Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




OpenOffice

Joel once wrote something about the so-called "light-weight" word processors that attempt to compete with MS Office. He argued that they're using missing important features; he gave the example of word count, but it could be anything that a user depends on. Thus by implication MS Office reigns supreme in the area of productivity applications.

I think the situation may have changed.

I downloaded OpenOffice from www.openoffice.org yesterday and I've been using it ever since. I was suspecting that it would be mediocre at best; to my pleasant surprise, it seems to be able to do just about everything MS Office can do. It's very nice.

It's free as in it can be downloaded at no charge and free as in open source.

Very nice. (Oh, and it's compatible with MS Word files, an important feature that many lesser packages seem to not have.)

Has anyone tried it out? I recommend that you at least TRY it.

Warren
Saturday, April 19, 2003

OpenOffice is an excellent piece of software.

So, the primary hurdle is jumped. Now, the even more important one remains for corporate acceptance: 100% file fidelity. That means being able to import AND export to/from the Office file formats, without any screwy or lost formatting. The person using OO can decide what their tolerance level is for import, but export has to be rock solid.

(Oh, in case you missed it, I think OpenOffice is missing a spell checker. That's a glaring omission. You can purchase StarOffice, the commercial version from Sun w/ the spell checker, and it's still much cheaper than MS Office, but you're not longer in the realm of free.)

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Saturday, April 19, 2003

Why does Export have to be rock-solid.

Why can't you just export to .rtf for example?

Stephen Jones
Saturday, April 19, 2003

Gosh, it's only 171 megabytes to download, zipped. That'll only take 19.8 hours...

Ed the Millwright
Saturday, April 19, 2003

It's the 21st century and folks are still using 33.6kbps modems?

Alyosha`
Saturday, April 19, 2003

--"It's the 21st century and folks are still using 33.6kbps modems? "----

Those that have telephones yea!

There are some countries where broadband (cable or DSL)is not available at all, or so expensive as to be unusealbe (128kbs in Saudi comes to $300 a month, and my exchange doesn't have it anyway).

Then there are large parts of First World countries where Broadband is not available. The figure for the UK is well over 50%. someone else will no doubt be able to give accurate statistics.

And there are pleny of places even in the States where the fastest you get on the phone is 24kbs.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, April 19, 2003

I'm still disappointed.  And where's my hovercar?  The future isn't what it used to be.

Alyosha`
Saturday, April 19, 2003

If the download's too big, you can buy Sun's version or pay $4 for a cdrom from a number of places.

anon
Saturday, April 19, 2003

Openoffice spellchecker for dozens of languages can be found on this page:
http://whiteboard.openoffice.org/lingucomponent/download_dictionary.html

The Windows download is 51MB not 171MB.

The latest Openoffice 1.1 beta even exports documents to PDF. So it starts getting features that Word does not have.

Jan Derk
Saturday, April 19, 2003

"Why does Export have to be rock-solid."

Stephen, either you don't have much/any experience in the corporate world, or you've been particularly blessed to work with only the top 25% of managers.

Because you've obviously never had to deal with "Should this be eight point? Or nine? Let me call a meeting so we can discuss it"

Philo

Philo
Saturday, April 19, 2003

With regard to Word documents I don't get it.

Once it's in .rtf you should be able to see what it's like. Use Word viewer to see what the .rtf file looks like in Word.

But I thought .rtf was a standard.

If different people are going to be playing about with the same file then you need not just the same program but the same version of the program.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, April 19, 2003

RTF does not handle some of the complex formatting involving tables, headers and footers, and tables of contents.

In addition, some corporations simply require .doc as the standard format, so if OO couldn't save as .doc, you can't use it to send anything to those places.

For those who don't have a fast enough connection to download 51MB, the GNUWin CD which contains dozens of other free programs in addition to OpenOffice can be purchased cheaply (under $10).  http://www.cheapbytes.com is one source.

