Breaking the Word Processor Curve

OpenOffice.org Writer isn't a replacement for anything; it's simply a better piece of software.

Article has been updated since its original posting.

At times, using free productivity software seems to necessitate a tradeoff between philosophy and functionality. Maybe that impression is a prejudice lingering from the days before I became a free software supporter. Or maybe it's due to the fact that many projects are framed in terms of providing alternatives to existing proprietary software. Whatever the reason, I was using OpenOffice.org Writer for several weeks before I realized that I was looking at something unusual. Obviously, OpenOffice.org is the community's answer to MS Office, but it's more than the clone it's often called by mainstream reviewers. OpenOffice.org Writer not only stands toe-to-toe with MS Word for nine rounds, but it wins the fight. Okay, it wins on a technical decision instead of a knockout, but the victory still is worth a cheer.

When you first switch to Writer, this claim that Writer beats Words may seem hard to swallow. And no wonder; you're too busy learning the new menus to get beyond the fact that everything's only half-familiar. And if you're an unsophisticated user who has yet to learn (to steal the title of Robin Williams' book) that the PC is not a typewriter, you might never notice. However, if you're an advanced user for whom style, structured text and long documents are all part of word processing, then the claim soon becomes self-evident.

Understand that I'm not talking features here. True, with its PDF and Docbook export filters alone, version 1.1 of Writer leaves MS Word playing catch up. However, features are an arms race in which superiority rarely lasts for more than one version. When I say that Writer is the superior piece of software, I'm talking about the basics, the everyday functionality that can't be improved without massively rewriting the code.

Don't believe me? Consider this: unlike MS Word, Ooo Writer is built around styles. The word processor equivalent of inheritance in object-oriented programming, styles allow users to define characteristics once and then apply them as needed. MS Word offers limited functionality by offering paragraph and character styles from the menu and task bar, but Ooo Writer follows through with the concept. In MS Word, editing styles is like drilling for oil in the Mariana Trench: by the time you finish the descent through the menus, you're down so deep that you can get the bends trying to remember what you started to do. By contrast, Ooo offers a floating palette called the Stylist. Repositionable anywhere on the screen, the Stylist not only makes the application of styles more convenient, but it makes the editing and creation of styles a single right-click away. It also offers far more filters than MS Word for viewing styles, making them easier to find.

Moreover, while MS Word is limited to paragraph and character styles, Ooo also boasts styles for pages, graphic and object frames, and lists. It even allows the creation of table styles, although they aren't available from the Stylist. By extending styles into these areas, Ooo enables design at a level MS Word users can only dream about reaching. While hardly a desktop publisher, Writer is far closer to one than MS Word. In fact, Adobe FrameMaker, the proprietary long document handler, is a better comparison for Writer than is MS Word.

In places, however, Ooo Writer's advantage is more subtle. Much of the time, the advantage isn't that Writer has features that MS Word lacks; it's that features in Writer work while their equivalents in MS Word don't. For example, in MS Word, automatic numbering corrupts under almost any circumstances. Are you rearranging numbered points? Mixing number paragraphs with unnumbered ones? Mixing two different numbering styles, perhaps with bullets? In all these cases, you likely find yourself in a world of pain in MS Word. The numbering systems soon become hopelessly mixed. They also have the nasty habit of reverting to their corrupted state just after you think you have them fixed. The work around is to use fields for numbering and then create some macros to semi-automate the process. This workaround takes time to set up, however, and is awkward to use. It's also little known; when I work for an MS-centric client on-site, I'm asked how to solve this problem about four or five times a month.

Showing some fancy footwork, Writer sidesteps this problem by automatically placing all numbers and bullets in fields. The result? Automatic numbering doesn't break in Writer. You can edit numbered lists as often as you like without any problems. Once or twice, I've caught Writer stumbling, but it quickly corrects itself.

The situation is similar with the master document features. In both Ooo Writer and MS Word, the master document feature is supposed to enable you to combine short documents into one large one. You can work on the short documents, enjoying faster loading and update times, and use the master document as a table of contents for working files. This feature can do wonders for efficiency for anyone who writes documents longer than fifty pages.

