OpenOffice

I’ve finally started to get on the OpenOffice bandwagon. I’ve been using the Microsoft Office suite for about 15 years, and I generally like Office (except for Outlook, which is more annoying than an annoying thing that is annoying). I’ve certainly heard any number of complaints about Office, but I haven’t really shared them.

The transition has had the predictable rough patches. I’m a keyboard shortcut person, and know that in Word, for example, that I can make the current paragraph into a level 1 heading using Ctrl+Alt+1. I haven’t been able to find equivalent shortcuts in OpenOffice Write. Word open HTML documents, and allow me to save them as Word docs, whereas once a document is HTML, OpenOffice doesn’t seem to allow you to make it a Write document.

But on the other hand, some of the things that attract me to OpenOffice are its availability, its freeness, and its extensibility. And free should not be undervalued. I was pricing a new Dell laptop a week ago, and realized that adding the Professional version of Office to my laptop was going to add over CAD $400 to the total cost of the machine. That’s more than I think I’m willing to pay.

But my imagination is really fired on extensibility. For example, there’s a freeware filter that allows you to import SVG objects into OpenOffice Draw. I love SVG, and so I had to try it out.

The filter appears to mostly be a Java jar file. Hey, that’s my skillset! Maybe I can extend OpenOffice.

If I can extend OpenOffice, then I start imagining what I can do with a good editor. Like compose blog entries. Suppose I open OpenOffice, compose my blog entries (complete with WYSIWYG editing and red squiggly-line spell-checking) and then click a button to post the entry here. Apparently, I’m not the first person to think of this idea.

This kind of idea comes up a lot in Content Management solutions. Imagine a newspaper: the journalist writes a story in Word, and submits it to the content management system. After a quick editorial review, it’s posted on the newspaper’s web site. Somewhere in there a conversion has to happen. Word in; HTML out.

I’m not anti-Office in the way that a lot of my friends are anti-Office. I’ve used and enjoyed Word, Powerpoint and Excel. But I have found the lack of easy ability to integrate those tools with solutions I’m building to be a hindrance.

To be clear, some companies are trying to help mitigate that integration problem. Here are two products that strike me as cool:

  1. Moyosoft’s Outlook Connector
  2. Davisor’s Offisor Word document to XML converter

I suppose if I were a VB programmer, I wouldn’t have that integration problem. But I’m not a VB programmer; I’m a Java programmer. And Microsoft has made it clear that they don’t want to play the Java game. Very well. If it’s hard to integrate Office, then maybe I should think about taking Office out of the equation.

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