I have been using OpenOffice for nearly a year. Once it saved me nearly a whole day of work when it was able to open a .doc file that Word claimed was corrupted.

T.Norman
Saturday, April 19, 2003

re 171MB: Yeah, the OS X version is 171MB.

re modems: Yeah, on a good day I get 24kbps due to the quality of the phone connection, 16kbps on a bad day. I've got a pretty recent 56k modem.

re $5 CDs: Thanks for the tip. I'll keep an eye out for one of them.

Ed the Millwright
Saturday, April 19, 2003

Noone uses RTF (certainly not the "top 25% of managers"). All the features in the world aren't as important as perfect reading and writing of MS Office formats.

pb
Saturday, April 19, 2003

Three years ago, I would agree that MS Office was the only choice.  The problem is the new subscription licensing and commitment during an economic downturn.

When you are buying 50 licenses at corporate rate, that is still pretty high.  When you are buying 5000+ the prices difference is really high.  When you are a small office the difference between $300+ and $0 is significant.

The people finding a hard time switching or even considering a switch have not even tried.  The windows version of OpenOffice is solid (I have not idea where they got it did not have a spell checker.)  If you want a few extras spend the dollars on StarOffice. 

You will always find an incompatibilities.  Even between those now running XP and 2000 and 97.  As for RTF or any other format, as a policy this can be set to save all documents in that format resolving the issue with the person who fails to get the idea. 

Before you let someone tell you it won't work for you, consider what want and see if those requirements are met.  For the longest time I remember people commenting that mail merge was not available or XYZ is not there so the product must be considered "beta".  Perhaps, or more likely is the feature is so unused as no one has seen value in adding it yet.

Mike Gamerland
Saturday, April 19, 2003

I tried OO about 6 months ago and it couldn't handle what I was trying to do (or at least I couldn't figure it out within a reasonable amount of time). I create multiple versions of my resume, and for whatever reason I prefer to write out the raw HTML for the HTML version. So there, HTML version done. Word version? Open up Word, open the HTML file, save as Word doc. Word version done. This seemed to be something that OO couldn't do for me.

Andy
Saturday, April 19, 2003

RTF is a standard, but some of the interesting pieces of it are proprietary Microsoft extensions. RTF only takes care of word processing documents... how about spreadsheets with embedded code? presentations with embedded videos?

Sure, it seems easy when you're exporting a simply formatted word processing document. That's so far from the end of the story that it's not even funny...

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Sunday, April 20, 2003

pb - you missed the point.
Manymany managers I've dealt with have issues with placing form over function. In other words, instead of worrying about what a document is meant to convey, they get wrapped around the axle on how it's presented, down to "our corporate standard is 10 point Arial, this document is in nine point Verdana. Fix it."

Philo

Philo
Sunday, April 20, 2003

If you're sending a letter to a corporation then if it's .rtf it will still show up with a Word icon and open up with a double click, so they won't be any the wiser.

If you're sending stuff you want people to print and read send it as .pdf.

If you've got lots of tables, or embedded speadsheets AND YOU WANT THEM TO WORK WITH THEM, then obviously you will be wanting to use the same program - and same version - as the person you are sending your docs to.

I would have thought the problem would be with Excel rather than Word, but I have been told that the export format to Excel is particularly good in Open Office.

Incidentally the most incompatible format I know for Word is MS Works.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, April 20, 2003

Andy, all you had to do is first save the file in the OpenOffice native .sxw format.  Then save it as 'Web Page' and you'll have html.  Then reopen the .sxw file and save it as Microsoft Word format.

T.Norman
Sunday, April 20, 2003

Plus the HTML would be a lot cleaner than the soup of DIV and SPAN spat out by MS Word.

Simon Lucy
Sunday, April 20, 2003

I have on several occasions evaluated Open Office for use in appcltions and for clients.

Of course the Open Office  (OO) suite originally was a commercial package purchased by Sun and then open sourced. This is really an attempt by Sun to reduce the value of Ms office. However, this issue is for another debate.

