back to article Microsoft doc formats are the bane of office suites on Linux, SoftMaker's Office 2021 beta may have a solution

SoftMaker's Office 2021 – a cross-platform office suite that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux – has hit public beta. SoftMaker Office features the classic trio of products: word processor (TextMaker), spreadsheet (PlanMaker), and presentation graphics (Presentations). It has been around for 30 years; this new version replaces …

  1. Dave 126 Silver badge

    It's 2020 for Pete's sake, and there is still no guarantee that a word processed file will display and print properly across different machines. In thirty years of office and home computers being mainstream this shit us stil

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      This is why PDF is still so popular as Postscript describes exactly how things should look.

      1. P. Lee Silver badge

        I find it interesting that so many people worry about print-formatting when we print so little.

        Standard productivity apps are easy to replace.

        Visio is harder, though edraw max worked as a drop in replacement for me.

        More problems exist in sharepoint. Also in the onedrive way of working. Cloud storage is integrating storage with applications, which breaks the tiered OS model. We’re back to the mainframe model where one vendor provides everything.

        More license bundling will ensure that you can’t make savings until you remove all ms software. MS is easy, but I despise such business practices.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          For visio replacement, gliffy is a good alternative

      2. tony2heads

        Re:PDF

        In our off we went wholly to google docs for their ability to share, but more technical stuff still goes through LaTeX. Final versions are kept in PDF

        1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Re:PDF

          > In our off we went wholly to google docs for their ability to share, but more technical stuff still goes through LaTeX. Final versions are kept in PDF

          Does Google docs let you export to PDF but silently exclude any embedded documents? If so then it is feature complete vis-a-vis Word.

          It's one of those things that really makes you want to bang your head against the wall. A developer at Microsoft sat down and wrote a routine to extract the icon image of an embedded file object and insert the image into the PDF being produced but it never once occurred to them that maybe, just maybe, the person doing the export might like the file(s) they carefully embedded into Word to be carefully embedded into the PDF as well?

        2. MachDiamond Silver badge

          Re: Re:PDF

          "In our off we went wholly to google docs for their ability to share,"

          The "share" part is that you are "sharing" all of your docs with Google. Not a particularly great idea. There are many other ways to coordinate documents across an organization that don't involve handing them over to a third party. When I worked in aerospace, this was exceptionally important.

      3. MachDiamond Silver badge

        "This is why PDF is still so popular as Postscript describes exactly how things should look."

        It also locks down the document so people you send it to can't make changes. This is a good thing.

    3. andy 103 Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Trust Office

      "there is still no guarantee that a word processed file will display and print properly across different machines"

      Yes, and it's exactly that reason why companies "trust Office" and therefore buy it - and nothing else. It's not an accident.

      Even the place I work at which is pretty forward-thinking has Office in case any clients send us files and we have trouble opening them. We ourselves don't particularly use it. But if you're a business there's a notion that you "need" it, for this exact reason.

      Nobody wants to be the one making a phone call "sorry, I couldn't open your file because (insert anti-Microsoft rant arguments) we run LibreOffice and, well, it just won't convert your file. Hello? Hello??"

      1. Len Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: Trust Office

        I think that's not a compatibility argument but rather a "No-one got fired for buying IBM" argument. People accept the incompatibility because it's a Microsoft product.

        When it comes to compatibility with Docx files it's usually Microsoft's own products that fare the worst. It's quite common for the same Word document to look different or have other issues between various versions of Word or between Word for Mac, Word for Windows and Office 365.

        It's no surprise that, after the dust had settled somewhat after format standardisation wars between ODF and OOXML, Microsoft had to admit that creating an open standard (as in documenting a standard that someone else must be able to implement) was much harder than they thought. There are plenty of examples where MS developers seem unable (or unwilling) to follow the OOXML standard. So even if other developers stick to Microsoft standards the documents still have issues in Word because MS developers don't stick to MS standards.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Trust Office

          Before I send anything for publishing I first have to load it into Word and check the formatting and then save it in a years old Word version format. This is not even unusual, it's hard to find any other way unless you pay more.

          I should just use Word in the first place so that I can save that time consuming step, but I'm steadfastly refusing.

          1. andy 103 Silver badge

            Re: Trust Office

            If you're doing anything for publishing you'd be better using PDF.

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

            2. Roland6 Silver badge

              Re: Trust Office

              But not all PDF readers are equal.

              Over the years I've found differences between Adobe, Nuance, FoxIT, ExpertPDF, Chrome...

              I think the best was finding that displaying an A4 document at full width on a 15" laptop screen in one caused some horrid (bad on the eyes) font display, reduce zoom by 5% and it displayed perfectly legible fonts.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Trust Office

                Yes there are differences. The browser PDF viewers are still catching up, and for non-RGB colors, gradients, blending etc. you're best off in Acrobat still. And form fields are the wild-west.

