Friday, September 25, 2009

OpenOffice frustration

Subtitle: Why OpenSource continues to fail in many sectors.

Now. this is going to be a negative post full of criticism. Beware and decide if you want to stop reading. A rant.

A premise: I have mainly two uses of Open Source: the first is personal. That means I do stuff for myself. Or maybe I use it with my development of Open Source. That means I use it within a clean environment. Mostly I use developer tools but also Office and Graphics tool. But it is easy, I send material to a colleague that means he is most probably using the same thing.

The real problem is the second use: real business. Here things immediately take another turn. There are no excuses. My main rant is against OpenOffice and MS Office incompatibility. There are no excuses possible!

The new shiny 3.1.1 is out there and once again I give it a try. It is so appealing to have an alternative. An alternative which I can also use on Linux, on BSD or on Solaris. And on Windows of course. I notice many improvements, the applications on Windows XP looks good. I am pleased that OO did not yet follow the terrible "new MS style without menu bars and big fancy icons". I know it will happen, but for now it is fine.

But what is the real world task I need to solve? Take a file from a colleague, work on it, give it back. Sounds simple, doesn't it?

I take a power point file, modify it, give it back.

The file is ruined, the graphic images are broken. Things gets misplaced, connectors are broken...

The verdict is just one: OpenOffice is unusable in the real world. So sorry to say that. 

I reported a similar bug in Word documents about a year ago. The comments were more or less useless. Like "duplicate" or "we are different". Now indeed, there are a lot of bugs about similar problems posted. With that philosophy you can't go far with applications that need to inter-operate.

Also, I may note, that OpenOffice clearly dips into MS Office footsteps. It is not a "different" office suite. It is a suite that wants to appeal the MS user. You see it in almost every detail of the user interface. Also, the compatibility is actually high, but not enough. There are no excuses.

Heck, OpenOffice has that small office assistant even! But corrupts diagrams? 

Yet some of the compatibility bugs are there since months, years even. I do not care in this case on how much I can do "within" OpenOffice itself: I am not making a slide presentation for FOSDEM, I am making one for someone else, that someone else will be using MS Office or, in any case, expects that as an exchange format.


shamaz said...

stop whining and file bugs.
Actually there ARE excuses. The main one being : Microsoft created strange file formats.

Maffu said...

I agree with shamaz: you're barking at the wrong tree. Interoperability is difficult even when the formats are really open (think how CSS and HTML documents sometimes appear differently in different browsers). In Microsoft case they intentionally made it difficult for everybody else to achieve interoperability.

Rants are good, but after that it's good to act to improve the situation.

here is a suggestion for you is: tell you colleague or business partner to get a copy of It has lots of advantages over MS Office (you mention the toolbar, add the pdf import and export capabilities, for example) and you'll have done a favour to open source.

Anonymous said...

There certainly are many good "excuses", but I think the point here is that whether it is "excusable" or not doesn't change the fact that, for many people, less than about 99% reliable makes it unfit for purpose as a replacement for MS Office in the workplace.

My personal issue with OpenOffice is basically that as a "native" linux application, I just hate it. Yet it is not sufficiently reliable at handling MS file formats to use as a MS Office replacement for business.

Consequently, for me, it simply has no useful purpose at all. So I think I'm agreeing with you, and I don't think there's anything wrong with having a little rant about something like this occasionally either, even if that is not obviously constructive.

But anyway, I do think your comments are constructive because they highlight the fact that it is more important to be reliable than compatible. I could consider using a MS Office replacement with a low level of compatibility (compared to OpenOffice), so long as I can trust that it's not going to fool me that it's handling the file correctly, only to find when you send it out that it looks nothing like what it's meant to on MS Office.

If I need to have a copy of MS Office to check each time that I'm not sending people trash, then I might as well just use MS Office to start much as I hate to do so.

No doubt some would argue that it is better to try to use OpenOffice and dilligently report and follow-up each occasion that it breaks a file, but that is if you have a real vested interest in helping to create a MS Office alternative.

Personally, I prefer to place my efforts to avoid using (and thus further encouraging use of) MS file formats in the first place, but I accept that if I want to do business with somebody who insists that they must use MS file formats, then that's just the way it is (for now) because there is still too much risk in letting OpenOffice touch the file.

Riccardo said...

wdaniels, I think you got my point.

The bugs are there, filed by, filed by other. I mention that in my post There are bugs with attached examples.

And if someone answers you that the solution is to "give OO to the colleague" he missed the point incredibly.

Unknown said...

"Why OpenSource continues to fail in many sectors"

I don't disagree with anything in the post other than this. It is a terrible mistake to blame open source for these failings.

Have you ever seen a closed source product that implemented 100% bug-for-bug compatibility with every MS Office file-format?

100% interop is impossible, and in my experience, OO.O is the closest that there is (OSS or not).