OpenOffice ups and downs


In starting my PhD dissertation I had to make a difficult choice on what word processor to use. I’ve heard bad things about Microsoft Word’s ability to handle large documents, and I have always disliked it because of the limited ways in which you can format paragraphs. The importance of tweaking different paragraph parameters and using consistent styles is something I really learned in Adobe Framemaker, which still remains my favorite program. I decided against it, however, in part because of problems with portability (converting to/from Word is a nightmare and some times you need to submit documents in .doc), but the thing that tipped the scale was something as simple as not being able to do multiple undos in the framemaker version I’ve got, and my current university not having a license for newer versions. So, I decided to go with Openoffice. I was extremely happy to find out that Openoffice offered many of the same formatting options that Framemaker does, and also heard good things about the way it handles large documents. Some months later, I’m starting to regret the choice, however. As with Framemaker’s achilles heal, the devil is in the details:

  • Openoffice does not allow you to view two pages side by side while editing. This is frustrating as hell.
  • Openoffice does not allow you to cross-reference autonumbered paragraphs. This works like a charm in Framemaker, but in Openoffice you have to manually ‘set reference’ everywhere you want to point a cross-reference to.
  • An imported image was suddenly lost from my document. Might be just a case of “shit happens”but trust is everything in this business, and I thereby lost a big chunk of it.

So, now I’m dreading that I some time in the future have to give up on openoffice and spend a lot of time transferring my document, formatting and all, to whatever I end up with. Oh well. As we say in Norway” “That time, that sorrow”. If anyone have experience with pros and cons of differen word processor when it comes to large documents, I’d be happy to hear about them.

Update, February 21, 2008:
I’m back with Microsoft Word. What did it for me was that I, after so many years of doing manual referencing, finally discovered that Endnote actually is a great program. I think I used to perceive Endnote in the same way that I perceived user manuals from IKEA, but I’m over that now. What makes Endnote great, however, is the seamless integration with Word and that’s what won me over. Strange how it somehow feels bad to “give in” to Microsoft.

Update, April 23, 2008
I somehow knew this was an ongoing process. I’m still with Word, but recently upgraded to Word 2007 and finally I’m starting to feel confident. I’ve seen reviews that its ability to handle large documents is vastly improved, the layout is much better, endnote integration (see above) even more seamless, and, at the end of the day, it just gives provides the reliability I need. Apperently, Microsoft isn’t all bad. Still, as a computer ethicist I somehow feel bad bad about relying on Microsoft (I’m also an avid user of Outlook [!]) — and for thinking that Google is the best thing that has happened to the Web.

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