Being that this was originally a commercial product, then it turns out that the word processer is a nice product. (as several has mention it DOES include things like spell checkers etc.).

It is interesting that Sun thought that just adding word compatibility would really make the product take off. Of course the first Open Office was really bad. Thus, the issue was not file compatibility (but that still remains a problem for OO). OO did not take off due to the that the interface was designed to work both on Linux and windows. Further, the whole office suite worked in side a window (hence, both Linux and the Windows product was thus the same, and supposedly a company could reduce training costs etc.).

To Sun’s credit, they did realize exactly what to do with the product, and they certainly realized something that Word Perfect people never did. Anyone with a brain realizes that for Open Office to succeed, people have to CHANGE WORD processors. MS always realized this, and the 4th option in the help is :

    WordPerfect Help

In other words both MS and Sun know a lot about software, and WordPerfect has not a clue here. WordPerfect never ran their product as an alternative to MS-word, but Sun sure the heck is. Sun knows the trick here is to make it easy to change.

So, after the first OO disaster, Sun realized they only solution here is to make the whole thing look and feel as much as possible like Word. Thus, the next OO certainly improved by leaps and bounds. They threw out the “window” that the whole OO thing had to run in. As the original poster mentioned, it is fine product. Further, it feels a lot like word now (and it better feel like word if you want your users to change).

There are however some shortcomings

Of course, the first mentioned problem that some formatting stuff does not come across 100%. If you are just writing letters and some general documents, OO is just fine.  Even saving as rtf is ok for little stuff, but for creating of important documents, it is not even close to being an acceptable solution.

If you are exchanging any important document with a company, or some type of business plan, or important proposal, do you really want to use something that can cause formatting problems? Like I said, for average Joe writing docs, then OO is just fine. So, it really depends on what your needs are.

At a corporate level most personal are trained quite well. Word in those cases is not all being dumped. We are just a bunch hacks reading Joel on Software. Take a secretary at a company who uses word most of the day. Her word skills are likely going to impact her performance on a daily basis. Some of the word skills I see at companies is really impressive. I guess if my job required me to work in word all day, I would get good at it darn fast too.

In a corporate environment, ms-word users are automating tasks in Word all the time. These tasks range form doing a Mail Merge from the company SQL server, to automating renewal notices for the company baseball games. The creating of awards and certificates based on personal records being merged from Excel etc. is common fair for these workers.  Even stuff like Mail merge needs some training, and to re-train these people to do these common tasks in OO is a real headache. The incompatibilities with merging, and macros is a very big problem (the British government study on replacing ms-word with OO concluded the same thing, but I could have told them that with a quick email in place of all the money they spent on this study to figure this out).

Again, of course Macros in Word actually is VB code now. Anyone who has ever hit alt-f11 in word will know what I mean (alt-f11 brings up the full VB ide, and this is included with every copy of word. If you have never hit alt-f11 while in word, you now have something to try!). Automation in the work environment is the very reason why computers are used.

OO does have a programming language (x-basic), but it is not VBA, and that is a problem for all kinds of automaton code between excel, and word, and the company data stores.

The other main downfall of OO is the very large amount of memory it takes to run. This becomes less of a problem as ram, and disk drives get faster and cheaper. Again, that great white horse of Moore’s Law is now making OO able to run well.

For example, to load ms-word on my slow notebook takes just under 4 seconds. Each additional load of ms-word is absolute instant from that point on.

To load OO (open office writer) takes a whopping 32 seconds! Stunning to say the least!! Of course, Sun is not mentally ill either, so what they did is create a “quick” launch bar. This is not at all like ms-office quick launch, but they called it that!! It really should be called the Open Office pre-loader. This thing simply adds that huge amount of load time to your windows startup time. Thus, you will see the blue OO quick launch button now in the system tray. Thus, a large amount of ram is simply gobbled up at windows boot time, and this huge thing stays in memory all the time. In that case, then the load times approach that of word. Worse, is that this large chunk of ram is used up even when you don’t plan to use OO (open write). As mentioned gobbling up more then 10 megs of ram to improve load times is less of a problem with new pc’s.

