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Old 05-12-2006, 04:50 PM   #1
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Why I don't like OpenOffice

As some of you know, when I'm not harassing newbies around here, I'm writing up short controversial essayish rants, generally offending some people.

This time, I'm on about OpenOffice. I really hate it. Now, before you reply, please hear me out. Also, I should clarify that I don't use windows so I talk only about the GNU/Linux version. And I only have experience using OOo writer, so when I say "OpenOffice", please bear that in mind.

I hate it mostly because it's ugly. Now, there are two sides to the ugliness: the interface itself, and the output it produces. Regarding the interface, it looks exactly like some of the programs I've had the misfortune of using in wine--the colors, fonts and sizes of the menus are clearly not done in gtk or qt. Now, I'm not saying that every single app should necessarily be that, it's just... gah. It's just disturbing to look at.

What's worse is the output. To really discuss this, I have to explain the reasons I see why people use word processors, and the tasks they actually perform when doing so. The reason people use word processors is quite obviously to write texts, be they corporate memoranda, term papers, scientific research results or whatever.

Now, a few users use word processors specifically for doing layout (by which I mean all the `metadata' that goes with the text, such as font families, sizes, boldfacing, italics, placement, wrapping, division into columns, and so forth). OpenOffice may or may not be suitable for that task; I wouldn't know, so I'm emphatically not complaining about that.

So, all further ranting assume that the user of OOo uses it with the intention of writing texts as the by far primary task. The problem is that most people don't know a thing about typography. Random fact: the optimal line width--given a reasonable font--is around 66 characters, which has something to do with how our eyes are built, how wide an area they can span without getting stressed, and how they jump to the beginning of the next line. Another random fact: you should always put slightly more than one space after a punctuation mark to suggest (subconciously, I presume) to the reader to insert a moderately sized temporal space (that is, pause for slightly longer than when reading out words in the same punctuation-delimited unit).

Now, most people don't know this, and hence don't take it into account when formatting their text. Hence, it becomes harder to read and stresses the eyes, and this is what I mean by ugly. I would argue that it would be much better to concentrate on the text, the words themselves, and leave all formatting to a program that incorporated all the typographical conventions that makes documents nice to look at and read.

Enter TeX. TeX is a program which translates text including markup tags into DVI (DeVice Independent), an at least to me mostly intermediate format which can the be translated into postscript or pdf. Now, I find raw TeX a slightly cryptic; also, I haven't been able to (easily) generate the gorgeous output I get from LaTeX (which is a layer of macros on top of TeX). With LaTeX, I can concentrate of writing my text, inserting a few markup tags to say things like "begin a new section with this headline", or "put these items into a list", or "put these items in a table". Then, I feed it to pdflatex and out jumps a gorgeously formatted pdf file, with about 66 charactes per line, and with a little extra space after punctuation marks, and all that, without me ever having to know one single thing about typography.

Now, that being said, we all have parents, spouses and lovers who are allergic to markup. I think it's really great that there's a free (libre) word processor available to them, because they'd go for ascii text if the choice were between that and LaTeX. But I really wish more people would see the wisdom of delegating the typesetting part of producing text to an entity (be it a company, person or program) which does it better than themself. Getting TeX or LaTeX to do your typesetting is free as in freedom. It's free as in price. Ask yourself why you're still using a word processor.
Old 05-12-2006, 04:58 PM   #2
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I agree, and don't use OpenOffice myself. I prefer Abiword and Gnumeric. As a side benefit, they are also much faster than their Open Office equivalents
Old 05-12-2006, 05:43 PM   #3
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but do they offer .doc compatability? That's one of the key reasons I use OpenOffice, for the inter-compatability of it.
Old 05-12-2006, 05:50 PM   #4
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Yes, DOC and XLS compatibility (at least for all the documents I've had to open). Give them a try. You can also try the KOffice suite. There's a lot of choice in the open source office suite market, even though OpenOffice gets all the press attention.
Old 05-12-2006, 06:01 PM   #5
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That's a really interesting point you are making about LaTeX, jonaskoelker. I have never used it, so this is all news to me. From what you are saying, it sounds like something well worth exploring. Any good starter links to recommend?

