Microsoft compares OpenOffice.org Writer and MS Word

Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Oct 15, 2010 GMT
Bruce Byfield

Until now, I had somehow missed Microsoft's "Why Microsoft" videos, explaining why users should choose Microsoft Office over OpenOffice.org. The title of the series alone warns you to expect bias, but you might not expect are the high number of errors, omissions and misleading statements in the videos. In fact, there are so many that it took me over twenty minutes to view the six minute video on Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.org Writer, since I had to stop after almost every sentence to take notes about my problems with what was said.

The video's narrator, Jake Zborowski, a Senior Product Manager at Microsoft, starts by explaining that he is going to show you "a few of the many examples of what you miss when you choose OpenOffice.org over Microsoft Office." He goes on to compare Word and Writer in five areas: styles, visuals, search, spell-checking and grammar, and sharing documents. To make the video more personal, the narrator focuses on the experience of two users, Dave, an OpenOffice.org Writer user, and Holly, an MS Word user.

Styles

Styles are a strange area for the video to focus on, because, on the whole, Word is designed for manual formatting, while Writer is designed for styles. Not only does Writer have far more categories of styles than Word, but each style also contains far more options.

Unsurprisingly, though, these inconvenient facts are not mentioned in the video. Instead, it shows a few seconds of Dave using the Styles and Formatting floating window, and then moving to the toolbar to change a font size manually -- something that most people using styles would rarely do.

Then the video moves to Holly, stating that in Word she can apply styles without opening separate menus or toggling between separate screens. Actually, so can Dave in Writer, although the video doesn't acknowledge that. Other alleged advantages of Word include style previews (which are useless except for the most basic of character styles, and do not help with paragraph styles), and no clicking back and forth (never mind that the amount of clicking is roughly equal in both applications).

Another alleged advantage are document themes. It is true that Writer doesn't use the term, but themes are simply another implementation of templates, which do not come with most versions of OpenOffice.org, but are readily available for the download.

Visuals

Moving on, the video shows Dave in Writer struggling to customize the creation of bullet points along a curve. At least, that is what I think he is trying to do, but I can't be sure, because his efforts are given only a few seconds, and he seems to be doing something far more complicated on screen. Moreover, since he doesn't use list styles or wordart to make his life simpler, I can only conclude he is unfamiliar with Writer.

By contrast, Holly uses clipart to complete the task more quickly. What clipart has to do with the task is unclear. However, I am surprised that Microsoft misses the chance to point out that OpenOffice.org doesn't come with much clipart, or that the little that it includes is mostly useless. Perhaps Microsoft doesn't want anyone bringing up the fact that, although it has numerous pieces of clipart, they are mostly useless as well.

Searching

The video talks about only two options for OpenOffice.org's Find & Replace window, ignoring the obvious fact that more than two buttons in the dialog. According to the video, you can either move to each instance of a search one at a time, or highlight all the instances. No mention is made whatsoever of Writer's Navigator, which allows you to search by every object imaginable.

Switching to Word, though, you can be sure that praise is lavished on its Navigation pane, and its preview pane. Since Writer's Navigator isn't mentioned, there is no need for the video to mention that it doesn't need a preview, because it deals directly with the document.

Spell-checking and Grammar

The video accurately states that Writer lacks a grammar checker, and you have to download an extension if you want one. Strangely, it doesn't add that those extensions are not very good so far.

The video continues by praising automatic grammar correction. That may sound ideal to those who lack confidence in their command of the language, but in practice, it can lead users to accept mistakes unquestioningly. It also suggests that this feature can "save hours" of proofreading, although copy editing is mostly a matter of minutes given the size of the average documents people write, and always needs a manual scan no matter how sophisticated the tool -- and the MS Office grammar checker is so primitive as to be clumsy.

Sharing Documents

As the video is quick to point out, OpenOffice.org has no built-in email client. What it does not mention is that OpenOffice.org simply uses whatever your desktop's email client happens to be. In other words, sharing documents in Writer is not nearly as difficult as the video hints.

The narration is on safer ground when it adds that Writer is not automatically connected to a cloud for sharing documents, although these days that is easily overcome. The latest versions of Ubuntu even come with a menu link to Ubuntu One.

Admittedly, Writer lacks Microsoft Office's browser collaboration tool. Yet the narration is flagrantly inconsistent, stating that Microsoft Office does not lock you out of documents while someone else is editing, then seconds later saying that it locks you out of a section that is already being edited. Why it does not say instead that its locking is more flexible is beyond me.

Omissions and missed opportunities

Obviously, the video's script cherrypicks its points. Areas such as stability, the handling of long documents, or desktop publishing capacity are deliberately avoided -- which is hardly surprising, since MS Word does poorly in all these areas.

Yet the points that are chosen are somewhat baffling. It is true that grammar checking, out of the box clipart, and collaboration in the cloud are winning points for MS Word, yet neither its advantages or OpenOffice.org Writer's omissions are emphasized or detailed as strongly as they could easily be. Perhaps the reason is that, in practice, relatively few users care about such features. Is Word really so poorly designed that the video can find no stronger points to persuade people? I think it is, not just because I am biased in favor of free software (which I am), but because I am genuinely unable to find any.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader (as they say) to detail the problems with the other videos in the Why Microsoft series. However, I can tell you that they are no better. In general, the videos are so full of misinformation and misdirection that they can only convince someone who has never tried OpenOffice.org.

Apparently, Microsoft still hasn't heard all the jokes about its products and the ill-concealed hostility towards its policies. How else could the company imagine that, at this late date, it has even a scrap of credibility that would make its unsupported word convincing?

Comments

  • Office.org VS Microsoft

    Openoffice.org is an awesome free alternative to microsoft for starters. And I could not agree more with the previous blogger that the youtube video on this is totaly biased. However in addition to the video being biased, it is also contains some un-truthful things as far as options openoffice.org has. Usually free means not as good as the high priced name brand. Not this time openoffice.org wins hands down.
  • Open Office Writer unfavorables

    As a solo lawyer, working with OpenOffice since I first downloaded it two weeks ago, I see two problems with it that I have not been able to solve. ( I held on to Windows 2003 for as long as I could, but when I acquired new CPU's with Wndows7, I downloaded Open Office instead of Word 10.)
    1. As seems to be conceded on a tech-oriented Oo blog I saw, Oo Writer insists that when I am filling out a form, I make my entries in the the pop-up boxes. Oo Writer doesn't permit me simply to click on the field in the document and type away, as was the case in Word 2003 (and I presume also in Word 2010?)
    2. Oo Writer won't allow me to create a macro that will open a template. For example, in Word 2003 I had a template for my letterhead, and a macro that would open that template and then automatically insert today's date. Similarly, if I am using a table to keep a day-by-day log of activities, Oo Writer doesn't seem to have a macro or other shortcut method for adding a new row above, or for adding a new row above and automatically inserting today's date. Word 2003 would do that.
    Am I missing something in Oo?

  • Ommited PDF export

    They didn't talk about OOo being able to export to PDF... quite useful, eh?
  • check out the votes on the video

    Did you see that? Everybody votes as "Dislike" in YouTube.

    Also, they've disabled comments. They know it's gonna rain on them if they do. Their channel, also, regulates the comments.
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