on the whole it worked very well and was easy to do.

    When I started work a little later I had to prepare reports that then went to a secretary 'for final formatting' before publication. This was presumably to ensure that they followed the house style.

    In fact, the first few came back completely garbled. (This was despite the fact that they were already - visually at least - in the house style when I submitted them.) Not long after, an edict came down that we were not to use 'automatic formatting'. When I queried this, it meant no styles, no automatic header numbering, no changing the paragraph spacing with the Format command, etc.

    No one ever admitted it, but we all suspected the reason was that the secretaries did not understand enough about Word to realise why they couldn't manually change the heading numbers, why hitting return was inserting a double line space, or whatever.

    Even now that we are all using Office 2003, all of our company templates are still set up using direct (manual) formatting.

    It's even worse though, because Word 2003 is set up to automatically define a new style every time you manually apply direct formatting to a paragraph. If you look in the styles list for these templates, there are literally hundreds of styles defined there, all with meaningless names.

    If only the templates were defined using proper styles and users were educated not to use the buttons on the toolbar but to select a style from the Styles and Formatting sidebar instead, all of this mess could be avoided, and all documents would 'automagically' come out with the house style with no effort at all.

    (I'd even like to see Microsoft add some 'policies' to Word so that it can be set up on users' machines to enforce this way of working.)
    • by Atario (673917) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:47AM (#15251953) Homepage
      Word 2003 is set up to automatically define a new style every time you manually apply direct formatting to a paragraph. If you look in the styles list for these templates, there are literally hundreds of styles defined there, all with meaningless names.
      On the other hand, this does help when trying to un-FUBAR a document that's been willy-nilly formatted this way -- you can click the made-up style's dropdown, pick "Select all ___ instances" and then assign a sane style to the selection.
    • It's even worse though, because Word 2003 is set up to automatically define a new style every time you manually apply direct formatting to a paragraph. If you look in the styles list for these templates, there are literally hundreds of styles defined there, all with meaningless names.

      Maybe this [mvps.org] and other articles here [addbalance.com] might help.

      MS has just so totally fucked up its implementation of styles. I do DTP, and get files from all kinds of people. Not a single one in the last 10 years has been set up using style

    • My thesis in the mid 90s was written on a 486 66. I'd previously written large-ish papers, but the thesis was approaching 400 pages from a distant memory that I'm trying to forget (long, long nights).

      Anyhow, going into it, I got put onto LaTeX by my mate, and used that. Apart from doing math equations better & prettier, the mark-up of the final document was great, and intellegent (ensuring that there's not too much white space on pages, that images could be grouped onto an images pages if it looked st
    • Word 2003 also has a feature by which you can lock the available formatting styles to the ones you have defined. If you go to Tools > Protect, and elect to protect the styles, it will disallow any manual formatting: the user must pick from one of the available, defined styles.

      But of course, I switched to LaTeX: TeXShop [uoregon.edu] and BibDesk [sourceforge.net] make it a joy to use on the Mac.

  • Nightmare ahead (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spectrokid (660550) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:28AM (#15251904) Homepage
    For all our quality documents, we use Word with some propietary plugin to help with the formatting. You can read and print it in a copy of word which doesn't have the plugin, but wheep he who shall alter the layout! These documents (preferably with embedded Powerpoint which has embedded Excel) get uploaded in our central documentation database, where they are supposed to remain for the next 20 years. I recently needed 3 days to convert my 7 year old thesis to PDF. Something tells me we are in deep shit...
    • I recently needed 3 days to convert my 7 year old thesis to PDF.

      I had a similar experience years ago (originals typed into a proprietary mainframe based program). I learned to _always_ save a plaintext version a formatted copy of any document I think will ever be read again. Since I learned it long ago, I've seen that I tend to keep the plaintext versions and the formatted versions get discarded. Thanks to this, documents that are over 10 years old are a double-click away and perfectly readable (ok, two i

      • thats ok if your document only contains text and some formatting of said text that you don't really care about.

        but saving as plain text will not just destroy formatting. it will destroy diagrams, graphs, mathematical formulae, probablly tables and any other non-textual content.

        maybe not a problem if your a programmer type that doesn't belive in flowcharts, uml or anything similar but a major issue if you are an electronics guy or a software engineering guy that uses tools like uml.

        finally there is the issue
        • That's why PDF is so nice. It's open and documented, and it's an extension of PostScript which has been with us nearly as long as the computer, I have little doubt that I will be able to read PDF formatted documents in 10 years and just slightly more about 20 years from now.
  • If you'd like the advantages of LaTeX without having to remember every nuance, then LyX ( http://www.lyx.org/ [lyx.org] ) is definately a GREAT thing.

