OOXML <–> ODF Converter

Monday, 2007-February-05 at 10:53 1 comment

Tim Anderson’s ITWriting – Tech writing blog » Open Document to Office Open XML converter: not good

I replaced Windows XP with Gentoo Linux on the computer that had Microsoft Office XP (2002) installed, so I have not been able to test the converter. I was surprised to see such enthusiasm about it, since the project’s own blog said that it wasn’t able to do a good job of conversion as recently as December 7th, because OOXML is not extensible enough. By this, they meant that using extension mechanisms is either not transparent to the user, or is dropped by Microsoft’s office applications (specifically Word).

Tim Anderson, whose previous article on the subject supports the idea of two standard file formats for office documents,does not change his mind here, but he does feel that this converter is not good enough yet:

  • The converter goes to ridiculous lengths to deter the use of ODF (ISO/IEC 26300:2006) as a default file format for Word—and by extension, for organizations that use Word—by insisting that the file first be saved (or re-saved) as OOXML before it will save as ODF. While editing an ODF file, you are actually working with a read-only file with the extension “_tmp.docx” until saving. After saving, further edits occur with a new temp file: documentname_tmp_tmp.docx, adding a new _tmp after each save and export operation.
  • The converter strips out styles, substituting explicit formatting for them. This means that many external applications which might process data from the document will no longer have a way to know that 14 point bold italic is a header, signifying that the following content is a logical unit. This is one of the reasons for going with XML: it describes the content in logical, meaning-based ways and separates the content from the presentation or appearance.

    I have to admit that most users of word processing software will highlight a line (paragraph) and change the appearance, rather than changing the style, so for many of them, there is no discernable difference. But if you have a business that relies on some application to fetch data from these kinds of documents and use it in some other process (such as producing “dashboard” reporting information for management), using this plugin just broke your processor.

  • Paragraph spacing. To me, this is minor, but if you use the converter, the spacing you have in one file format will be different from the spacing you have in the other file format. In large documents or complex documents, this could result in a significant increase in the number of pages.

Tim Anderson feels that the plugin is “not professional quality,” meaning that it falls below the standards set by Microsoft Office software. I have not used the plugin, so I cannot speak to that. However, his assessment sounds like it matches the standard set by Office 2003. As one who supports users of said software, I know that it seems like it goes out its way to prevent users from accomplishing their intended purposes.

I suggest waiting for the DaVinci plugin to be completed and released later this year. It will allow users to natively use OpenDocument Formats, even as the default file format, while preserving Microsoft-specific features in ODF files (and hopefully, specific features of other applications as well, including those which Microsoft Office does not understand or support). The ACME 376 demonstation is available now. (ACME 376 does not use ODF–it uses another XML-based format just to demonstrate what DaVinci can accomplish, because DaVinci uses ODF 1.2, which is slated for introduction later this year).

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1 Comment

  • 1. Tyson  |  Monday, 2007-February-12 at 10:55

    I have tried the mentioned converter, and I was shocked by how much was being lost in the conversion. A LOT of metadata isn’t passed on, some embedded objects aren’t passed on, it’s bare bones in the simplest way – it does just enough to create a portable file, but it doesn’t actually move the more useful stuff. It’ll move some OLE objects and respect a small amount of ActiveX, but it doesn’t even touch the annotations or macros. And you end up losing the VML drawings in the output, too.

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