The only trouble in MS Word is the master document feature has been broken since at least version 6.0--for over eight years. Far from helping the serious writer, it actually tends to crash and corrupt the component files. Expert users have learned through bitter experience (theirs or someone else's) to avoid master documents in MS Word, except for very limited usage, which defeats most of the purpose of having the feature in the first place. Again, the feature works in Ooo Writer, plain and simple. Once or twice in early versions I've had Writer's master document feature crash on me, but never with any damage to the component files. In the two most recent versions of Ooo, I've never had a crash.

Don't just take my word, though. Both these problems are notorious among MS Word users. If you look here and here, you can find these problems fully documented and explained. While reading, keep in mind that these articles are written by people who use MS Word at an advanced level and want to get better performance from it. Then sit back and consider the heroic efforts these people have to go through simply to make MS Word work vaguely like it's supposed to. Then maybe you'll understand why the mere fact that Writer works is such a luxury for a serious writer.

I could offer a number of other reasons why I consider Ooo Writer to be a superior piece of software. For instance, I could mention the smaller file sizes, its true text frames (a must for serious design), the database connectivity or the way that I can easily turn off the nagging automatic features and have them stay off. In fact, with the release of Ooo 1.1, the only advantage that MS Word has is a grammar checker, and that's a mixed blessing. If you aren't already fluent in a language, a grammar checker's air of authority can lure you into making mistakes as often as it corrects them.

But all these points are peripheral. What matters is that Ooo Writer allows me to work efficiently and without constant awareness of the software--statements I haven't been able to make about any other word processor in over twenty years of word processing. In my book, Ooo Writer isn't a replacement for anything. It's my software of choice.

Bruce Byfield was Product Manager at Stormix Technologies and Marketing and Communications Directory at Progeny Linux Systems. A sometime tech-writer, he has been forced to work in MS Word so many times that he is considering asking Amnesty International to investigate.

______________________

-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)

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Software in general , not

hannibal.lecture's picture

Software in general , not just word processors , seems to have
discarded a cardinal engineering principle which at one time
held sway. KISS (keep it simple stupid)is out of fashion nowadays
and as a result , we have bloated Rube Goldberg contraptions
instead of solid and practical tools.

Grammer Checker

What is Open Office?'s picture

Even for native speakers, I find a Grammer checker indespensible. More often than not, I'm writing at an hour that I should be sleeping. My writing often reflects this. The grammer checker doesn't make the mistakes go away, but it speeds up the process of finding them.

I'm using Open Office, and find that the lack of a grammer checker has me considering running Word in wine. Haven't had much luck with Abiword.

Try Abiword

Dreamcast's picture

I like my applications lean and fast. Both Open Office and Word have far more features than I will ever need or use. I like a simple word processor to type letters and the occatissional reminder note to myself. Abiword loads on my computer in about two or three seconds and works great for my needs.

I noticed you are a Linux

Anonymous's picture

I noticed you are a Linux user, sooo from that along, most Linux users go crazy over anything that is open source.
We are a school and have used Star Office 5.2, 6 & 7, then hopped over to Open Office and now are going to StarOffice 8. While it is cheap (as it is free... I guess you get what you pay for)
Our endusers hate it because of stupid navigational issues and most of the world 99.99% of them want the document in .doc format. AND don't try to say that OpenOffice saves in .doc format because it does not! To be able to modify a converted OpenUg! document gives you (especially with files that have tables and graphics in them) to work with a table within a table within a table . This is a great program if you d not need to communicate with the rest of the world...like in an elementary school...but for work STAY AWAY FROM IT!!!

And don't forget to sell

Reader's picture

And don't forget to sell your brain and your soul to Microsoft!

Basic functionality and features.

yogi yang's picture

You are very very right of all that you have written but the facts are a bit different.

Say for example OpenOffice consumes a lot of RAM. The requirement is very very high. When it is loaded it seems to choke my PC (P IV 1.7 GHz) which has got only 128 MB RAM.

Another thing I have faced a practical problem in sorting text paragraphs. I have got a document which contain one line paragraphs (less than 38 characters each) counting to 21,000 only. And StarWrite could not sort them alphabatically.

Further :

Any Good WordProcessor should support all standard cursor (carate) navigation within text like :

Ctrl+Home - will move insertion point to the start of document
Ctrl+End - will move insertion point to the end of document
Ctrl+Up Arrow - will move insertion point to the start of current paragraph or previous paragraph
Ctrl+Down Arrow - will move insertion point to the start of next paragraph
Ctrl+Left Arrow - will move insertion point one word at a time to the left
Ctrl+Right Arrow - will move insertion point one word at a time to the right..........

