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Softpanorama MS Office Bulletin,2002

Oasis aims to create office document standard

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS, has created a technical committee that will attempt to conform data stored in office documents to a standard file format based on XML, it announced Wednesday.

One of the goals of the group, called the Open Office XML Format Technical Committee, is to free corporate data from proprietary file formats so they can be accessed for years to come no matter what office software a company is using. Proponents contend that companies are currently saving data in proprietary file formats, such as those written in Microsoft's Word software, and locking themselves into using that software indefinitely.

"This solves a number of problems for enterprises," said Simon Phipps, chief technology evangelist at Sun Microsystems, which is an initial member of the technical committee. "It means that their data becomes machine readable without having to commit to a single vendor."

Corel Corp., which makes the word processing software Word Perfect, is also an initial member of the technical committee, and said it could benefit from such a standard. Other members include content management software maker Arbortext Inc. and The Boeing Co. Boeing has a stake in office document standards as it is bound by government regulations to create and archive an immense amount of data such as manuals.

OpenOffice.org, the open source project that developed the office suite of the same name, has contributed its published list of XML-based office file formats to the group, with hopes that it will help provide the foundation for a standard. OpenOffice.org's software is sold by Sun as StarOffice.

"Conceptually what they're talking about is very important," said Tim Bajarin, president of research company Creative Strategies, in Campbell, Calif.

Creating an open office file format suggests that documents created in an application that supports that file format could be opened in other applications that support it as well. A document written using Corel Corp.'s Word Perfect, for example, could be opened in StarOffice without affecting the layout or formatting.

"In theory, that's the visionary goal of trying to go to a single set of file structures for documents," Bajarin said. "It's possible to do it; the problem is (that) in order for it to work, you're going to have to get a lot of cross-industry cooperation.

"That's a little less certain because you're going to have to get Microsoft to sign on to this," he said.

Microsoft, which dominates the office software market with its Office suite, is a member of OASIS. Microsoft is aware of the technical committee but will not initially take part, a spokesman from a Microsoft outside public relations firm said in an e-mail message Wednesday. The company has announced recently that the next version of its Office suite, Office 11, will be heavily reliant on XML.

Microsoft already supports an XML-based technology being developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, called XSD, the spokesman wrote. "What this means is that anything the OASIS group comes up with that's based on XSD 1.0 will already work with Office 11," he wrote in the e-mail message.

Sun's Phipps said that more specific industry standards need to be agreed upon in order to allow companies to ensure that they will be able to share data in new and important ways, and access it years from now.

"All the document formats out there are proprietary and undocumented," Phipps noted. "That severely limits what you can do."

Linux Today - Washington Post The Office Suite That Lets You See Past Redmond

Next week, Sun Microsystems will release a shrink-wrapped version of OpenOffice, called StarOffice 6.0, for "under $100." Sun's version will include a database program, extra fonts and clip art, support for more file formats (notably, WordPerfect), and better support and training. Otherwise, the two suites are identical -- OpenOffice itself was born in the summer of 2000, when Sun decided to move StarOffice to an open-source license that would allow anybody to read and improve its source code.

Much of the Internet runs on software developed this way, but this strategy is still unusual in a cross-platform office suite.

The results, however, shouldn't look or feel odd to Microsoft users.

I spent most of my time in OpenOffice's Writer program, as I expect most home users would. Its menus trace an arc of commands that should make any Word veteran feel at home, offering all the usual tools and options -- the ability to select separate blocks of text for simultaneous copying, deleting or formatting, page-layout and drawing tools, a formatting wizard, mail merge, revision tracking, footnoting, outlining, HTML export and more.

OpenOffice even starts up with many of the same auto-format mechanisms as Word, plus a pop-up alert that appears when one of them activates (click it and a full-screen window appears to tell how to control that feature). This sort of automation was just as annoying in OpenOffice as in Microsoft Office, but it was also just as quick to shut off.

For all its mimicry, OpenOffice manages to improve on Microsoft's dismal usability in some small, helpful ways. It adds a vertical tool bar, like WordPerfect's, for common shortcuts, and a floating window, like in Microsoft's Office v.X for the Mac, for paragraph styles. OpenOffice's font menu shows each font in its native typeface. You don't have to remember separate keyboard shortcuts to find and replace text. The thesaurus isn't hidden behind a sub-menu. And so on -- it's like using Word after I've spent 30 minutes rearranging its interface.

This program's one real failing as a writing tool is its word-count function, which is concealed inside the File menu and can't measure selected text, just the entire document.

The OpenOffice suite opened every Word, Excel and PowerPoint file I tried. Most looked identical or nearly so. One even looked better than in Word -- OpenOffice showed an embedded author's note without my having to turn on the revision-tracking option.

The exceptions were all at the margins and never kept me from a document's substance. The graphics in a few letterheads came out misaligned or shrunken, a moderately ornate résumé appeared with bogus indents, an expense-form spreadsheet no longer fit on one page, and some PowerPoint presentations lost a 3-D effect or a thumbnail image.

OpenOffice's developers still have work to do here. But let's be realistic, too: In the untidy world of different program versions, settings and fonts, the only way to guarantee perfect reproduction is to save a file in Portable Document Format.

You can set OpenOffice to save in Microsoft's formats exclusively, or you can use its own, more efficient file format -- which OpenOffice's developers have documented online, so other programmers can support it in their own software.

OpenOffice's worst trade-off is its performance. On the sclerotic PC I use at work, it sometimes took as long as seven seconds to open a new window, and selecting and moving text could get jerky. Parts of this suite just feel too complicated and clumsy for everyday use. You know, like Microsoft Office.

Free and adequate looks enticing compared with expensive and adequate. I also suspect OpenOffice's developers will find and fix problems quicker than Microsoft could.

One example: I was annoyed enough by the limited, hidden word-count function to file a feature request at the OpenOffice.org Web site. Two days later, I saw that my report had been assigned a tracking number and a programmer, with his e-mail address listed.

Rufus Polson - Subject: If you want blazing speed ( May 14, 2002, 17:01:19 )
Use Abiword. Comes up in a flash. On Windows too. Scrolls like blazes. Reads Word docs pretty darn well.
What we really need is top-of-the-line filters between OO and Abi; shouldn't be hard, they're both well-specified XML. Then you could use those together as a one-two punch. When you need to use complicated, extensive features you use OO, when you want to do something simpler with an effortless feel, you use Abi. Although actually, Abi's features are coming along--I'll be really interested to see 1.2.
Rufus

 

Rick Moen - Subject: Word Perfect format: a solution ( May 14, 2002, 23:35:38 )
Serendipitously, I happen to have a solution to one of the missing pieces: A friend of mine persists in sending me recent-version Word Perfect documents, so, rather than either chase down the discontinued (and proprietary) winelib-port Word Perfect 9 from Corel Office 2000 or try to get the older gratis-x86-binary-only xwp 8.0 running again, I looked around for a reasonable open-source solution.

And found one: wp2latex, http://www.penguin.cz/~fojtik/wp2latex/

Unpack the tarball, cd into the top of it, and then into sources.cc, set OSTYPE=linux, type "make", su to root, and type "make install". You now have a (so far) highly reliable way to get to Word Perfect contents with the markup intact and available for conversion to any other format. High recommendation.
 

Best Regards,
Rick Moen
rick@linuxmafia.com



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