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Five Reasons Not to Use OpenOffice

Translators using OpenOffice must be prepared for compatibility problemsIn 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.

Features

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.

Efficiency

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.

8 comments

  • Hello, Roman,
    As soon as you mention CodeZapper on this page, I thought I may also interest you in a tool of my own called Document Cleaner (part of TransTools for Word add-in, distributed as free software). Document Cleaner integrates a number of commands for cleaning badly formatted documents, mostly documents converted from PDFs or image scans. Under the Reformat tab of this tool, you can choose various options for removing tags from a Word document. The latest version published today has some interesting functionality complementing CodeZapper’s: it can remove character styles while retaining direct (visible) formatting, and it can level the font face or font size of the text in a paragraph, effectively retaining only one font face or font size in the paragraph. This is very convenient in documents obtained from scans, as OCR tools may often use several fonts or font sizes in a given paragraph, and character styles are only used in human-authored documents.
    For more information about Document Cleaner, go to http://www.translatortools.net/word-doccleaner.html . Recent additions to TransTools are covered here: http://www.translatortools.net/news/features_v2.2.html
    Best regards,
    Stanislav

    • Hello Stanislav,
      Thank you very much for reading our blog and your comment. I will read about Document Cleaner. I am sure it will be very useful. Thank you once again.

  • Hi Roman,

    Basically you are saying that MSO is better than OO because it has a better compatibility level with the tools especially developed to clean up bad formatting produced by MSO 😉

    Cheers,

    Alexandre

    • Hi Alexandre,
      Perhaps, there is misunderstanding between us. What I mean is that OO and MS Word aren’t really compatible. If you’re going to deliver translated DOCX, I recommend using only MS Office to process DOCX.
      Yours sincerely,
      Roman

  • Thanks Roman for your answer.

    Libre Office is known to have some issues at outputting DOCX files while AFAIK Apache OO currently does not even try. However both do a close to perfect job of opening them and converting them to DOC, or much better to ODT, which does not make you an hostage of whatever company. I am not an opponent to closed source software, only to proprietary formats or unnecessarily complicated pseudo open formats like DOCX. They are specifically designed to hinder progress by making it almost impossible for (often superior) rival products to compete with the market leader. So IMHO the faster people will switch to open formats the better it will be for the whole industry.

    On the ground of translation, OmegaT does a perfect job of opening and saving OOXML (DOCX, XLSX and PPTX) files, even complex ones, because it does not need to cope with the overly complex specs as it just clones them. Though I never did it personally, using one of the above tools prior to opening them in OmegaT is said to clean up the tag forest in the bad DOCXs and improve your experience in OmegaT. So to translate DOCX files you definitely don’t need Word. I agree however that you will need Word if your must perform DTP on the DOCX output by OmegaT while retaining the DOCX format for your client. AFAIK, it is the only case.

    Cheers and congratulations for your helpful blog,

    Alexandre

    • Aah, I see your point now. Makes perfect sense. Let’s hope that MS will make it easier for other tools to process DOCX eventually.
      And thanks for the kind words. It is a pleasure to share and discuss some of the thoughts and best practices that I have with the like-minded people like yourself.
      Cheers,
      Roman

  • znatok says:

    Я использую ОпенОфис (безустановочный) для открытия файлов DOCX, XLSX. Та как мой Microsoft офис НЕ открывает такие типы файлов.

    Другие пользователи принципиально не пользуются опен офисом и вынуждены ставить ломанную версию, чтоб открывать файлы DOCX, XLSX, хотя было проще своих ‘товарище’ попросить сохранить в другом формате.

    • Здравствуйте!
      Спасибо за комментарий.
      Мое личное мнение такое, что регулярно просить заказчика пересохранить в другом формате — не очень профессионально.
      Если уж человек берется за коммерческую деятельность, то неплохо бы потрудиться обзавестись нужным для этого инструментами, а не «занимать» их каждый раз. 🙂
      С уважением,
      Роман

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About the Author

Roman Mironov
Roman Mironov
CEO & Founder

As the founder of Velior, Roman has had the privilege of being able to turn his passion for languages into a business. He has over 15 years of experience in the translation industry. Roman has helped dozens of clients increase sales by making their products appealing for speakers of other languages.