Friday, June 15, 2007

UPDATE: More on Open Office

Now that I've been using Open Office for a couple of days, I have a few more comments on the user experience and about the quirks to this program which may take some getting used to for MS Office users :)
  • Even in its Windows version, this is very much a Linux-inspired program, so certain things like file names are set up a bit differently. Linux must dislike multi-word file names, because every bit associated with this program used the_underscore when naming files which are more than one word long. I wonder, if one changed them to Windows standard and then tried to migrate to Linux, if this would be a problem.
  • The Gallery is extremely non-intuitive to configure. As I said in my previous review, I do think most people don't really use clip art anymore. But just the same, a few little tweaks would make this neat little applet much more workable. I think it should operate as the templates do: those have a directory in your program files, and if I add a folder to it, for example, 'letters,' then 'letters' will show up in the program as one of my template choices, and anything added to that folder will automatically appear in the list. The Gallery, in contrast, requires you to set up a new 'theme' from within the program and then right-click to access a hidden menu which will allow you to add files. If you add files to the actual folder the new theme creates, they will not appear in the Gallery. Also, there were a few Gallery themes it came with which could not be deleted. I did finally realize that they could at least be renamed, so I renamed them to themes I had planned to add anyway and filled them with my own stuff. But again, this was needlessly clunky, and managing the whole thing using folders would ne so much easier.
  • Certain keys do not function the same way. For example, I could right-click while in the 'open files' dialog to delete a file, but I couldn't do that when in the 'open a template' dialog. And you can't use backpspace or delete to erase a table in your document---the only way to do that is via selecting the 'delete table' command from a menu. Also, I really miss the ability to customize toolbars via the right-click. In Open Office, you have to go through a menu command and then click on two buttons before it will let you get to that stage. I did finally get the job done, but again, needlessly clunky!
  • The page layout capabilities in Writer turned out to be, on experimentation, fairly robust. I was able to create multi-column layouts using both tables and frames, mix graphics with text and do simple and medium-complexity layouts. Handling text wrap was a little fiddly (the command to adjust the settings and margins on the wrap were a little more buried than I felt they should have been) and I spent several minutes trying in vain to select more than one picture object at once to group them. I finally opened up Draw and got it done quickly and easily, then pasted my grouped graphic back into Writer. I had been hoping to uninstall Draw as I don't think I would use it much, but I suppose I have to keep it around now :)
  • The context toolbars which popped up for various tasks were generally handy, but imho could be managed better. For example, a picture popped up TWO toolbars, one for 'picture' and one for 'frame.' A bit of screen clutter :) I would have rather had a fixed spot in the toolbar which would change depending on the context, as in the old Wordperfect version I once had. They had the two main toolbars, and then one underneath it whose contents would adjust depending on the context.
  • I am still not happy with the language handling. I really do miss the auto-detect on language that MS Word has, and I think it is a big problem that the spell-checker does not correct accent mistakes (i.e. if the word is missing an accent, but otherwise correct, it doesn't flag it). I miss being able to set my own keyboard shortcuts for accents (there is a macro for Open Office which claims to do this, but I could not get it working and it made the program crash) and I wish I could have shortcut buttons for specific characters and therefore bypass the giant, cluttered 'insert special character' thing.
  • There are not as many page view options available. Specifically, the 'normal' view in MS Word is not there. There is only 'print layout' and 'web layout.' I find the 'normal' view a bit less fatiguing on the eyes, but I am not sure its absence is a fatal flaw for me. MS Word does have other interesting layout options (the 'reading layout' which lets you read your document e-book style is kind of neat) and this might be an area for Open Office to expand on in the future. But as I said, not a fatal flaw.
  • Minor annoyances with a few program crashes when I tried to install a macro add-in, and apparently I will have to uninstall the whole thing and start again if I want to upgrade to a new version. But perhaps by the time the next version comes out, they will have a patch-based upgrader available, or at least, some way to preserve custom settings. One hopes that each upgrade will offer some sort of useful improvement...
  • Of the good: the program loads much faster than MS Office, thanks to the quick loader add-in. It does make the computer's start-up time a little slower, but that's a small price to pay. If I try and load Open Office the conventional way (using a desktop shortcut) its start-up is on par (or perhaps a tiny bit slower) than MS Office. But if I use the quick loader, it's almost instant. That's very nice. Also, I like the template handlinga lot better (and have actually installed more templates than I currently have in MS Word). I think they would benefit from a more centralized template library where users could easily contribute content. They do have a small template section on the Open Office home page, but the only wayto add to it is to email some guy. I don't think a slick, massive archive like the Microsoft one should necessarily be a development priority given other issues they are working on, but it can't be that hard to set up a template page on the main site with some sort of automated submission tool...
  • Of the good 2: Page layout is much easier in Open Office than in MS Word. Except for the graphics problem already mentioned, it was a much speedier and smoother process to lay out different elements on the page. I did at first miss the slickness of MS Publisher, but on the other hand, I have seen many a sign or poster in my day that was so obviously created that way thatt here is something to be said for doing it yourself and opting out of the homogenizing blandness. Still...MS Publisher's one-click simplicity to change the background or border or page size or whatever, is very handy. That's why perhaps Open Office might benefit from a more dedicated desktop publishing application.
  • Verdict: For me, Open Office can easily replace Powerpoint (which I hardly ever use) and Excel (although I do miss the tab colours a tiny bit). Quirks aside, I like working in Writer. It's more fun to fiddle with than MS Word, and a little more adjustable. But...I will probably keep MS Word around for my French work. I can live with the clunky customization, limited page view options and finicky right-click settings. They really are minor annoyances when compared with the ease of use overall, and the advantage Writer has as far as Gallry integration, page layout, speediness thanks to the quick launch, and general customization. But...the language handling is terrible. It's far too much effort to change back and forth, and the spell-check not flagging accent mistakes is inexcusable. So, for me, Open Office will not, for now, be the complete MS Office replacement I thought it would be. I'll use it, happily, for my more general needs. But I'll need to keep MS Word around for the time being.



At 4:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You make a few very interesting observations there, and I hope someone in the OpenOffice team is reading.

But I'm puzzled how you manage to get the thing to crash so often. I only had it crash once (in about five years of nearly daily use), and that was because I foolishly tried to open a damaged Word document. Granted, I use the Linux version, but it should be largely the same code base as the Windows one so I see no reason for its crashing so often on your machine.

What version were you using?

I believe that the rather unwieldy interface is one of the biggest weak points. Once you manage to win a wrestling match against that, you're very efficient in all of OpenOffice's applications.

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