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Computing Thoughts
OpenOffice 2.0 passes the first trial-by-fire
by Bruce Eckel
October 22, 2005
Summary
Up until now, whenever I've tried open-source Word clones with my books, they've collapsed to the floor, babbling and drooling.

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Admittedly, a book is about the most challenging thing I can throw at it, so maybe it's not fair for those who are just typing a memo or letter or report now and then. But for me, it's not even worth thinking about getting cozy with a product unless it can deal with a book. In fact, I had kind of given up on ever seeing an open-source tool that could do it.

In addition, there's the challenge of converting from Word. My books are Word documents, formatted for camera-ready output. Previous versions of OpenOffice were the only things I had experienced that could even open one of my book documents without crashing, but the formatting was always trashed by the time they were done.

So I naturally assumed that OpenOffice 2.0 was going to be a similar experience, and I was rather amazed when it wasn't. It opened Thinking in Java, fourth edition and the formatting was nearly perfect. It appears that there were tiny things here and there, but at this point my assumption is that, if you are creating documents in OpenOffice 2.0 and working all the time with it, you'd probably be able to deal with those. It even seemed to handle the indexing and table of contents OK.

Another interesting result was the size of the document. The Word document is almost 10 MB, whereas the native OpenOffice format is 1.6 MB.

I tried outputting to PDF, and there were a few bumps here and there -- again, I assume that if you were working with it all the time you'd be able to sort those out. And it was much faster to output to PDF than Adobe Acrobat (although I didn't see some of the features that I need, such as being able to adjust for press quality; they may be there, I didn't look very hard).

I tried to look at the macros, because I use macros a lot in book development, and it wasn't clear that they had come through successfully with the book. However, the ability to write macros in Python, which OpenOffice supports, might just compensate for the loss of the VBA macros. (I actually use Python-COM whenever I can for Word document manipulation, which is usually a superior substitute for VBA).

Unfortunately, OpenOffice 2.0 failed when I tried to save the book in DocBook format. It didn't crash, just tried for awhile and then told me it couldn't do it. One of the appealing possibilities for book development is to be able to write Python programs to manipulate the document in XML, so this was a little disappointing. I suspect that it would be successful with less-complex documents, but I hope that they can fix this issue.

Before you point out that, finally, I should be able to switch to the Mac and have one of those lovely instant-on, instant off laptops (and the thought certainly crossed my mind), it appears that the UML diagramming tool of choice is Enterprise Architect, which as far as I know only runs on Windows boxes. Oh well.

So I think they've passed a milestone, at least according to my tests. If it can at least haul itself through my hoops, then it should be ready for normal use by the vast majority of users. Congratulations to the OpenOffice team!

PS: The "Impress" PowerPoint clone also seems to have improved, although the one feature that I had hoped for more with -- the export to Flash SWF files -- doesn't seem to have changed from the previous version. In particular, when I put Media Player objects into the slides, these didn't export to SWF in a way that they would actually play the sound. I think fixing this would be a great contribution, because then you could capture the slides and audio of a presentation and distribute it in Flash format so people could easily view it.

PPS: they have some kind of bug in their file browser; especially when you go to "My Computer" it can slow down and hang.

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About the Blogger

Bruce Eckel (www.BruceEckel.com) provides development assistance in Python with user interfaces in Flex. He is the author of Thinking in Java (Prentice-Hall, 1998, 2nd Edition, 2000, 3rd Edition, 2003, 4th Edition, 2005), the Hands-On Java Seminar CD ROM (available on the Web site), Thinking in C++ (PH 1995; 2nd edition 2000, Volume 2 with Chuck Allison, 2003), C++ Inside & Out (Osborne/McGraw-Hill 1993), among others. He's given hundreds of presentations throughout the world, published over 150 articles in numerous magazines, was a founding member of the ANSI/ISO C++ committee and speaks regularly at conferences.

This weblog entry is Copyright © 2005 Bruce Eckel. All rights reserved.

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