When a user has made selection and if the user presses Right Arrow key the selection should be removed and the insertion point should be placed on the right of selected character........
and....

user presses Left Arrow key the selection should be removed and the insertion point should be placed on the left of the first character selected....
...............
and all such classical windows edting features that a normal windows user is used to use.

Are either not there or are very very Buggy. I hope you understand.

One more thing I have to say is that Open Office should be broken down into small independent software which can run by themselves like Write, Impress, etc. etc. (independent of each other) and should be available as components which a conventional developer can use in his/her development environment. This will help in poliferation of OpenOffice and more and more people will adopt it also, and will help pump in new ideas from all over the work even from programmes who do not know C/C++ like me.

Imagine a scene. I want to implement a Telephone Directory Layout software. It StarWrite were available as and ActiveX I would be able to use it in VB (which I am more comfortable with) and create a software and developers of OpenOffice may get news ideas from my implementation which they may include in future versions of OpenOffice.

Anyway this my view and ideas.

Thanks,

Yogi Yang

The latest version of OOo

Carlito's picture

The latest version of OOo and M$ office are almost the same. I checked it under Win XP for Calc/Excel, Writer/Word, and Impress/Powerpoint with the same documents open in each one.

In fact, the good new for you is that all the problems you suggest have been solved.

Problems are rarely solved in the M$ counterpart.

Enjoy OO.o

The one thing that keeps me coming back to MS Word

AnthonyV's picture

The one single feature that keeps me coming back to MS Word again and again is "Outline View". The reason is that every single time that I need to start an essay, article or document of any depth, the very first thing I will do is open a new document in outline view and start laying out my thoughts. I love the ability to quickly switch levels and rearrange the order of my thoughts adding complexity where needed. All this by using the keyboard only.

At the end of the process I have a document that heavily used styles (H1 - H9) plus a couple of extra styles for the body text. I can quickly add a TOC at the top adjust the Page Heading + Footers and I am done. The result is a clean crisp document that is also structurally sound.

Unfortunately I have not been able to find a simple means of replicating that process within Open Office. A quick search of the web (which is what lead me to this page) has also not turned up anything.

News flash: MS is on it's way

Anonymous's picture

News flash: MS is on it's way out. Do the math. Multiplying thousands of users by $0 is a bit cheaper than multiplying by $400 plus windows licenses, etc. It's not about MS bashing - they make some excellent products and still have the best usability. But that usability doesn't make up for the cost - retraining is cheaper, especially when you consider the cost of upgrades. It's just a bottom line business decision. There are no more excuses left for not crossing over. The whole "I don't want to convert because I want to be compatible with everyone else who won't convert" isn't a valid argument. Change is inevitable based on cost alone. Despite common misconceptions, MS is NOT the standard, primarily because it is a) costly and b) proprietary. We survived the crossover from WordPerfect, and we'll survive this one as well. Even if you have to hire some people to do manuall document touch-up as with WordPerfecct, again, I encourage you to do the math. If you think remaining with MS is a better decision, then don't listen to me. You will be left in the legacy category.

Go with OOo for Complex Documents

Anonymous's picture

I tried to write a 120 page book in Word 2002. It drove me crazy. Paragraph formatting wouldn't stay still. Styles changed themselves without reason. I couldn't format the headers with a field containing the current part and chapter names.

I transferred the text to OOo Write, reformatted, and it worked like a charm.

Word is fine if you want to do short documents. It also has good mail merge and is great at printing labels.

But if you want to do a long, complex document, forget it. Goe with OOo instead.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

I've just spent the better part of a day (a day and a half?) trying to get OO Writer to do something I've been doing easily with Word for a few years: create a table with 1 row and 4 columns that will span several pages (it's for extended texts that need to be in parallel). After fiddling with all settings I could think of in OO's UI, I was still at a loss. I then went to OO forums and looked for posts relevant to this problem. I finally found something that seems to indicate that this cannot be done with OO. Any column of a table that exceeds the page's length is simply chopped off at the page bottom (there's obviously something down there, but you can't see it). People have claimed that OO is comparable in features to Word 97: well, I could make a multipage table even with Word 6. For advanced word processing, it's still "no cigar" for OO in my book (I use 1.1 - pretty much the latest release)

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Bruce_Byfield's picture

Well, to each their own. However, I wouldn't dismiss a piece of software on a single instance myself. FrameMaker, for example, has the same limitation that you describe, and it would be a decidely eccentric opinion that MS Word was superior to FrameMaker based on this one case.

