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Easing Compatibility Between OpenOffice, MS Office

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the can't-we-all-just-get-along dept.

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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186 comments

Cripes (3, Interesting)

XanC (644172) | more than 7 years ago | (#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?

Yes. (1)

eddy (18759) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251830)

>Should we just skip word processors and use that or LaTex?

I know I do.

Re:Yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15251868)

I'm not trolling, I seriously want to know — is there any reason to use something like MS Word or OpenOffice.org Writer instead of (La)TeX? (Apart from "I don't want to take the effort of learning LaTeX" or "It's against my principles/intelligence to use anything that's not WYSIWYG" which are both certainly valid reasons that I don't dispute.)

It is easier to modify, easier to maintain (change styles, etc), and can be converted into several formats easily, takes less space on your disk, the output looks much better...
I don't see what Word can do better than TeX can't. Could someone give examples?
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.

Re:Yes. (1)

mce (509) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251928)

Embedding active hyperlinks in documents could be a reason.

Having said that, I also use LaTeX as much as possible for all the reasons you indicate.

Finally, please note that Word is not WYSIWIG! What Word shows on your screen depends on the default printer you have configured. Send the document to your boss who has a private printer, and he'll likely get something different with tables and figures moving about in ways you do not expect, with suddenly text overflowing the box it is in, and whatnot.

Re:Yes. (3, Informative)

jrschulz (684749) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252372)

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.

Re:Yes. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:Yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15251975)

If you are only writing text and fancy formatting can be handled later you've got no business using anything more than a basic text editor with spellcheck functionality.

Re:Yes. (1)

Crizp (216129) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252098)

I wrote my new CV today. They wanted it in "doc, pdf or txt" - certainly a non-choice. Hello, vi! Other formats available on request ;)

Mind you, plaintext has its pitfalls too - I'd hate for the people to discard it on grounds of "it looks like a mess!" because they opened it in Notepad...

Re:Yes. (4, Insightful)

Fred_A (10934) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252030)

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


Maybe you don't care about things like proper typesetting and ligatures but for some people these things matter. Even for plain printed text. This falls squarely in the quality department for me.

In French it's even more obvious. For example before a colon or a semicolon you insert a thin space. in addition to the ASCII character set there are numerous accented characters in use, including capitals (which the braindead French keyboard makes difficult to enter, moreso in Windows where apparently you're supposed to memorize character codes). Actually English uses a lot of accented characters as well via the import of foreign colloquialisms although omitting them doesn't seem to matter much (déjà-vu vs. deja-vu). All of this is handled gracefully by TeX and is apparently made difficult on purpose by most word processors.

Anyway there *is* quite a bit of diference in output quality between a random wordprocessor (Word, OOWrite, etc.) and *TeX. You presumably just don't have the eye for it.

Re:Yes. (1)

izam_oron (942139) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252758)

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

You know, they have a graphical frontend [lyx.org] to make that sort of stuff in LaTeX easier.

Re:Cripes (4, Insightful)

Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251836)

. 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 (2, Interesting)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 7 years ago | (#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:Cripes (2, Interesting)

david.given (6740) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252385)

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:Cripes (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252832)

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 decent typography goes, yet provides the one key stylesheet feature that classical WP/DTP software all lacks.

Re:Cripes (3, Informative)

the_womble (580291) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252063)

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:Cripes (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15252199)

Try docvert.org [docvert.org] -- it'll convert MSWord to HTML. Typically they shouldn't be making CSS for each page anyway.

Re:Cripes (1)

Frogmanalien (521225) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252706)

Fair point- it really isn't that difficult to create a plain text document editor which can apply "themes" to documents. So why haven't we got one that is user friendly and avialable on the market (particularly a free one). If it added easy publishing to a webpage and was transparent to users I can't see why it couldn't co-exist and maybe even beat the bulky and OTT office packages on the market today.

Re:Cripes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15251860)

Maybe when LaTeX stops to be a PITA for anything but ASCII and math...

Re:Cripes (2, Informative)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251916)

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 [christopherculver.com] .