I use OOo and find it to be okay. What I found in OOo1.4* was that it allowed the date field to be in the bottom right hand corner of the main window frame, and would open a large writer.sxw file at the last edited point - so much more convenient than 2.0.2.
Nonetheless, I am really quite impressed with what those developers have done - the overall package is really good and generally reliable. Once the main package has loaded, the components load quite quickly I find, and the interfaces do seem intuitive, at least to me. But I am only comparing to MS Word and KWriter (which, last time I tried it about 4 or so years' back, I didn't like at all).
The GUI of OOo may seem a little more "clunky" than MS Word, but in terms of functionality, once one thinks through the tasks one wants to do and finds them on the menus, the result is reliable and does what it says on the tin.
Also, its compatability with MS formats is a bonus for those machines that have not yet been liberated by the Penguin!!! Mmmmrraaahhhhaaahhhhaaaa
Old 05-12-2006, 06:20 PM   #6
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The problem you are describing is inherent to what word processors are, not with OOo in particular. Since I haven't learned LaTex yet(it is on my TODO list), I use LyX to free myself from the worries of formatting.
Old 05-12-2006, 06:24 PM   #7
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I actually find extra spaces and other unneeded clutter invariably annoying to look at - to me it signals incompetence, haste, and tardyness. But that's personal opinion. Where it comes from?
Point is, and bear with me here:
I encounter dozens of documents daily and some of them look like they were written by a pack of wild monkeys, with varying levels of mis-use of several functions found in popular text editors, office programs, desktop publishers, including but not limited to Adobe Acrobat and Indesign - all the garbage you'd expect to find on an overpaid executive desktop.
And these are supposed to be documents presented to management staff in meetings, come from incredibly expensive firms and whatnot. Most of it is incomprehensible, mistyped, too small, too large, badly offset, and running around the real point of the entire document most of the time. It's the kind of stuff you can't get off the first page of, nothing is the same, styles galore, standards are to rest your feet on, coffee anyone?. The PDFs created by some of these people set off air raid alarms or can be prescribed instead of sleeping pills. Have one more, it's good for you!

You know what response I get when presenting upper management staff with a professional, properly formatted, readable documents?

"Huh? what's this?"

Do you understand that response?

It's the skill of the user - not the editor. I can't even think about teaching people who respond like that one thing about typography, let alone TeX or just plain universal standardised document formatting. They all have their own magic little ways of doing things like setting the editor to show all the hidden control characters and things like that and still produce horrible huge conkers of documents. And what's funny is, the editors let them do it. Fact is too they want something familiar to play with. I had people complain to me why we don't have WordPerfect anymore. Because it's button time baby! But seriously, most people will never care, and even if the programmers of editors realise typography, users still don't care more than they did before. Because if they can't do it -their- way, they're not going to use it. Really bad habit to break.

That would be the other, my, view on the case - yours is how the faceplate and dialogs of the program could use a good polishing and from what I gather perhaps have a function that guides a user to better typography automatically one way or another.
I dislike Microsoft Office because it's an overloaded pig of an Office suite. Way too many functions nobody ever uses and the documents are filled with garbage under the hood. You try recovering text from a mauled 40 page Word document, it's not pretty. For me it's Enter OpenOffice, Vi, Abiword. performs fine, never mind the interface. I really could care less about extended functions like linking documents to spreadsheets and things like that. Heck, I regularly use Vi to write things down for myself, plain text is as portable as it gets. On the other hand, the industry demands functionality.
There's usually two sides to a coin, unfortunately in user space coins don't have just two sides.
Old 05-12-2006, 06:35 PM   #8
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Open Office has been great. I cannot believe that SUN allowed this program to be placed under open source. The only other office suite that can come close to MS Office is Corel. Finally, there is a cheap alternative that can mimic MS Office. There are still issues with open office considering some of the features but I'm happy. Quite glad that Open Office does not possess a grammer checker because that feature is just annoying in MS Office. The notion that open office does not possess an email client is hit and miss considering that there are a fair share of clients out there to choose from. The Calc applcation was a little different but after learning a couple of tricks all is well.
Old 05-12-2006, 09:30 PM   #9
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I find openoffice to be better than MS Word, when you know how to use it. If you create all your documents using styles, rather than manually changing fonts or inserting bullets, it is much more consistent than Word. Try doing multilevel bulletted lists in Word - in openoffice I can do this without a problem.

