OpenDocument in SP 2 mostly useless

I actually wanted to do a whole series on Office 2007/OpenOffice 3 interoperability but it just didn’t work out. New developments, however, give me an opportunity to tackle on the more import parts: file formats.

Background information

Microsoft used a binary file format (doc/xsl/ppt) until Office 2003, then they switched to OOXML and now it is (docx/xslx/pptx). OpenOffice (OOo) has very good support for reading and writing the binary format. They have a rudimentary import filter for OOXML but it is nowhere near complete, having big gaps in such areas as SmartArt and others. Also, no export filter exists, OOo users have to use the binary format to send files back to Microsoft Office users (yes, they could now use ODF but not really, more on that later).

OOo uses ODF (odt/ods/odp) and this became an ISO standard. Microsoft promised OpenDocument support based on the current spec, which does lack some definition on formulas and OOo 3 is basing its file format on the not finalized newer version of OpenDocument.


So, Service Pack 2 for Office 2007 with OpenDocument support was released and many people are not happy. Apart from the obvious Excel blunder, several things are simply not supported, rather than ‘differently implemented.’

While these changes do send negative messages, OpenDocument is also option #4 under ‘Save as’, right after the native format, template and 97-03 DOC, which at least looks like good intentions. Amongst many other items, the Office help files (referenced when you export to ODF) point out that the following things are just dropped during the export: - Track Changes, collaborative editing is now quite difficult (the main point for not using PDF!). It’s a showstopper for my frequent group assignments.

  • Table of Contents is converted to text, which is more or less ok.
  • Page break sometimes breaks other fields.

Apart from these shortcomings, some acceptable, others not, and probably not fixed until SP 3, there are the things OpenOffice does not display right. Who’s fault these are is probably impossible to tell without consulting Oasis, Microsoft, Sun and then choosing an opinion at random. Here are a few I ran into when opening 3 documents in OpenOffice:

From Word

  • Table of Contents: every item on a singe page…your 30 page paper is now 75.
  • Formatting rules: inconsistenly applied. No consistency between “style” and overriding “font” definition.

From Excel

  • Formula bug: forget it.
  • No graphs:, only an OLE placeholder is shown, at least with a simple 3D bar chart.

From PowerPoint

  • Empty line items: show bullet points, on Office they are just greyed out when the line is actively selected and empty otherwise.
  • Default placeholders: sometimes present, especially when Master slides applied and not all fields used.
  • Indentations: have different settings, text thus is easily flowing over regions occupied by other things. Especially if paragraph indention has been modified by hand.

All these things are not terribly bad, most could probably be fixed in 1 or 2 revision of the respective software packages. The problem, however, is time. The next Office service pack could be years away and still not solve outstanding issues.

Even OpenOffice doesn’t have a major release until Fall (and let’s face it, major changes would be necessary) and i think there is at least somewhat of a case to be made to not water down the OpenOffice implementation just because Microsoft can’t do it right. Finally, these issues are only from Office to OpenOffice, at least a few problems, and likely many more, are also present when going from OpenOffice to Office.

It’s the browser wars all over again, and I still can’t exchange a presentation without relying on the doc format to even get close to be able to run it and not be embarrassed about what pops up on the screen.