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

Re:Cripes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15251964)

The situation certailny seems to be better then the last time I played around with LaTeX, now if somone could tell me where to find some documentation about making hyphenation patterns for LaTeX, editing myspell data and using myspell from emacs... The troubles of using Latvian...

Re:Cripes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15251905)

Use TeXmacs (http://www.texmacs.org). A graphical (WYSIWIG) but estructured word processor.

LaTeX forces correct usage (1)

ex-geek (847495) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251955)

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?

LaTeX requires you to read at least a tutorial first. Incorrect documents don't compile and nobody will ever litter LaTeX documents with unnecessary formatting commands, since LaTeX commands make the text obnoxious to read.

Re:LaTeX forces correct usage (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15252026)

I have seen really bad LaTeX --- using math-mode for $emphasis$, for
example.

Therefore, LaTeX rules (0, Troll)

adriantam (566025) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251825)

As title.

Re:Therefore, LaTeX rules (3, Informative)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251901)

I must agree. I use LaTeX [tex.ac.uk] 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 [amazon.com] still talk as if we are stuck in the dark ages of limited encodings.

Re:Therefore, LaTeX rules (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251948)

LaTeX might be somewhat hard to grasp for many existing users though, with the lack of anything even remotely resembling WYSIWYG (say what you want, but most people still prefer the bold text to be immediately visible as bold, not wrapped into some weird tags). Of course, for those, there's LyX and TeXmacs.

Re:Therefore, LaTeX rules (2)

ortholattice (175065) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252566)

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.

Perhaps that's OK if you're the only one who's going to edit the document and you stick to one editor and platform, but the problem is that the "rest of the world" inconsistently implements Unicode (without even getting into the horrible default handling of advanced math Unicode characters in Internet Explorer, that with FireFox work fine...).

I use a variety of text editors on different platforms, from vi to ones you've probably never heard of. One of the big advantages of LaTeX is that I can edit a document on any of them. As soon as you start sending me text files with UTF-8 (or UTF-16) characters, I can never be sure if what I see on the screen is the correct character (if it displays at all, instead of being a gray box), and even if it is, I typically have no idea how to type it it (what 3-key combinatation of alt/ctrl/whatever does this particular editor expect?). In fact even in ISO-8859-1 I don't like the upper 128 because I never remember how to type them in. 7-bit ASCII is, simply, universal and will never be obsolete. (And even that suffers from 3 different cr/lf standards, so I can't edit a Unix text document in Notepad without converting it, but at least that's manageable.)

A simpler way (4, Funny)

iamdrscience (541136) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251829)

Go to "Save as" and select the type ".txt". You'll never have to worry about formatting isssues ever again.

Re:A simpler way (4, Funny)

uNople (734531) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251869)

I agree. I just migrated my finances spreadsheet from openoffice calc to a text document. I expect to spend way less time waiting for it to load.

Re:A simpler way (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#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:A simpler way (1)

hey (83763) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252057)

Perhaps the solution for KISS internation characters is an XML file like this:

Stuff åäö

Re:A simpler way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15252239)

.txt doesn't mean ASCII, you can have UTF-8 .txt files.

However you need structure, which is where XML DocBook/TEI or LaTeX comes in. In the same way you can't make 192Kb/s audio from a 32Kb/s stream, and you can't make a wallpaper image from a thumbnail, the rule with documents is that you can't add structure where none exists. You can derive lower-quality version from a highly structured document, but you can't make PDFs with bold, headings, and hyperlinks out of .txt files.

So you need structure and typically - for non-technical people - that's in MSWord styles mapped to DocBook elements, or LaTeX styles. These can then be converted to low-structured documents such as PDF and HTML.

yes, but (5, Insightful)

ajs318 (655362) | more than 7 years ago | (#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 (3, Interesting)

BrynM (217883) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251858)

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.

Ah, but. (1)

eddy (18759) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251875)

warn the user there is a better way to do it; and then do it properly, automagically. It can't be that hard.

<CHIME> <A message box appears:>

"Dear User, We have detected that You are trying to do document layout manually. This implicates incompetence. We could put programmer man-power into automagically fixing this issue, but really, it's just cheaper to replace YOU. Instead, We have informed the Registered Owner of this Softwaree. If You are the Registered Owner, feel free to use <ad>Jobs Inc</ad> for finding Your personel! If You are not the Registerd Owner, please don't apply to our advertisment partner. Thank you for ''underestanding''."

