In this article, I’m taking a hard look at OpenOffice (by OO I mean both Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice). I like OO just as I like Ubuntu. Who doesn’t like great things that come free of charge? But I’ve found that although OO is perfect for less mission-critical work such as home use, Microsoft Office is a better choice for a production environment at a translation agency.
Compatibility: Word files
This is the single most important consideration. We receive many files for translation in the Microsoft Office formats, namely DOCX and XLSX. OO does support these formats, but when it comes to more complex formatting, this support is in name only. I used to believe we could accept files as DOCX, translate them with OmegaT, do the DTP with OO, and then deliver this OO’s flavor of DOCX, hoping these translated documents would open at the client’s end in Word just fine. But in reality, we couldn’t get away with this. Opening the translated files in Word resulted in all kinds of problems. Even if we made just a minor text change in OO, it could affect the formatting in the entire file. In fact, it was the client’s complaint resulting from a minor change that made me realize enough was enough.
Compatibility: Other software
Since OO is less commonly used, it’s less compatible with other programs. One example is CodeZapper, an indispensable set of Word macros that cleans up the so-called “tag soup” in the Word files. Obviously, you can only use it with Word. If you’re going to rely on OO, you might have hard time finding a similar solution for OO that is as good as CodeZapper.
Word is supreme in terms of functionality. For instance, it offers more powerful document review functionality than OO. Word produces a much better comparison of two documents and enables convenient navigation between changes and notes.
Speed and reliability
Office is way faster than OO. Larger DOCX or XLSX files may take countless minutes to open in OO. It’s not uncommon for OO to crash on larger files, too.
Some translation companies might be okay with the above limitations. Indeed, they can get away with installing just a single copy of MS Office on one machine to finalize the translated documents. In fact, I had tried it myself until I realized this was too inefficient. The money I saved by not buying MS Office wasn’t worth the time lost due to compatibility issues and lower performance. This is especially true in a team environment where all of the team members need MS Office from time to time—having it on just one machine becomes a bottleneck in the workflow.
I realize MS Office isn’t cheap. But if you think beyond the short-term savings, it’s worth the investment. Until OO gets much better and faster, I’m sure that I’m better off using MS Office.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like my post about choosing between Ubuntu and Windows for translation purposes.