After all, single rows of the length you describe are not exactly common. Personally, I'd use page columns or text frames for the effect you want.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

Open office 1.1 file size is nothing short of amazing. I am an IT engineer with 20 years of computing experience. I have grown up with dos and windows upto XP in various technical and support roles. I have recently switched to Linux and OpenOffice (OO) at home and the thing that really impressed me the most was the lack of bloat in OO. I write audio diy build guides with lots of photos and drawings embedde. In word 2000/XP the file size of a finished manual was always over 30Mb. Under OO the same manuals are under 2Mb !! What on earth are M$ saving inside the file!! I have now seen the light. There is some very high quality software for Linux if people can be bothered to look, think and learn a little.

PDF exports

Anonymous's picture

Hi,
I've been trying out the new direct PDF export feature to convert some .doc and .sxw files to be published on the web.
Excellent stuff. Every single file (about 30 so far) I've exported displays perfectly in Acroread.
I used to do this with "Print to file"- postscript - check display - ps2pdf. It was a bit of a pain, but worked well, too.
It seems, though, that the generated pdf's are quite large for a pdf (about 4 times as large as the .sxw, and 1.5 to 2 times larger than .doc).
Is it due to more fonts being used, or a lack of compression?
With the old ps2pdf method, I got files about the size of a .sxw.

This easy export to pdf is really a killer feature, as can be the Flash exports of presentations, and I wonder whether it can still be enhanced?

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

I've tried every version of OpenOffice, and will continue trying each new version. I have hopes it will someday be good enough to replace Word, but right now it just isn't. I understand hatred of MS products, but OpenOffice is still at the bottom of the word processor heap. Word is infinitely better, and so is WordPerfect. Even StarOffice has huge advantages over its OpenOffice cousin.

As someone who earns a living using a word processor, I would never rely on OpenOffice to get the job done.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

Uhhh, do you have some reasons or examples for saying that?

Or are you just wasting our time...?

Hatred of MS products is irrelevant... you can love MS products and still want choice... something MS loves to pay lip service to while at the same time trying very hard to take away. You may want features that proprietary software doesn't have, you may want more control over the software... there are many reasons to use open source alternatives.

Enlightening

Anonymous's picture

Whilst I don't actively use OpenOffice.org Writer, I have used a styles-based desktop publishing solution in the distant past, and my response to anyone claiming that secretaries or power-Word-users need extensive retraining to switch to anything other than Word is that such users really need *training* to use document preparation systems properly in the first place.

The "open document, type stuff, ooh, bold, font this (lovely!) and switch size to that" naivety/idiocy is what held the Web back for years until decent authoring tools and better awareness kicked in. And CSS can be said to be more arcane and less powerful than the styles that document preparation systems offer. Better authoring techniques can give more useful documents, more reusable document templates and better communication in any enterprise, but sadly most enterprises can't stop themselves fixating on Microsoft's "lock-in" Office products.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

I wish I could agree ... however, despite its notoriously dangerous master document and the fragile auto-numbering, MSWord is far easier for text revision and editing.

Example: I have a large document with properly designated headings and information that needs to be rearranged. In MSWord I can change to outline view and drag the headings and their associated text into the proper position, moving in and out of the heading levels as needed. In OpenOffice I can ... what? Cut and paste and create abstract after abstract?

Example: I want to select a paragraph to move. In MSword I can click twice beside it and it's selected, paragraph mark and all. In OO, I have to use the mouse to carefully select the paragraph and drag the mouse down just to the left of the first character of the following paragraph. If I don't do this, the paragraph mark is left behind and has to be manually inserted at the paste location and deleted from the cut location.

Until it makes editing easier, I'm sticking with MS Word (Don't feel bad - it's usually Word 97, with graphics created in OODraw or the GIMP.)

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Bruce_Byfield's picture

Actually, both the features you want are available in OpenOffice.org.

If you want to rearrange text in an outline form, you can use the Headings feature in the Navigator to drag and drop sections.