                But for general text, I'd be pretty surprised if you had layout issues these days. Stuff like anti-aliasing, font hinting and so on is entirely the preserve of the PDF viewer, but putting a glyph at the right point on the page is fairly trivial.

            3. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: Trust Office

              The publishers don't want pdf. They want older version of Word.

              Their people do the final formatting and layout is the reason.

              Every other step they do they charge for so no pdf.

        2. Zolko

          Re: Trust Office

          @Len: "It's quite common for the same Word document to look different or have other issues between various versions of Word or between Word for Mac, Word for Windows and Office 365."

          I wouldn't call it common, but the rule. And you haven't even touched the subject of Office in German, English, French, and having to exchange files between these MS-Word versions: tables in German are called "Tabelle" and when you open such a Word file on an English speaking MS-WORD and add another "Table" it will not increment correctly the reference number. Same if you have paragraphs and copy-paste across documents with different header settings: you'll have mixed layout for identical headers. And the next header might or might-not increment correctly.

          And we haven't talked about the ugly kerning, meaning that you can immediately recognise research thesis written in LaTeX or in Word.

          That a multi-billion company is not able, after 30 years of their top-selling flagship product, to produce a marginally usable Word processor speaks volumes about its overall capabilities.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @Zolko - Re: Trust Office

            Why would Microsoft bother making Word usable ? As it is right now it sells like hotcakes, they don't event have to go out and hunt for clients.

            1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
              Devil

              Re: @Zolko - Trust Office

              Judging by recent updates, they do actually seem to be making significant progress in making the whole of office unusable.

          2. veti Silver badge

            Re: Trust Office

            Ok, there's lots to criticise in MS Word, but to insinuate that it's "not (even) marginally usable" is just plain silly. Hundreds of millions of users worldwide struggle through the issues somehow. The evidence that it is at least marginally usable - is, frankly, much stronger than you could muster for any of its competitors.

            1. hmv Silver badge

              Re: Trust Office

              It really all depends on your definition of "usable". If that includes /quality/ printed output and you're picky about kerning, etc. then yes marginally usable is an appropriate phrase. If that includes managing /really/ big documents, then yes marginally usable is an appropriate phrase (there's always some bugger who refuses to use styles).

              As for competitors, I remember when $work switched from WordPerfect to Word (over the loud and furious objections from those who worked with documents the most) - there wasn't a consideration of any of the competitors.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @Len - Re: Trust Office

          Microsoft was never interested in developing an open standard, they only wanted to block adoption of an open standard. I would suggest to dig the Internet about the dirty details of Microsoft deeds on this matter.

      2. Shadow Systems Silver badge

        Re: Trust Office

        Andy, an employer I used to work for liked to use the ruse of "Our IT folks say your file is triggering virus warnings for some odd reason. Is there any way you can save it as something else like PDF & resend it? Thanks, we really appreciate it."

        The other person would save it as something else, resend it, & the productivity suite he used would then happily open the file.

        No anti-MS rant required, just use MS' security against itself! =-D

        1. Just Enough
          Facepalm

          Re: Trust Office

          "your file is triggering virus warnings for some odd reason"

          Sure. Lie to your customers that they may have an undetected virus infection. That's helpful and professional

      3. davcefai
        Devil

        Re: Trust Office

        I used to _love_ sending emails "Please resend in a more acceptable format" to a company that adopted every new iteration of MS Office the day it was released.

        Our company was, OTOH, very slow at adopting the new versions.

    4. Ilsa Loving

      Thank Microsoft

      You can thank Microsoft for that.

      You can't even trust Office to read its own files properly from one version to the next. I read way back when that office doesn't even have file formats per se. They're more like hibernate files for their memory structures, which makes compatibility damned near impossible.

      Even their OpenXML formats are a lie. They're basically just some XML that wraps those same hibernation entities.

  2. Dave 126 Silver badge

    It's 2020 for Pete's sake, and despite word processed documents being mainstream in the home and office for thirty years we still have no guarantee that a document will display and print properly. What the hell humanity?

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      It's more the case that after 30 years, people have still to realise that WYSIWIG is only true under a very limited number of circumstances.

      Word processors are not page-layout designers. They record the text and metadata (such as typeface, spacing, emphasis, etc), not the exact position of glyphs on virtual paper. It's more akin to HTML than SVG. You can only reproduce the document exactly if the printer supports exactly the same imaging area, the fonts are identical, kerning is handled in the same way, etc. Producing decent typography is very hard, particularly if you want to do it for a wide variety of languages. It's extremely unlikely you are ever going to get identical results on different platforms.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Nail, meet head.

