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Easing Compatibility Between OpenOffice, MS Office 186

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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  • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:27AM (#15251901) Homepage

    I must agree. I use LaTeX [] now for everything, big or small, and I could never go back to a word processor. The system is designed for high-quality typesetting of manuscripts, and it excels in that, but one can use it for other things as well. If I just need a quick note, I can just use the article document class with no \settitle, and it works just like a word-processor. I find the letter document class very nice too, regardless of what some naysayers might say.

    The only problem with marketing LaTeX to (tech-savvy) everyday users is that the available print documentation is rarely up-to-date. For example, LaTeX is now capable of handling UTF-8 input, which means a variety of scripts can be typeset in the same document with little problem. There's no reason to use older encodings like ISO-8859-1. Yet, even recent books like the second edition of The LaTeX Companion [] still talk as if we are stuck in the dark ages of limited encodings.

  • Re:Cripes (Score:3, Informative)

    by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:32AM (#15251916) Homepage

    As a student interested in the whole variety of Indo-European languages and their scripts, I do multilingual typesetting with LaTeX with little hassle. Any modern LaTeX distribution allows input in UTF-8, so the sky is the limit. See my guide LaTeX for Classical Philologists and IEists [] .

    Many publishing houses produce all their output with LaTeX, so saying it's useful just for math doesn't reflect its actual usage.

  • 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.
  • by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @05:26AM (#15252039)
    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 [] and other articles here [] 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 styles in any sensible way. I always have to spend at least an hour trying to rationalise the styles of headings, lists, extracts, and, shudder, tables, before I can get to work on the text. You're right, it was much simpler and easier to produce good documents in Word 5.

  • 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.

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

    by Fred_A ( 10934 ) <> on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @05:37AM (#15252077) Homepage
    I suppose you could use DocBook [] 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).
  • by mahju ( 160244 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @05:41AM (#15252100)
    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 strange having 3/4 of a page images, etc). But what I loved was the advoidance of the last hour formatting on a regular say, 5 page essay. You could mark it up, print to ps or pdf (cool at the time), and all the headings and layout was right. That 1 hour formatting soon turns into 12 hours when the document is 400 pages long, and you need to ensure that the thing looks right...

    In summary LaTaX rocks, but you'll never use it in a corporate env...
  • Re:Cripes (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @06:03AM (#15252199)
    Try [] -- it'll convert MSWord to HTML. Typically they shouldn't be making CSS for each page anyway.
  • Re:Yes. (Score:3, Informative)

    by jrschulz ( 684749 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @06:42AM (#15252372) Homepage
    Embedding active hyperlinks in documents could be a reason.
    I don't know what an "active" hyperlink is, but my LaTeX documents always contain internal and external links. This very easy with the package hyperref. Regular \ref macros are automatically made clickable internal links in the PDF and the \url macro creates external links.
  • by WWWWolf ( 2428 ) <> 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,'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.

  • Re:yes, but (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @07:46AM (#15252639)
    The quickest way (as for most things!) is to find someone who knows it and start asking them (or just start copying what they do).
    More seriously, you can start at [] and start following links. Take a look at their intro [] page, then maybe start reading the usual The (Not So) Short Introduction to LaTeX2e []. Be careful not to give up — when something gets overwhelming, skip it and move on.
  • Try LyX (Score:5, Informative)

    by hummassa ( 157160 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @07:53AM (#15252669) Homepage Journal
    It's LaTeX, but graphic. Really nice.
  • Re:yes, but (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @08:41AM (#15252957)
    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.

    When I use Word in Office XP, many such things are converted automagically through its autoformat rules. The drawback to this is that I actually know what I am doing (was a professional writer for a while) so sometimes the autoformat is not what I wanted. Admittedly, I am probably more of an exception.

  • by vondo ( 303621 ) * on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @09:29AM (#15253298)
    There are a couple of other benefits of Latex for collaborating. I understand that Word, et. al. have some facilities to do this type of thing, but I've watched groups of 10-100 people try to collaboratively write a Word document and a Latex document and Latex wins hands down.

    First, Latex makes it super easy to break your document into small pieces. Each can be edited separately but the style is applied to the whole. Figures, references, etc. automatically span smaller files.

    Second, Latex is text which means you can put all of these small pieces into CVS/SVN/etc. There is no "token passing" in which only one person can be working on the document (or a part) at a time.

  • Re:Yes. (Score:2, Informative)

    by darylb ( 10898 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @09:31AM (#15253316)

    I don't believe any of them is any better in the quality department.

    I'm with Fred_A above on this one. If you can't tell the difference between (La)TeX output and Word, you're not looking. The output from LaTeX, typesetting wise, is top notch--ligatures are used, interword spacing is precisely controlled, the whole thing is polished. In Word, attempting to do full justification results in huge interword gaps, making the page harder to read and visually distracting. Even with OpenType fonts, Word (at least on my Mac) can't do a ligature. I note that even the $49 Mellel [] gets ligatures right.

  • 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 [] and BibDesk [] make it a joy to use on the Mac.

  • Re:LaTeX redux (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @09:34PM (#15259166)

    Among the major differences are that:

    • LaTeX is essentially a start-to-finish system, while DocBook is essentially an XML schema and needs supporting tools to be useful;
    • LaTeX is fully programmable (if you're sufficiently versed in the black arts), while DocBook only encodes structure;
    • LaTeX is readily extensible, while if you extend DocBook it isn't DocBook any more;
    • LaTeX's text is quite readable, even when special characters, maths, and the like are involved, while DocBook lays the mark-up on so thick that the underlying text would become almost unrecognisable with heavy formatting.

    Ultimately, DocBook is always going to work best as a storage format for an authoring application, rather than as something entered directly by humans. LaTeX's power comes, in no small part, from the fact that you can just "type and go".

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