As for your preferences for moving paragraphs, try activating the Active Cursor at Tools - Options - Text Document - Formatting Aids.

selecting and active cursor

marc's picture

actually, the automatic inclusion of formatting (or other) code when selecting in ms-word is as much a blessing as it is a curse, and i have been happy with the less automated selection process of ooo. happy without the curse, but sometimes too regretful of not having the bliss...

but am intrigued with the "active cursor" note: did not find it in the options-textdocument-formattingaids, neither in version 1.1.1 nor in version 1.9.69 Only directcursor (which is something else, not?)

what do you mean more precisely ?

When better isn't necesarily better...

Anonymous's picture

Many moons ago, I had a chance to try out the completely re-vamped WordPerfect (I believe it was 6.0, maybe 7.0). The biggest difference? It wasn't Word. That's okay, I got over that and started playing with it.

What I found was that every time I thought to myself, "I want to do X, what do you suppose I should click?" I was always able to find it, first shot. Word, I found, often required lots of hunting and grumbling to find functionality.

However, when I talked to other users about it, the reaction was grossly negative. Nothing was in the "right spot" and they tossed the software out within minutes. Why? Because they knew Word and WordPerfect wasn't Word.

If you only know one path from your home to your office, any other path is complicated and confusing. If you only know one way to word process, any other word processor is complicated and confusing.

OpenOffice may in fact be a superior product, BUT that may be its own downfall, at least outside the open source community.

Re: When better isn't necesarily better...

Anonymous's picture

Define "right spot..." According to who? Microsoft? You? MS doesn't dictate where the "right spot" is. That goes without saying that neither do you...

Re: When better isn't necesarily better...

Anonymous's picture

Jeez, you took the guy's statement way to seriously. He was just pointing out the fact that some people can't understand OpenOffice because the buttons are slightly different from what they are in Word. I don't believe that anywhere in the post did he complain about this button setup. In fact, he even stated that they were "better."

And, MS does dictate where the "right spot" is. Since Word is the most popular word processor, the millions of people that use it will learn to use even the inferior, according to some, button setup, even if it is slower. The guy's point was that OO's better button setup maybe wasn't actually "better" because the countless users of Word don't want to take the time to change.

Scott

If MS dictates what is

Anonymous's picture

If MS dictates what is "right" we're screwed, ie numbering, format shifts, etc.
MS word is not the "most popular" just the most wide spread, like windows.
I've been writting for 20+ years and have used just about everything from wordpad, wordperfect 4.0, ms word (you name the version) to framemaker and quark. msword is mediocre at best.

Bill

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve or coming back to where al

Anonymous's picture

I am not an Ooo 1.1 user, but was referred to this article by our system administrator who wants us to give it a try. From what I have read, I cannot help but remembering my old beloved Word Perfect 6.0 (last version for DOS, WYSIWYG, I if my memory doesn't fail) which had *WOW* all this features in 1992! + creating formulars, labels, envelops and macros in a fly and TOA, TOC, indexes and the code window to correct "by hand" any "naughty" tab. "Square" selection, and lots more of usefull things for text editing.
Why am I using MS Word? Because I have to share editable stuff with others who happen to use MS Word. Yeah, I regret it too.

Will no one mention file sizes?

Anonymous's picture

Holy crud, the difference between Word 2000 and OO 1.1 file sizes is nothing short of amazing. For someone who HAD 1500 Word documents @ a minimum of 19k apiece, and who now has 1500 OO documents (I converted them ALL by hand) @ an avg of 10k apiece, it makes a huge difference to me.

Besides, OO 1.1 went from 15 seconds loading to less than 7 on my Linux box.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

LaissezFaire's picture

I use StarOffice 6.0, and I can almost use writer. My big problem is when I use outline numbering, I cannot bring the second line of a numbered paragaph to the left margin. It's a known bug (someone else found it), and won't be fixed until OOo 2.0.

I suspect that huge numbers of legal and government docs need this style formatting. Yeah, I can turn off auto-outline formatting, and go plain text, but then I can use just about any text tool equally well.

My suspicion is that OOo has the best chance of coming in where the goal is a good printed output, not in exchanging electronic copies. Wordperfect is still strong in legal, and government uses what they're told. Both groups aren't afraid of paper consumption. However, writer is incapable of making that format. *sigh*

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

"My big problem is when I use outline numbering, I cannot bring the second line of a numbered paragaph to the left margin. It's a known bug (someone else found it), and won't be fixed until OOo 2.0."