Re:yes, but (3, Interesting)

ex-geek (847495) | more than 7 years ago | (#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, but (1)

ajs318 (655362) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251992)

That's why I so liked WordStar {DOS}, ProText {Amiga, Amstrad NC100} and Wordwise Plus {BBC}. You typed the text, and the computer took care of the formatting. WW+ even used a 40-column screen for typing.

I suppose I'll have to get into LaTeX because it sounds like it would appeal to my mindset. Can you recommend a good website with some tutorials and examples? I'm quite happy with the command line; prefer pico to vi, though!

Re:yes, but (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#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 http://www.latex-project.org/ [latex-project.org] and start following links. Take a look at their intro [latex-project.org] page, then maybe start reading the usual The (Not So) Short Introduction to LaTeX2e [tug.org]. Be careful not to give up — when something gets overwhelming, skip it and move on.

from a designers point of view (1)

nihaopaul (782885) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251967)

i'll speak from my years of experiance with page layout, first thing i do when i get a document to lay out is to copy and paste it into notepad, then i use the replace feature and replace " " with a " " then i will convert the quotes and finally i'll remove the soft-returns and replace double returns with a single return and then i'll run a spell checker.

and thats to get the text in a format i can start laying out with, then once its in my layout i'll do tracking a kerning and forced returns if need be by hand. thats after i've applied all the formatting styles from my style sheets

now, i'f i'm working in chinese i'll copy and paste into notepad, replace all numbers with a real number (funny numbers in chinese) replace the " " with a " " replace , . ' " -- with the chinese version and then copy and paste that into wordpad and then into my document.

if only they knew!

Re:from a designers point of view (2, Funny)

ajs318 (655362) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252003)

Why do you use an interactive editor to do piddling changes? That's what sed(1) was invented for, surely?!

Re:from a designers point of view (1)

nihaopaul (782885) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252038)

tell it to microshaft, i can't find it in my start menu :D

Re:yes, but (1)

john_uy (187459) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252059)

i like those "page intentionally left blank" pages. oh wait, there's a lot of those returns and spaces to center it. never mind...

spacebar formatting (1)

skastrik (971221) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252581)

Before starting on his first wp doc, I helpfully told a co-worker in advance not to use Enter to create new lines.
Righto!
The day after I had to fix the doc where tons of spaces had been used to wrap to next line.

Good Golly Just Buy Office Miss Molly (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15251840)

If you want to be first-class buy first-class. If you want to be second-class, don't buy first-class. Yes, put a flower scent in your cabin because it stinks of second-class but you are used to this.

Good tips (5, Funny)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 7 years ago | (#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..."

Tip #1 (1)

eddy (18759) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251899)

>any tips how to react in these situations: [...] CO: "Oh shut up, geek..."

How about ''That's Alpha Geek to you, newbie. Now listen and learn from your betters...''

Depending on setting you might want to slap cow-orker in the back of the head too.

Re:Tip #1 (1)

Fanboy Troy (957025) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252241)

How about ''That's Alpha Geek to you, newbie. Now listen and learn from your betters...''

Depending on setting you might want to slap cow-orker in the back of the head too.


You nicely summed up the problem in two lines right there. I used to be part of a team assigned to educate a company's employees on how to use MS Office more efficiently. The inertia I found these people had to learn anything new was amazing. It was topped only by their 'know all' attitude. And we're talking about basic skills here, not VBScripting. I seriously believe slapping them across the face would actually up their productivity more than my polite responses...

Re:Good tips (2, Funny)

cerberusss (660701) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251937)

<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>

Re:Good tips (3, Interesting)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252454)

There is TeX for Windows. It's called MikTeX [miktex.org].

It takes forever to fully install but works decently fine.

Tom

Not so easy (3, Interesting)

Zo0ok (209803) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251871)

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 (2, Interesting)

pimpimpim (811140) | more than 7 years ago | (#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:Not so easy (2, Informative)

Fred_A (10934) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252077)

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).

