A glance at text processors in contemporary office suits

17 09 2009


Last week I have participated in 3-days MS Word advanced training. I had already fairly good knowledge about word processing, typography and stuff like that. I knew LaTeX (which I used for my MSc thesis) and I’ve done some tutorials on OpenOffice writer. So what was the purpose of the training for me? I simply didn’t know how to do the same things in MS Word. Last time I used the MS text processor was around 1999 (and it was Word 97). I mastered other tools but didn’t know enough the most popular one!

In the article I focus on text processors but in some parts I cover more applications and even an office suite as a whole.

The more I knew–the less I liked

Before the training I had an image of OpenOffice as an almost compatible, almost working, almost good application that tries to reach the level of its commercial counterpart. However, during the training I have more and more realized that it’s just an opposite way. MS Word is an application with its legacy. Some not so clever ideas complicates life but the Word’s developers cannot just get rid of them. It’s backward compatibility that ties their hands. But what a paradox! — it’s also the backward compatibility that is a weakness of the text processor from Redmond. The day after the training I prepared a doc using Word 2002 (XP) and sent to another person equipped with the newest version–Word 2007. And guess what? Everything looks well except… numbering. All heading just lost their numbering. Just like that. At the same time, another person got the doc and opened it with Word 2003–everything was alright. Conclusion–you never know whether your work will look as you intended. Even if you still use an application with “Word” in title.

Will you mind Opening the Office?

While learning how to use advanced features of MS Word I compared them to analogical features in OpenOffice.org Writer. I really tried not to be too “open-source-rulez”-minded. But it was too obvious to me that MS Word cannot compete with Writer. I didn’t suppose the open source text processor is so much better than the commercial product. I’ll give you some  facts:

  • Adding a landscape-oriented page in your document:
    With MS Word you have to add section (couple of clicks) and set the page orientation (another bunch of clicks). Of course, don’t forget the fact that you have to take care of your page headers and footers–inserting a section breaks their flow.
    With OOo Writer–you click “landscape” page style twice. Done.
  • Managing fields:
    MS Word: CTRL+A to select whole doc, F9 to update all fields. Whoops–headings and footers didn’t refresh. Ok, change view, select all text (fields) in headers and footers, F9. Hmm… sections changes headers and footers, so repeat that for all sections. Uff.
    OOo Writer–Tools → Update → Update All. Done.
  • Editing styles–with MS Word you need about 25-33% more clicks to perform equivalent actions in OOo Writer.
  • Find more on your own 😉

Any disadvantages of OOo?

To remain (semi)-objective I will discuss disadvantages I found in OOo. I asked one person what do you dislike in OOo (Writer). The answer was: “It’s too 1999-ish. It looks still the same as it didn’t when I first time used it; and it lacks shiny colorful buttons”. In other words–it simply looks worse than Word. And I don’t think the project Renaissance is the best solution. But we will see.

I asked another friend what does he find unpleasant in OOo. He said he liked presentation prepared on Mac or with MS Office 2007 for being just “cute”. Those prepared with OOo Impress are… not impressing. And that’s true. In MS Office 2007 default rectangles, for instance, have sophisticated styles applied–rounded corners, background gradients, transparent shadows–they are all by default. Of course you can achieve similar (nevertheless–worse in my opinion) effects with OOo but you would spend much more time on styling the shapes than actually using them.

Finally, the thing I personally miss in OOo Writer. Poor–in my opinion–support for team work. The basic functionality, of course, exists. Again, it looks poorly. MS features such as bubbles with comments not only look prettier but are also more useful.


As you may notice, I didn’t even mention other office suites than MSO and OOo. In opposite to the browser market (still growing)–office suites market is more or less bipolar. Both office suits lack perfectionism, though. So why pay for that?