I'm not sure if I understand you correctly but I'm unable to duplicate your problem. I just tried what you described in Ooo 1.1 RC2 (not the most recent RC) and I had no problem getting the second line of an (outline-) numbered paragraph to start at the left margin. Here's what I did:

  • Position cursor to somewhere in the list to be reformatted.
  • From the Format->Numbering/Bullets... dialog box, choose the Position tab.
  • Select "Level" to the level of nesting which requires format change
  • Set "Spacing to text" to 0

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

Why don't you people just stick to something usefull like LyX?

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Bruce_Byfield's picture

Nothing wrong with LyX, but it's for a vastly different and much smaller group of users than OpenOffice.org.

Also, speaking from a selfish view, I have no hope whatsoever of getting most employers to agree to me working in LyX. However, I have a reasonable chance of being able to work in OpenOffice.org.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

Thanks to that previous post, though, it's now one larger. I was looking around for an aqua-native, free, preferably with a portable file format utility to use to write a simple letter (and was about to start using TextEdit). Lyx almost perfectly fits these needs, since I don't need to start X, it's free, and I'm guessing it's smaller than the aqua-native commercial word processors.

I'm not writing a business proposal, just a letter. A download and installer install later, I whipped out a letter (fill in the fields -- not much easier than that) and generated a PDF copy of it 15 minutes later. If kword and etc are eventually able to parse LyX files, I'll be set. LyX may not be applicable for general/WYSIWYG word processing, but it works well enough for quick, simple documents that every MacOSX user should know about it.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

Ooohhh.... styles... thats what word processing is all about... wow.. gee whiz, I guess us non Linux types just don't get it... Aside from this ONE miracle of modern OpenSource, what else does it have??? How about a complete set of docs? What about scripting support? Object orientation??? Hah, does it support *ANY* modern object handling systems? Albeit OLE/ActiveX can be a pain, I can insert *ANY* supported ActiveX control object into a document, Visio diagrams, Excel spread sheets and charts, with complex macros and database connectivity to each, MS Data Analyzer reports, MapPoint maps, MS Project charts, diagrams from Maple, Minitab tables, SAS data and an army of other vendors software. How about support via the web. I can bring up instances of Excel in a browser... how about OpenOffice? I love the initial paragraphs that try to downplay features as not being a selling point... Wake up stupid... why don't we stop thrashing an app *ONLY* because its belongs to Bill Gates... one other thing you forgot... reality check, I have been through several changes in Word Processors over time. DEC Pros, Word Star, IBM Writer Assistant, PFS:Write , Word Perfect and finally word... Sure, OpenOffice is free... but training is not... Secretaries, non power-user professionals (who are the vast majority of users)... what about the costs of retraining them? Ornate pseudo-intellectual language like moribund and dichotomy won't help the unwashed masses with practical concerns... and trusting the community or Academia to develope superior software is a joke. Much internet technology is misengineered, and it is really *RARE* to see any shareware or opensource software that approaches the quality of for-pay consumer equivalents. Everybody has to make a living, and the best software engineers don't give their services away for free for very long.... You people are totally out there in the ether. Snap out of it...

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

OpenOffice training online is $26.50 a year, and it's professionally produced and very good:

http://www.digitaldistribution.com

Please don't make out like there are hidden costs that make OpenOffice more expensive than proprietary software.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

I'm a sysadmin in a large Corp. environment (8000 people) and the fact is that 90% of all users never use any of those advance features you mention, and for the $400 price of MS Office per seat, plus the cost of constant upgrading, I'm thinking you could afford plenty of training.

Sure, Microsoft Office has more features as it should for a product that has been around as long as it has, but you are seriously underestimating the OpenSource community if you think they won't close the gap and do it very quickly.

Even your hero's Bill and Steve have come to realize that OpenSource is enemy No.1; with the global community cooperative approach and the rapid development model, road blocks are quickly overcome.

But, freedom is a great thing, if MS Office works for you I think you should cut your upgrade check to Microsoft ASAP!

Joe

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

Oh please - you are surely joking. I had to write my PhD thesis in LaTeX because, at that time, nothing else could keep the diagrams and equations straight. I thought someone may have fixed this by now but was dismayed to find, when trying to write a report recently, that Word seemed to randomly change the order of my figures, separate them from their captions and remove half of them whenever you save the file. Believe me, I'd rather go through the pain of writing things as html using ed and manually change all my figures to jpg than keep having to write these things twice.