Re:Not so easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15252298)

Well ODF is XML and things like Docvert can use XSLT to convert that to docbook, html yadda-yadda

In other words... (2, Insightful)

Anne Honime (828246) | more than 7 years ago | (#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.

Re:In other words... (1)

dunstan (97493) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252032)

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 drudgery would be removed, but the reality is that the experience and skill of good typography has been lost to the point where even daily newspapers can no longer use dropped capitals properly.

I wrote my doctorate thesis this way (5, Interesting)

iangoldby (552781) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251897)

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.)

Re:I wrote my doctorate thesis this way (4, Informative)

Atario (673917) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251953)

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.

Re:I wrote my doctorate thesis this way (2, Informative)

1u3hr (530656) | more than 7 years ago | (#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 [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 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:I wrote my doctorate thesis this way (2, Informative)

mahju (160244) | more than 7 years ago | (#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...

Nightmare ahead (2, Interesting)

spectrokid (660550) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251904)

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...

Re:Nightmare ahead (1)

BrynM (217883) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251971)

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 if they're zipped).

You'd be doing well... (1)

bunbuntheminilop (935594) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251910)

...if you created an open format suited for a word processer that seperated content and formatting like CSS.

Re:You'd be doing well... (1)

Eideewt (603267) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251970)

What, like LaTeX?

Re:You'd be doing well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15252369)

How about OpenDocument? LaTeX is difficult because it doesn't have a container format -- so then the secretaries need to email around all the files and keep them together, and there's no good GUI for it yet (to the levels of say OpenOffice or Abiword or MSWord)

Use LyX if you want the gains of LaTeX with a GUI (1, Interesting)

inflex (123318) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251915)

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.

Warning: expert at work (1)

FishandChips (695645) | more than 7 years ago | (#15251934)

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 either. Most people don't know what that is. But they know a friendly program that produces nice-looking results when they use it. And that is all they want.

Re:Warning: expert at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15252010)

Most people don't know what that is. But they know a friendly program that produces nice-looking results when they use it. And that is all they want.
Maybe they want ponies as well? At least that is possible without true AI to interpret your mess of Tab-Space-Enters into semantic documents that can be made to look nice.

Re:Warning: expert at work (1)

FishandChips (695645) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252189)

Maybe they do want ponies. That's fine. It is no good saying, effectively, that the reason MS docs don't always translate well to OO and vice versa is that users get it wrong. This article is just falling back on the old BS about how the program is perfect. That it produces poor results if, of course, all the dumb user's fault. We need to move on from this and put the focus on programming that serves the user.

Re:Warning: expert at work (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15252292)

In this case it is the users fault. The user has to tell the program that if a given block of text is a heading or a paragraph, because it can't be reliably detected without undertanding what the document says. Then the program can serve the user by performing good autoformating and better portability--let the computers do what they are good at and the humans what they're good at. Abiword even provides a mode where all you can apply are styles, this makes it easier to work with common document types thus directly serving the user.

Re:Warning: expert at work (5, Insightful)

fishbot (301821) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252353)

Maybe they do want ponies. That's fine. It is no good saying, effectively, that the reason MS docs don't always translate well to OO and vice versa is that users get it wrong. This article is just falling back on the old BS about how the program is perfect. That it produces poor results if, of course, all the dumb user's fault. We need to move on from this and put the focus on programming that serves the user.

OK, so lets look at this from the point of view of a developer trying to build a system that serves the user's needs. The users treat the wordprocessor as a typewriter with fonts, but they want it to magically update properly when they move stuff around and change options. So ... what could we give them?

Well, for a start we could give them controls that let them specify how far into the page the paragraph is without resorting to tabs that can get messed up. Let's call that the "indentation". Also, we could let the user tell the software "this is my heading" and it should know how what font to use. We could call them "styles". Hey, and how about if people want a gap under the paragraphs without having to remember to press enter every time? We could have a setting that tells it how big the gap could be!