    Since converting to LyX all our documents come out with consistently high quality. Best of all, from LyX you can convert to almost any other format as you need.

  • Too many of yesterday's assumptions in this article. It's about how the user should conform to what the program wants to do or is expecting. The program doesn't like an extra line space between paragraphs, so the user should inconvenience themselves by using styles and formatting instead.

    Users are going to do what they do regardless. So I guess the answer is to write much better import/export filters for when files are going to be used in more than one program. It's no good going on about typography eith
  • by 70Bang (805280) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:39AM (#15251936)


    ...and I'll said it again:

    Remember, Microsoft has filed and received a patent for the Microsoft Office file formats in XML.

    All it takes is for Microsoft to take their ball & bat to go home via some trojan in the guise of a special security alert, (Patches O'Houlihan appearing to make the official announcements on Patch Tuesday...between teaching rounds of the ADAA -American Dodgeball Association of America ). Tada! MS Office only writes to XML format and Microsoft has an enforceable patent in place. This puts a fence between two companies or even two departments. It's all or nothing. And if you (corporation) attempt to migrate (not all at once), writing is a one-way street. Anyone can read. But that's passive.

    The only way to get around it would be a widespread migration away from MS Office in a very, very short period of time.

    Realistically, how fast do you think that will happen? Don't use your office by saying, "We can do it!" Look at how many Fortune 100 or 500 or 1000 companies which would have to jump into the fray during a long weekend.

    (Microsoft is still waiting on a substantial number of corporations to migrate from Windows 2000, MS Office 2000, and VS6. And they're chasing their tails trying to find out how to convince businesses to migrate by paying lots of money for new software, new hardware, increased TCO. What makes you think they're going to switch to non-MS Office? Seriously. Even the storytellers Huey, Dewey, and Louie, er, Microsoft's vast Sales, Marketing, and PR departments are pounding their heads. They've never faced a defeat like this -- and it's their own damn fault!)


    • Microsoft is still waiting on a substantial number of corporations to migrate from Windows 2000, MS Office 2000, and VS6. And they're chasing their tails trying to find out how to convince businesses to migrate by paying lots of money for new software, new hardware, increased TCO. What makes you think they're going to switch to non-MS Office?

      That's funny. The company is too smart to buy a new copy of M$ Office and you don't think they will take a free version instead? You need to look at GM, Lowes, IBM and

  • by WWWWolf (2428) <wwwwolf@iki.fi> on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @06:47AM (#15252396) Homepage

    My small crystallization of the whole word processing: You write text. Computer formats it.

    If you want the computer to not mess up your formatting, you've got to think like a machine and understand the structure of the formatting. Humans, by default, only care about superficial formatting: "this is in wrong place, let's move it a bit." Computer sees a bunch of formatting instructions.

    The biggest problem with WYSIWYG word processing is... well, basically the exact same problem with WYSIWYG HTML editors: You think you have the utter and ultimate control over the presentation, while you actually don't have that luxury. You merely have real-time response to the formatting decisions. Some other day (and in some other version of the program), the formatting decisions the program makes will be different. When using word processor, you have to stop thinking about the formatting and just let it do the thing for you.

    Word processing and typesetting are separate tasks. If you don't understand that, and do typesetting decisions while you're doing word processing, you end up in a completely wrong place.

    You have to assume your tab key doesn't know damn where to align the text - if you're submitting text for publication somewhere, it's likely to go completely wrong anyway. You have to not rely on spaces being always "space" width at all. (I export my OO.o docs to HTML which gets converted to LaTeX for PDF generation. HTML doesn't care damn about extraneous whitespace. Neither really does LaTeX.)

    If you want to preserve formatting instructions at all, OpenOffice.org's style system is your bestest friend ever. You can't produce robust formatting without that thing, so learn it and learn it well.

    In closing, two words: Reveal Codes.

  • Does anybody talk here about OpenOpenOffice ? http://o3.phase-n.com/ [phase-n.com] They are still promising a release without giving us anything to eat but anyway, be aware that one day, it will be really easy for everybody to switch between all office suite. Manu
  • It seems to me that word processors are over-thought if you have to worry about doing things the "right" way (as defined by the programmers). If I want to treat a WP like a TV typewriter and manually format everything just like we did in Bank Street Writer on my Apple //c, it should be perfectly OK with that. If I then want to intersperse some fancy formatting like bulleted lists, handle it without me having to think hard about it. I don't want to care about these things, I just want to write the stupid

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