The new version of Openoffice is very good at converting documents to Word and back. I never have any problems, even with quite complex documents.

Having said that, I think the menus need re-arranging to be more intuitive. For example, Options and Customise in one menu? That sucks.

In terms of typesetting, it probably could be done to have bigger spaces after a punctuation mark, and automatically set the font size and spacing to be optimal for the page size. A4 is different to US Letter, so presumably has different optimal font settings.

And no wordprocessor / type-setting application is going to compensate for idiot managers.

Old 05-12-2006, 10:14 PM   #10
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I don't like either. For creating documents on Linux, I usually use LaTeX.

I have a spreadsheet that contains about 20,000 rows. Would anyone like to point me to a Linux program that can handle it? OOo certainly couldn't; a change to the spreadsheet took about three minutes to process. So far, MS Office was the only program that could handle it. Maybe Gnumeric could as well?

I'm also looking for a good grammar checker. I hope OOo implements support for one eventually.

Last edited by Maritime; 05-12-2006 at 10:16 PM.
Old 05-12-2006, 11:54 PM   #11
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very interesting...

I happen to like OpenOffice and expected to be offended, but was enlightened instead.

For what it does, OpenOffice works for me, and it makes more sense than MS office.

Truth be told, how much more can you 'upgrade' an office program? Have there been any 'new features' added in any word processor that one cannot live without?

I can see a parallel from the music side: Finale vs Lilypond. I find Finale output hideous (and besides, I do not like to play 20 questions to insert a mezzo-forte). On the other hand, set up a .ly file with the proper markup and feed it into lilypond, and one gets beautifully typset music.

I guess I need to buckle down and learn latex...
Old 05-13-2006, 12:23 AM   #12
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Now that OASIS OpenDocument has recieved ISO/IEC approval, it's Microsoft that needs to worry about interoperability. Everyone else has already adopted the standard.

BTW, progs like Aldus PageMaker, QuarkXPress and Scribus are for serious page layout/type-setting work.
Old 05-13-2006, 01:18 AM   #13
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Please note that the original post (rant) is not OO .v. MS-Word but OO .v. Latex.

However, I would like to say something about formatting. In my view, if you decide the output first (say all output in A4) and standardise on a few fonts, sizes and settings - all before starting a document, and let the system do the rest then I have no problem with formatting text with any word processor.

About the other problem with 20,000 rows in OO-calc, OO is definitely slower than MS-Office for the simple reason that OO seems to have adopted only one standard - parsing XML like structures presumably in RAM too. OO's open document standard has been accepted as a standard by ISO and it is interesting that Microsoft was a member of the working group but announced that they wouldn't contribute to the standard but only observe so that they could conme out with another standard. (Forgot the actual URL, but please try newsforge etc). Such is "clout" and if you want to pay tax to microsoft .. Also, OO will not handle some fonts as crisply as MS-Word.

Old 05-13-2006, 03:39 AM   #14
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I've never had a problem with OO and I use only Writer. Since I've not used anything else for a long time, OO feels quite "normal" for me. Actually, it works just so well that I never had the need to look into anything else, be it free or not. That's how I've found Linux: Windows was not working as it should for me so I've looked into alternatives.

Anyway, I think you would get better results posting your rant into OO forum:

since developers will take a look into your "problems", unlike posting here I guess.

On a side note: what will your next rant be? We already been through Java, now OO. I guess gmail and non-Linux OS(*BSD or Solaris) might be your next target
Old 05-13-2006, 05:04 AM   #15
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Hi again.

I'm happy to see that some of you are already using LaTeX, while others are eager to get started using it. For the latter, I suggest I frequently use lshort (that is, The not so short introduction to LaTeX), but I learned it from a presentation a girl did in my local UUG, so I can't comment on how good the documentation is for first-timers. Also, knowing other markup formalisms (I'm thinking the sgml family here)--which I did--will certainly help (because if you do, you have the right kind of brain for understanding markup formalisms).