On the training point - if you change software the secretaries need to be retrained. I've known secretaries refuse to use Word for Windows because they knew their DOS version of Wordperfect. Training is a poor argument against switching to OpenOffice because they often need training to go between versions of one vendor's software. Hell, I recently had to spend some time teaching one of these people how to use Internet Exploder.

Most people don't use the wealth of features in products such as OpenOffice and Word - I rarely try to add an index to a letter to my Mum. If I did, Word would probably screw it up like it does TOCs. OpenOffice will probably only stand a chance of success because of the backing it has from Sun - in the end success will depend on performance, reliability and usability almost as much as whether the software is free.

Personally, I don't think OpenOffice is all that great. Overall, MS Office sucks about the same and costs a heck of a lot more. I know which I intend to use until something better comes along.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

If you have the savvy to chime in on a technical discussion of MS Word vs. OOo Writer, at least use paragraphs.

It actually hurt to read your posting!

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

Ah, yes, the old "I don't like to think too hard, everybody is just like me, therefore you're stupid" argument. My teenage kids use it too.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Bruce_Byfield's picture

I said nothing about having to do things my way; I simply pointed out where your comments were based on lack of knowledge and misreadings of what I had said. In some circles, that's known as valid criticism.

If you are able to respond in kind, I suggest that you do so. There are valid reasons for criticizing OpenOffice.org, and a discussion of them could be interesting.

Personal attacks, however, don't cut it - especially when they are so removed from reality that the recipient shrugs them off as non sequiteurs.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Bruce_Byfield's picture

I'm tempted not to answer such an obvious troll. However, it's such a convenient summary of various replies that I've heard that I'm going to do so anyway.

- Styles: Styles are one of the most basic features of word processing and document design, so of course they matter. The fact that the troll seems to think that they're unique to Linux suggests how little the writer knows about word processors. I also note that the writer ignored the rest of the article, pretending that styles were the only reason for my position.

- Scripting: Look at Insert > Script and Tools > Macros for OpenOffice.org's scripting support. It doesn't support VB scripting, but that's hardly surprising, is it? But it can preserve MS Office scripts in case you want to open the document in MS Office again.

- Docs: While I agree that OOo's on-line help is weak, it does exist, and it's better in version 1.1. And there are dozens of third-party books for StarOffice/OpenOffice.org. Several are even available on-line for free.

- Object Handling: See Insert > Object > OLE Object.

This questioning of features follows a pattern that I am quickly becoming familiar with. Somebody claims that OOo Writer is unusable because it doesn't have a feature, but any familiarity with the program shows that it does have it after all. The complainer simply hasn't bothered to look for it.

I also find it interesting that the troll brings in anti-Microsoft sentiment when I confined myself to a discussion features. My dislike of MS Word is the result of its poor design and broken features; I wouldn't willingly use it even if was free software. By contrast, although I would prefer not to use proprietary software, if I have to use Adobe FrameMaker, at least I know that I am working with software whose features work the way that they're supposed to.

Similarly, the troll seems to have missed the point that my comments about the arms race of features was actually an attempt to be fair to MS Word. The implication I was making was that, if I did compare feature by feature, MS Word would lose.

Finally, while costs of training is partly valid, it's not nearly the strong argument against switching office suites that the troll seem to think. To start with, to judge by the number of courses available in basic MS Word use, people need training on MS Word, too. More importantly, the average office worker uses only a very small set of any office suite's features and, if used to MS Word, can learn enough to switch successfully to OOo in an afternoon. Many, in my experience, can do it without formal training.

Don't feed the troll

Anonymous's picture

Move along folks, nothing to see here...

Re: typical MS troll answer

Anonymous's picture

It is always the same: the microsoft trolls keep repeating the high glossy promises of the MS marketing department hysterically, which is nothing but pure theory and hype.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

Incredibly insightful and absolutely FUD-free statement. Anybody out there able to spell "F.l.a.m.e.b.a.i.t"?

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

My pet peeve with Open Office is the difficulty of printing envelopes. I've never actually gotten his to work, so I use a small Windows utility running under wine to do this. Searching for answers to the OO envelope printing issue I ran into lots of complaints but not much useful info, so I finally just gave up. (Maybe I'm missing something obvious, but if that is the case so have a lot of other people!)

