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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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  • 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: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.

  • Not so easy (Score:4, Interesting)

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

    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?
  • 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.)
  • 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...
  • by inflex ( 123318 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:31AM (#15251915) Homepage Journal
    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.

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

    by ex-geek ( 847495 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:37AM (#15251930)
    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, which leaves their documents littered with invisible formatting elements. These kinds of documents are a hassle to change, as you described, since even fixing a little typo can mess up the formatting of the whole document.

    What really speaks for LaTeX is that you can't use it without reading the f***ing manual first.
  • Re:Yes. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:38AM (#15251933)
    As far I can see, most Word documents are just paragraphs of text with the occasional table or picture, which TeX can very well do.
    Guess what? The argument goes the other way too. Why bother with TeX if your document is just paragraphs of text with the occasional table or picture?
    I have advanced knowlege of LaTeX and Word. Just for fun, I've created documents in both that when you print them, it is virtually impossible to distinguish what was the program used to ceate them. I don't believe any of them is any better in the quality department. The only thing that remains is to find which one is easier to use for a specific task. Recently I've seen a 150+ pages novel, written entirely in word. This document was only text, with just four or five chapter headings. Honestly I didn't see why the author should have used TeX or LaTeX for this job. In fact, with Word he could concentrate only on typing with some small but usefull features that Word offers for easing typing.
    Some of my friends prepare their thesis in LaTeX. When you have lots and lots of inline formulas, LaTeX can potentially produce a better quality output. My own PhD thesis however, did not contain many formulas but instead there was lots of complex tables. I used Word to do it (together with MathType and EndNote). I tried one chapter with LaTeX and foud out that actually I spend more time in LaTeX preparing my tables that doing the same thing in Word. Preparing my template with just a dozen of sytles and some useful VB macros took me round half a day and for the rest of the time I could just concentrate on writing.
    I continue to use both LaTeX and Word and decide between them based the job at hand. To me, only the outcome counts not the tool.
  • 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!)

  • Re:Cripes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @04:54AM (#15251977)
    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 prebuilt styles, though it's not hard to roll your own, as he does. Sadly Word has dumbed down the use of styles so much that they change capriciously, trying to anticipate what you want, and usually getting it wrong, but confusing the application of local formatting (i.e., of text selected by the cursor) with that applying to all paragraphs with the same style. Older incarnations, as in Word 5 for example, took a little RTFM, but then were quite stable and easy to use.

    All good DTP apps use the style model, as of course does CSS HTML. But if you look at any HTML produced by an MS product, you see an entangled mess betraying the convoluted hash that is Word formatting -- endless FONT codes, layering on and cancelling each other, for instance.

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

    by pimpimpim ( 811140 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @05:15AM (#15252018)
    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 make this more or less representable was by removing all styles and adding them again. In the end I guess we just prepared the text unformatted, and formatted it at only the end. And please, even worse than styles in different word versions, are the picture inclusions! Our group had a very embarassing talk once, because about half of the included pictures where replaced by a big red cross in the powerpoint presentation. It worked on the PC where we prepared it, so we couldn't have known :(

    Latex is also not free of blame, though. Recently the suse versions of our PCs at work got upgraded. My A0 poster layout that used to work is now broken for some unknown reason. Maybe different calculation of length units? If someone could help me out on this I'd be quite happy! (Furthermore the scaling of the newest acroread->print-to-file got broken, so I wasn't able to make A4 previews, arghhhh, updates!!!)

  • Re:A simpler way (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @05:19AM (#15252028)
    I am guessing you don't live in a non-english-speaking country with international characters like åäö? It's a bitch, even when using .txt!
  • Re:Cripes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by david.given ( 6740 ) <dg@cowl a r k . c om> on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @06:44AM (#15252385) Homepage Journal
    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 section containing subsections as: section header, body text, subsection header, body text, subsection header, body text... In order to do anything useful with it programmatically, you need: section { header, body text, subsection { header, body text}, subsection { header, body text }, ...}

    This means that as soon as you start getting non-trivial documents in OpenOffice, you lose the ability to usefully transform or manage the document via an external tool, because you don't have the structure information you need to do this. At a simpler level, it also means that any block of text can have at most one paragraph style and one character style --- you can't have a chunk of 'code' inside a bigger block of 'URL', for example.

    I've been trying for years to find a WYSIWYG structured text editor to let me write, among other things, Docbook. Periodically I go back to OpenOffice and Abiword and KWord in the hope that they've got better, struggle for a bit, and then give up --- they're just inadequate for such things. Apps like Lyx and Texmacs are better, but they're really weird and have poor Docbook support. Currently what I'm using is the Vex plugin for Eclipse, which while being clunky and difficult to use, does at least provide a decent WYSIWYG view of my document. (No, I don't want to use a text editor.)

    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?

  • Re:Good tips (Score:4, Interesting)

    by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) <tomstdenis@gm a i l.com> on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @07:05AM (#15252454) Homepage
    There is TeX for Windows. It's called MikTeX [miktex.org].

    It takes forever to fully install but works decently fine.

  • by manuel.flury ( 782888 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @07:31AM (#15252575) Homepage Journal
    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
  • Re:Good tips (Score:2, Interesting)

    by john83 ( 923470 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @08:18AM (#15252804)
    I found it very easy to install. (download page [miktex.org]). I then installed Winshell, and never looked back.
  • Re:yes, but (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hast ( 24833 ) on Wednesday May 03, 2006 @01:17PM (#15255194)
    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 the formatting doesn't seem to help. (Ie the different subsection all belong to the same formatting rule.)

    Other than that I've found that Word can crap out on labelling sometimes. Say that you refer to a figure as "see figure *figure1link*" (or something like that). And Word replaces it so it becomes "see figure 1" or whatever is appropriate. But if you cut and paste in documents or if you move the figures around then it can get in a position where it's labelled incorrectly. And again there is nothing you can do.

    That's why I prefer LaTeX. Sure it craps out sometimes. But then I can read the errors and fix it. I don't have to manually try and force the program to do my bidding.

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.