However, for those thrifty companies wanting to save on both upgrade costs and save on purchasing ms-office, they will be in for a big shock. You need good hardware here to run open office.  Consideration has to be given to some tight, and much lighter code that ms-office has compared to the resource intensive OO.

If I just needed to write a letter, then OO is just fine.

However, I am a software developer, and thus I need to use word, since it is my job to automate tasks.

I have looked at using OO in place of office. However, my time and knowledge of VB/VBA code to automate and integrate ms-office into information systems is really why I am not using OO. It simply would take me longer to build stuff in OO then it would in ms-office (and I would have to learn another language for this purpose).

I used ms-word last year to replace propriety word processor from a mini computer system. This was a medical billing system, and they were upgrading the application to a new server. The problem is that the old word processor was NOT available for the new system. Thus, I needed a fully programmable word processor.  Simply put, for the 3 or 4 days of time we had for this conversion, leaning OO would take longer then the whole project. Also, it was not certain if OO would give me the flexibility I need. We used word to print the billing invoice, and also had to build a document system to file these documents away on a server (Linux running samba).

So, at the end of the day, OO is fine, but one must be aware of when, and when NOT to use the product.

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
Kallal@msn

Albert D. Kallal
Monday, April 21, 2003

Albert - well put.  I believe you hit many of the major areas of improvement and that can only benefit everyone looking.  However, I think in some areas, further clarification is necessary.

First it the 100% compatibility mantra I hear constantly touted as the reason to stay.  Yet, even MS does not provide 100% compatibility between its versions.  While forced obsolesce has some value in ensuing users continue the upgrade cycle, why should it exist at all for features that do not change? MS ensures incompatibility between it and other vendors because it does not share the "doc" format with anyone without dollars. And why should they, as it is theirs. 

However, this is also the reason that OO, StarOffice and other vendors are moving to an open standard.  So documents can be shared regardless of the software you select.  The current version of OO provides  PDF as a format, which will include all the features we find in Adobe products today.  Microsoft's promise to produce an XML based file, has been clarified to mean they will use XML but it will still be proprietary.

I also agree that the power Office user will have a learning curve, perhaps one that is of little value pursuing.  However, the vast majority of users are not power office users.  Of all the people using office, a would be willing to wager fewer than 5% can do a mail merge, fewer than 1% have and even less need to on a regular basis.  Even so, let them keep it. The choice need not be "all or nothing."  People have gone to the all or nothing well for office because of the proprietary format.  In the future, it would be more like the choice to purchase MS Project.  Few companies buy a copy for every desktop.  The choose the appropriate people based on their needs.

I would close on the "open" and memory comments.  Two things occur here that need to be considered.  How much of that OS memory usage is to support MS applications?  While OO is reported as 10 megs in use for OO quick launch, the same component while running with the OS is reported as OS memory usage.  This is also true for the fast startup time of MS Office.  It makes use of the undocumented, or specially built APIs.  Again, MS makes both the OS and the applications so it can leverage this cross information.  However, comparing the two in that regard is not truly apples to apples.

As I  mentioned earlier in the threads, this is not an all or nothing type of situation, as much as MS would like it to be.  That being said, any office should try it for a month and see what does and does not work for them.  I believe many would be pleasantly surprised.

Mike Gamerland
Monday, April 21, 2003

Unfortunately, it doesn't matter if the comparison of startup times and resource usage is apples to apples, because all the user knows is that OpenOffice takes 8 times as long to start up.  Regardless of how Microsoft accomplishes this, it is a pretty significant advantage.

Mike McNertney
Monday, April 21, 2003

The load time of Word, Excel is far superior to open office.

However, it has got nothing to do with some trade secrets by MS.

The windows api has been published for years and years.