Of course, this has all been done already. The problem is that the constant bleating of "the software should do what the user wants" is the basic assumption that the software can figure out what the hell the user wants, without even being told! Easy to use software does not mean 'software that needs no manual'. Creating a document that can be properly updated without the leg work of manually reformatting every bit of it, even within the same word processor, requires a slight shift in thinking from 'purely presentation' to 'structure and style'.

The exact same shift in thinking is what causes some HTML pages to resemble a mass of <br> tags and non-breaking spaces, and some to resemble just a handful of <p> tags and let the CSS do the rest. If you are determined that you are going to use <br> and &nbsp; regardless of what is available to you, on the grounds that you don't already know how to do it and shouldn't have to learn, then you deserve everything you get.

Re:Warning: expert at work (1)

jrschulz (684749) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252475)

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.
No, the user should put a minimum of effort into learning how to use his tools efficiently. You know, style definitions aren't there to inconvenience users but actually to help them. That using styles makes converting documents easier is just a positive side effect but not the point of this feature. If people know that and still prefer to take the "easy" route - that's fine with me, as long as they don't expect me to help them with the mess they have chosen.
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.
Filters can only guess which incidentally equally (or unequally) formatted parts of a text belong together. They will never beat a user who thinks a second about the structure of their document before starting to write it.
It's no good going on about typography either. Most people don't know what that is. But they know a friendly program that produces nice-looking results when they use it. And that is all they want.
No, they also want to be able to quickly change formatting of similar items (headings and such). This is impossible if the format the "easy" way.

Re:Warning: expert at work (1)

Ignominious (816315) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252537)

OTOH, if OpenOffice aim for perfect import parity with Office formats, they will always be trailing. It would probably influence OO.org's internal workings, limiting any innovation - e.g. Hmm, how about we rewrite the formatting engine to add revolutionary new feature X? Nah, it'd cause too much work updating the Office filters.

I can live with a little formatting discrepancies and looking at Office version differences apparently MS can as well.

I think the best way to win converts to OO.org on Windows, given the Office install-base, is to simply make OO.org better than Office.

I've said it before.... (4, Interesting)

70Bang (805280) | more than 7 years ago | (#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!)


writing robust documents (1)

mcn (112855) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252187)

Not many people know how to write documents that survive re-paginations (eg, changing margins, paper size, moving from portrait to landscape), exporting to another format, etc. I still wonder if those who attended basic wordprocessor courses are being taught to use the right feature to achieve what was desired.

I used WordPerfect 5.1 long ago and it has trained me well on using the correct code (seen under reveal code) or features for the things I want. Like using Indent at the beginning of a paragragh (for indenting a paragraph), rather than using multiple [Tabs] at the beginning of all lines in a paragraph. Or, a Hard Page Break (still rememver it's Ctrl-Enter) to force a new page rather than multiple Hard Returns (to create empty lines to push text down the next page).

Once a person learns to use the correct feature, his document is definitely more robust and can withstand major reformatting.

Re:writing robust documents (1)

giorgiofr (887762) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252368)

I still wonder if those who attended basic wordprocessor courses are being taught to use the right feature to achieve what was desired.

No. The secretaries need to spend as little time as possible formatting a document and so they're told to hit the fat G (my localization's "bold") and the slanted I and hit return freely. So the document is ready in 5 minutes. Then when the time comes to move a single word around and it blows up in their face, their boss is not smart enough to realize this is due to the stupid way things are done. That's because he himself couldn't do it right, so he does not know where the problems arise from.
That's usually when I am called in and I make a scene (ok, not quite) about using styles and maybe some brainz. But really, by now all hope is lost.
And then, people ask me why I use Word 6. Go figure.

default "save as..." (1)

xoundmind (932373) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252341)

OOO seems to default to it's own formats. Rather that .rtf or .doc. Change this and it will be a lot easier for new adaptors...Like my 70 year old mother using Ubuntu. She uses it to type up her recipes and book club discussions. Emails me everytime a document can't be opened by one of her Windows-using old lady friends.

Re:default "save as..." (1)

managementboy (223451) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252407)

Courtesy of my-trusting-google:

Tools > Options > Load/Save > General. Near the bottom of the dialog, select each Standard File Format and set Always save as to the relevant OpenOffice.org document.