On the other hand, my old copy of Word Perfect 8 for Linux generates perfectly good envelopes with a single mouse click. Unfortunately WP8 is based on obsolete libraries and can be difficult to get working with modern Linux distributions, not to mention it uses a proprietary document format that Open Office is not compatible with.

I used StarOffice 5.2 (in Win

Anonymous's picture

I used StarOffice 5.2 (in Win98) recently to print 40 Christmas envelopes. For the first time I was able to complete the job satisfactorily with the Address Book and (I think) File;New;Envelope. Using a HP 932c Desk Jet I had to change the paper definition to 8.5 x 11, insert a text frame, move the addressfrom and addressto frames down to the bottom of the page so the envelope would print on the port (vs. the starboard) side of the printer.

I saved instructions to myself in a ReadMe file for the next time.

Now if I could just figure out how to print envelopes in Lyx.

Pat

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

Unfortunately WP8 is based on obsolete libraries and can be difficult to get working with modern Linux distributions

For Redhat, all you have to do is install the libc5 and ld-? rpms from Redhat 5.1. Use the -i option and it will peacefully coexist with your other libraries and WP8 will "just work". I forgot the name of the ld rpm, but try to install the libc rpm and it will tell you.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Bruce_Byfield's picture

What problems did you have? Setting up the merge function for multiple envelopes? That's an area in which the help is less than helpful.

I also maintain that the envelope tool has no business in being in the Insert menu. Labels can be printed from File > New, so why aren't envelopes in the same place?

The only way I got it right was when I found a StarOffice manual on-line. You should still be able to find it if you do a search on "StarOffice" and "user's manual."

If you have some other problem, I'd be interested in knowing what it was.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Anonymous's picture

It's been a while since I tried it, but as I recall I just could not get the envelopes formatted or printed correctly. With Star Office and Open Office as you noted you have to use the "Insert" menu, then you get a popup window where you have to manually set up the envelope for printing orientation, margins, etc. After playing around with this for a while unsuccessfully I finally gave up on it. I have no doubt envelope printing can be done, it just seems needlessly arcane and ill-documented.

Word Perfect, on the other hand, is able to handle the envelope formatting automatically, you just select the envelope size and WP does the rest. It even pulls the recipient address from the document. (Even gets it right much of the time. :-) WP also gives you the option of printing the envelope directly or inserting it into the document, and will easily add bar coding.

Re: Breaking the Word Processor Curve

Bruce_Byfield's picture

Maybe I've just been lucky, but I've found the default settings for Envelopes in OOo Writer work well for me.

I attribute all the additional features to the open source "hands-on" mentality. If there's a conceivable option, many open source projects will include it; I've seen this tendency in everything from gcombust to pysol. Advanced users appreciate it, but it can lead to anxiety option for new users. I generally appreciate it, but I wish there were some way to hide the complexity for those who don't want it.

The idea of inserting the envelope into the document and bar coding sound like useful features; you might want to submit them to OOo (assuming that they haven't already been requested).

usability problems

Anonymous's picture

Before I say anything, let me say right off that I use open office almost exclusively, and that I am a technical writer who use MS Word exclusively at work.

OpenOffice holds many advantages, but its usability is nowhere near as high as MS Word. I have lots of problems with list formatting and just keeping the hierarchy of styles straight when using the Organizer. FOR TOC's, I find OO to be better, and of course the PDF/DocBook export is great.

I notice a lot of bugs or quirky behavior in Open Office. Nothing terribly annoying, but it's one example of how OO is still a relatively immature product. MS word has been tested by more people and has subtle usability features (recently I right-clicked a list in MS word and was pleasantly surprised to see that there was an option to renumber the list; can't remember if OO has that too).

But you're right; for expert users; there is little difference between both products, and in some ways OO is simpler and doesn't include bloatware.

Also, I talk about openoffice/star office in a slashdot book review .

Re: usability problems

Anonymous's picture

I felt the same way (Open Office was not good enough) until Open Office 1.1 came out. The only incompatibility I have found with MS Office is that Powerpoint animation doesn't work well. Everything else seems a as good or better than Microsoft, and I have tested it extensively. I just bought a new Windows laptop for business presentations, and don't feel any need for MS anymore.

I'm seriously considering replacing the (so called) operating system with something more robust - like that OS SCO claims to have invented. ;-)

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