All kinds of appcltions from  WordPerfect, to QuickBooks to WinFax load just fine in windows because the products where designed around Windows.

With Open Office, they obviously wanted to reduce dependencies here, and used their own windows libraries (cgywin I believe?).

There nothing special on the ms-side. But, yes, the load times of ms-office are very good, but so are the load times of most commercial packages. The huge times of Open Office are simply the result of the approach to designs, and not wanting to be dependent on the MFC classes from Microsoft. It kind of makes sense that the Open Office team really can’t design this thing around the MFC stuff!

But, it is not special trade secret that makes ms-office load fast. No doubt, the fact that having writing the thing from day 1 of windows does help, but competing products like WordPerfect also load fine.


Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada
Kallal@msn.com

Albert D. Kallal
Monday, April 21, 2003

The only app that Microsoft "pre-loads" is IE by virtue of it being used inside the shell in all their modern OSes. They definitely don't pre-load Word.

I agree that virtually all my apps are fast starting, not just Office. If Open Office is opening slow, that's because it is slow.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Monday, April 21, 2003

"The windows api has been published for years and years."

There still are portions of the Windows API that remain known only to Microsoft.  In fact, in court they specifically objected to having to reveal undocumented APIs because they claim doing so would compromise security.

T. Norman
Monday, April 21, 2003

Open Office (ooffice.bin), once loaded with nothing in it besides a static blank word processing page, requires 37MB of memory.  It takes about 30 seconds for ooffice to load on my 1.2GHz Linux laptop.

As a comparison, my editor, SlickEdit, takes 15MB of memory, yet loads in under 5 seconds - with previous projects (5) opened and  their state restored.

WinWord.exe (XP version) on our 2GHz WinXP loads almost instantaneously (impressive, was it already in cache?).  It requires (according to taskman.exe) 16MB of memory.  I have no idea whether the office task bar or other backgrounder type "load fast" services were running.

So, one has to wonder, what takes ooffice so long to load.  Well, the source is available for those who are really interested.  Not me...  I gave up WYGIWYG (sic) editors for lent - and I don't intend on going back.

Nat Ersoz
Tuesday, April 22, 2003

O, BTW.  Regardless of load speed, WYGIWYG editors seem to maintain their own random numbering schema when it comes to numbered lists.  Why is that?

Nat Ersoz
Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Netscape takes 15MB + (and that is without the mail program) It takes ages to load, and if you load the .dll's first that is what you take from memory. You lose it from the initial boot, or when you load netscape.

I don't know how fast Mozilla loads in Linux.

Ms did use tricks to get Office to start fast. It had all the code ready aligned, and would run the winalign program automatically for Office, whilst you would have to do it yourself, if you knew about it for other apps. Also the W98 defragmenter used to put the most frequently used .dll's at the front of the disk for quickest access time.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, April 22, 2003

"Manymany managers I've dealt with have issues with placing form over function"

Yes, but then so dome some software developers: "no, no, that variable name has to start with the letter 'i' because it is an integer". To be fair I like Hungarian too, but there's no point in being religious about it. Does it work? Can I follow what it is doing? Have you tested it thoroughly? Good, now go and check it in and get on to the next task.


Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Oh, and I forgot to say, yes I love Open Office as well. Runs like a racing greyhound (retired and put out to stud, with one doggy paw in the great boneyard in the sky), however.


Tuesday, April 22, 2003

What exactly is winalign? Any links would be helpful.

Alai
Tuesday, April 22, 2003

WinAlign.exe is a Windows 98 utility that aligns binary code in 4KB pages. The code must have been optimized in the first place I believe.

When you run Office 2000 on Win 98 you will see the computer reboot and then get a message about optimizing. What is happening is that the Office files are being aligned.

The tool comes with the Windows 98 resource kit, and there is ample documentation. I may add that I have tried to use it for other programs and never got them to work.

Win 2000 and Win XP work differently so the tool is not available.

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, April 22, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home