Also, some interesting points have been made. The generalization of one is "nothing is fool-proof, because fools can be pretty ingenious in the foolishness". And we all know that our bosses are essentially as mature as script kiddies when it comes to computers ("ohh, splashy colors!").

Also, d00bid00b, just in case I wasn't clear about this, I'm not saying the interface is unwieldy or clunky, I'm only saying it's ugly. I didn't really use OOo for long, so I take it on trust from you that it's not particularly clunky.

To brianthegreat: I think what you're saying isn't exactly what you mean. I agree totally that the automatically up-popping "hi. Let me bug you about your grammar" paperclip (or nobel prize-winning physicist, or robot, or whatever) is rather annoying. However, that doesn't mean that all grammar checking has to be annoying. Sure, parsing natural languages is a hard problem, so it's to be expected that it won't always be right, but... well, my english grammar isn't 100% perfect (and I'm sure native speakers of english will have noticed some--presumably minor--grammatical botch in my posts in this thread), so I think that a grammar-checker would be useful to most people, if done The Right Way. For instance, binding "check spelling and grammar" and only checking spelling and grammar when that key is hit would be perfectly unintrusive, and those who wish to avoid it could do so without any loss.

Okay, "without any loss" isn't strictly true: you still have to have code in the program that does the checking (so you lose some RAM), but that can be minimized by doing run-time linking. The discussion of small sharp tools vs. big omnipotent monsters (i.e. "The unix way vs. the windows way") is a totally different discussion. grep through "In the beginning was the command line" (Stephenson) for "wc" for a short discussion, or read "The Art of Unix Programming" (Raymond) for a longer discussion.

As IBall points out, there are no problem in OpenOffice helping the user with doing good typesetting. However, as I see it, at the moment it requires skill as a typesetter to do good typesetting in OOo, whereas it requires skill at writing LaTeX to do good typesetting in LaTeX. Also, no program will be right in all cases, so you will have to let the user be able to deviate from what the program thinks is best (and hence also from good practice). But you're right, OOo could be made smart. However, unless you made it hard for people to select "24pt bold", they will do just that instead of selecting "header", because that's what they know how to do. And if you make it hard, they'll think "ooh, that's a crap program, I'm back to MS Word".

[quote]I happen to like OpenOffice and expected to be offended, but was enlightened instead.[/quuote]
I'm really glad to hear that. I guess that in this case (as opposed to my "why I hate java" rant), there's less ambiguity and "use the right tool for the job" mentality, and more potential for someone to actually be right about what he says.

I should mention that I really applaud the OOo team for their hard work; and as far as word processors go, OOo is at least decent enough that most people can use it--but I think Abiword is better, and I don't use KDE, so what other free (libre) options are there?

And (as has pointed out) the problem is inherent to word processors, not OOo. And I completely agree with that (but the LyX is not a word-processor?). However, I do also think there's a bit of a tendency to... well, go with the slashdot groupthink, and say "yeah, OpenOffice is really great, and everyone should use it". To balance it out, I felt I had to point out that it isn't all rosy.

Originally Posted by petespin27
I can see a parallel from the music side: Finale vs Lilypond. I find Finale output hideous (and besides, I do not like to play 20 questions to insert a mezzo-forte). On the other hand, set up a .ly file with the proper markup and feed it into lilypond, and one gets beautifully typset music.
Thank you for bringing that up--I had nearly forgotten about Lilypond. It's a great example of another program which does all the typesetting for you, in exchange for markup; I also recommend using that over other music typesetters.

I actually find extra spaces and other unneeded clutter invariably annoying to look at - to me it signals incompetence, haste, and tardyness.
Do  you mean somethign like this??
If you mean semirandomly scattered extra spaces and clutter such as double punctuation marks (or more), I totally agree. However, I've really come to expect longer spaces after full stops (exactly two for fixed-width fonts, about one and a half for variable-width ones), because it really makes the text easier to read. By the way, I forgot to point out that there's a subtle difference between full stops and punctuation used in abbreviations (the latter should not have extra spaces--yet another typesetting convention). Anyways, to be clear about your view, do you hate > 1 spaces when properly put after punctuation?


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