Easy. Maybe shoud be called easyOffice ;-)

Re:default "save as..." (1)

xoundmind (932373) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252417)

She's 70 years old, running Ubuntu Hoary on dialup and lives in the middle of nowhere in another state. Trying to explain that would be....well, that's the whole point. It shouldn't have to be explained. The default should be RTF.

Re:default "save as..." (1)

managementboy (223451) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252438)

I had hoped she had installed Ubuntu herself... ohh she did not?

Maybe I can't follow your argument, first she uses Linux, then she can't click on a Menu called Tools, then select Options?

Well why don`t you change it for her... I am sure she will not notice. I do this trick with my Mother all the time. (ssh into her box and do proactive changes that she does not notice)

Re:default "save as..." (1)

xoundmind (932373) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252536)

I installed it 14 months ago while visiting. She's on dialup, doesn't have/need dynamic dns or have openssh enabled....She's at the mercy of the default install. Again, she's an old lady with NO knowledge of computers and gets intimitated by them. Like the saying goes, it should "just work" for her needs and the OOO defaults do not.

Re:default "save as..." (1)

managementboy (223451) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252657)

Well, thats a bummer. I learned from these "problems". My mother is also on dialup (even on an other continent). Thats why I use ssh, and use dyndns.com to provide me with her IP.

As I "have" to do IT service for more than one person in my family, so I don't rely on any "default" way of doing things. oOO configurations are saved in the home directory, making a backup/restore very easy, even over dialup.

My advice is to set up your mothers box during your next visit to be able to do remote admin tasks. It saves you a lot of time.

Re:default "save as..." (1)

Ignominious (816315) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252597)

You could try getting her to use Nvu or Mozilla Composer (part of the suite, now Seamonkey); that way her documents can be edited in a Word-like way but be as portable as possible, HTML. Also would be easy to upload to a website, should she so desire. Slight email complication if images used though, but then again maybe use HTML email?

The trouble with Office formats are that they are import/export formats to OO.org, and this would tax OO.org unnecessarily, not to mention performance wise. It would be an unfair disadvantage technically and politically.

Also, I wouldn't be surprised if there is a way of hacking an OO.org configuration file to set another default format.

Re:default "save as..." (1)

xoundmind (932373) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252619)

Perhaps I should have install AbiWord for her at the time? But I think that defaults to .abi, which is yet again a bit of a problem for the non-power users. Lesson learned on this one...leave more time to tweak the install for your relatives! Thanks for any/all comments on this.

You've got to think... like a machine... (5, Informative)

WWWWolf (2428) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252396)

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.

Open Docuemtn Format Plugin for Microsoft Office (2, Interesting)

manuel.flury (782888) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252575)

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

Poor Type setting skillls (1)

Nichole_knc (790047) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252586)

Difference in suite formatting aside. Most ppl have no idea how to even properly format what they are typing anyway. So when you throw in a program with several dozen buttons to play with and the person know not how to click "help". Well you might get just about any type of style format you can imagine. Not to mention the fact that most editors "set" a users style as a style format for that doc no matter if it is a far left style of not... Dang hard to type without my glasses. Hard on the eyes too...

mod 30wn (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15252617)

volume of NetBSD [tuxedo.org], variations on the DYING. ALL MAJOR to use the GNAA May aLso want Raadt's stubboRn users of NetBSD Distribution. As corpse turned over

Presentations and Equations (1)

m0nstr42 (914269) | more than 7 years ago | (#15252816)

I use Latex for everything I can. Unfortunately not everyone else does, especially for presentations. Recently I've had to work on a presentation in a group that wanted to use powerpoint. I did my part in OO.o and embedded equations as rendered pngs of latex output, but this is a big pain in the arse when it comes to wanting to *edit* the equations. There are a nice packages in windows, osx, and *nix for putting latex equations into powerpoint/oo.o presentations (unhappily, the windows and osx ones are superior b/c they integrate nicely and allow you to edit the equations), but they are all different and aren't really compatible (other than that the rendered output is pretty universal, which is a good start).

Having said that, the equation editors in Office and OO.o are awful for compatibility.
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