Mac Office Software Problems

Recently I got a bit fed up of NeoOffice (a special Mac-only version of OpenOffice). It takes ages to open on my iMac. Sometimes more than 30 seconds, just to open a Word file. Seems excessive to me, especially when everything else on my Mac seems quick/efficient.

And it doesn’t handle tables very well. It also occasionally decides it’s going to print a portrait page in landscape. There must have been more to it, than that, because I recently got a bit fed up and started looking around for an alternative. Apparently I’m a bit behind the times.

When I first got a Mac, while there was a Mac-version of OpenOffice, it didn’t seem to be well recommended from the reviews I could find. Instead, they all recommended NeoOffice, which is how I came to be using it in the first place. Well it’s all change. OpenOffice now have a proper decent Mac version.

However, due to OpenOffice being bought by Oracle, and then left to hang around for ages, a lot of the OpenOffice development team went off with OpenOffice’s open-sourced code, and produced LibreOffice. It isn’t stealing – it’s their code to start with, or other freely available/editable code. LibreOffice is what comes as standard on several Linux distributions now, so it must be good, right? Because it’s based on the same code as OpenOffice, it also works on the Mac. Great.

My own initial tests went like this:

Opening a Word document: NeoOffice.

First time after switch-on: 31 seconds.
Second time: 8 seconds.

Why this happens, I’ve no idea. Completely quit NeoOffice and open it again, and it opens in 1/3rd of the time. Why?

Opening a Word document: LibreOffice.

First time after switch-on: 19 seconds.
Second time: 7 seconds.

That’s an improvement (although still bloody slow if you ask me), but spurred on by that, I thought I’d change LibreOffice as my default .doc-opener and trial it for a few days.

And then I started to find silly faults.

One of the biggest problem so far is bullet points. How can something like that cause so many problems?

Well this is what bullet points look like in Microsoft Word XP/2002 on a Windows laptop.

Well they look like bullet points to me. If I’m not mistaken, all normal and uniform.

I saved three copies of the same file. Open it in LibreOffice or OpenOffice, and they look like this.

What is that? It looks like a spider stealing a “W”. And different sizes.

Open the Word document in NeoOffice, and your instant reaction is probably “well that’s fine”.

But look a bit closer. Those bullet points aren’t all the same size either. Why is that third one from the bottom slightly smaller? WTF?

Weirder still, in LibreOffice, change the misunderstood bullet points to what LibreOffice understands to be bullet points. When you save it, and open it in Word, you get this:

Still not really working right, is it.

They look like little Mercedes badges. It’s not as weird as the spider-thief, but still not really what I wanted.

Bizarrely enough, open the Word file in NeoOffice, replace the mis-sized bullet-shaped points with what NeoOffice thinks of as bullet points, and save it. When you open it on Word, you get this:

If I’m not very much mistaken, those bullets are all the same size as each other. So NeoOffice can’t read Word XP’s bullets properly, but it can write ones that are uniformly-sized (albeit slightly smaller than normal), that Word can understand? Well that’s the best of a bad situation, really, isn’t it? One point to NeoOffice.

I went looking for more information on this problem, and found it here, here, and here. It’s something either to do with a bug in earlier versions of Word (but isn’t meant to affect Word XP), and/or a problem with the way OpenOffice/LibreOffice reads fonts (NeoOffice does them differently), and/or an incompatibility between the “Arial” font on the Mac and the “Arial” font on Windows (which can just as easily occur with any other font).

If you open the LibreOffice-opened Word file in NeoOffice (both on the Mac) (remember NeoOffice is a modified version of the same code that makes LibreOffice), the first set of bullets in the document are the mercedes badges, and the second bulleted list looks like this:

As far as borking goes, it’s quite a good bork. If I was a media student.

As an outside test, I uploaded the Word file to Google Docs, expecting it to screw the whole thing up. Surprisingly, it’s not bad. It replaced one heading with a numbered list (and I think the way I created that heading might be the problem there) for some reason, and took out a line return where there should have been one, but apart from that – flawless. Exactly as it looks on Word/Windows. So the fact that LibreOffice is running on a different operating system platform hardly cuts it really, does it.

I thought I’d take the Mac/Fonts/Word-software out of the equation. Create a brand new document in NeoOffice (on Mac), with some bullet points, and save it in Word format. Re-open in NeoOffice and it’s fine. Open it in LibreOffice (on the Mac), and we’re back to the spider W’s. Change them to LibreOffice bullet points, and save it. When you re-open it in NeoOffice, you’re back to Mercedes badges.

To simplify this further, if you create a new document in LibreOffice (on the Mac), make some bullet points, and save it as a .doc file, when you re-open it (immediately afterwards) in LibreOffice, the bullet points are now Mercedes badges.

The long and short of it is that OpenOffice/LibreOffice is no longer properly compatible with Word-format files.

N.B. And if you were wondering, if you upload the LibreOffice or NeoOffice files (that have had the bullet points re-set back to bullet points and then been saved again) to Google Docs, Google reads them fine. It also makes the same mistake with the one numbered list, and one line return. But Google Docs understands bullets correctly from Word, LibreOffice or NeoOffice.

And it’s not just bullet points.

I wrote the Word document in mostly 10pt Arial. On Word XP on Windows, web links and email addresses are 10pt Arial. I modified this on LibreOffice, and saved it. On LibreOffice, they show up as 10pt Arial. When I open this on my Windows laptop with Word though, these web links are now 12pt.

Well this looks stupid, doesn’t it. Open the same file on LibreOffice and it still thinks they’re 10pt.

If I change them back to 10pt on Word, open the document in LibreOffice (still thinks they’re 10pt), do nothing, and save-as the document over the top of itself, when I open it in Word, they’re back to 12pt again. This isn’t acceptable. I’m saving it as a Word file – so the chance of the person I’m emailing this document to actually using Word is extremely high, and I don’t want it to look wonky to them (as it’s my CV).

(If you were taking this in, and wondering, on Google Docs, the links are the same size as the rest of the line, like they’re meant to be.)

I guess I’ll have to stick with NeoOffice (slow as it is), or just use the laptop for any Word-duties, until I reach breaking point and/or can afford to buy Office for Mac. Or decide to bite the bullet and put all my trust in Google Docs.

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