        And from the article, there is no such thing as a complex, tightly formatted test document you can use to compare word processors. All it tests is the design of one specific release of one specific word processor and then demonstrates how that one is different to every other one. I'm sure I could create a "perfect" document in LibreWriter and then "demonstrate" how MSWord is incapable of displaying it "correctly. And that's not even taking into account of the fact that no one had the exact same selection of fonts to choose from unless they running a bog standard plain vanilla OS/Office app combo. Not only to people add extra fonts because they like them, but companies often mandate specific fonts for outgoing correspondence which others may not have at their end.

      2. Martin J Hooper

        That sounds like you would need Latex.

        That's a system of taking a text file with all the text and formatting information and running through a typesetter. No matter what operating system or printer you use it will generate a pdf that is the same no matter what you use to generate it.

        1. hmv Silver badge

          Or perhaps LyX which is an almost WYSIWIG word-processor with LaTeX underneath.

      3. BobChip
        Linux

        Having had to prepare many documents - fortunately in english language only - that would format properly and print out legibly in almost every country on earth (see weird Japanese paper sizes, for example, and note that the US rarely uses A4), I have reverted to creating documents in Libreoffice and exporting as PDF. This seems to perfectly in the great majority of cases. Else use Latex or a Pagemaker clone. You will hear quick enough if it comes out junk at the receivng end. Jump on a plane and take a paper copy with you if it is that important - and your boss will wear the cost....

  3. yoganmahew

    Everybody loves Remond

    [this message is intentionally left blank]

  4. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

    Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

    First of all, Libreoffice has the same option to use Microsoft XML or Opendocument XML, so I can't see what the big play is surrounding file formats.

    But moving on, we've had several clients where we've tried to help them save money by using LibreOffice. The best I can say is that some of them 'put up with it'. Every single end user has complained about documents either not formatting correctly, or when they send them to MS Office-using recipients, that they can't open documents properly (if at all). Our clients have tried, and are happy to pay a sub to Microsoft rather than struggle with the likes of LibreOffice.

    It's a great idea, but unless it's just for one person, and they never need to exchange documents with anyone, using alternatives to MS Office just isn't a viable option any more.

    And the prices that Softmaker charge are around the same as a personal MS Office subscription, so I can't see the advantage.

    I would love to be able to say to end users that they have an alternative (in a business setting), but there's an elephant in the room - Outlook. We have tried this time and time again, and practically nobody likes to use alternatives (e.g. Thunderbird). People like Outlook because it's virtually ubiquitous. No matter how similar to Outlook an alternative looks (e.g. eMclient), people just don't get on with it. This new Softmaker package doesn't include an Outlook replacement and people are going to wonder what the point of it is.

    Much as I hate the fact that Microsoft have a virtually total monopoly on Office apps, it is the first choice for the vast majority of business users.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

      Some of LO's problems with OOXML (Office OpenXML) are self-inflicted because it consistently produces files that do not comply with the specification. There is no need for this as the specification is freely available. It's inconsistent and often unclear but there is an ISO working group which maintains it and they are responsive to feedback.

      As the specification doesn't cover visual represenation itself directly there are always going to be differences, not least because the file format does not equal the object representation within the applications.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Charlie Clark - Re: Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

        You seem to be largely misinformed. I would suggest you to read some history about the Microsoft fight against ODF. Their so called OOXML specification contains hooks to some Windows internals which LibreOffice can not afford to implement for various reasons (for example, the platform independence). Microsoft went out of its way to convince people their format is open.

        1. veti Silver badge

          Re: @Charlie Clark - Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

          This is true, but it's also true that LibreOffice developers tend to try to work through specs and, when they encounter such ambiguities or inconsistencies, don't even think to ask the question - they'll quietly "resolve" it in some way that makes sense to them, sometimes without even noticing it.

          A more disciplined development community would insist on a culture of questioning and escalating issues until they could be authoritatively resolved, but that sort of discipline is precisely what LO lacks.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @Charlie Clark - Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

            Who would the LO developers escalate their questions with? Microsoft has no interest in reverse engineering their old formats for the benefit of competitors. The OOXML format was achieved by buying enough voting memberships on the rubber stamp ECMA vanity standards group board. Those bought-and-paid for members voted once and never returned.

            The reason for going through even that trifling trouble was the numerous countries worried that legal documents in Microsoft office format would eventually become unreliable from formatting interpretation changes and, with support of open source communities, pressed for an open standard. So Microsoft delivered an entirely useless open standard to check that item off the list and everyone realized that Microsoft would corrupt any process that might affect their income, no matter how much it cost and who they had to pay off.

            Read the OOXML format document. None of it describes how the document is rendered because all of the rendering is done with the hidden internals that Microsoft won't document. The charitable interpretation is that it accreted and no on in Microsoft ever bothered to document it; just a pile of ad hoc decisions and Microsoft would be embarrassed to admit to the world they do not have sufficient internal controls, potentially shaking confidence in their software in general.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @Charlie Clark - Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

              If I remember correctly Microsoft were actively trying to help Novell import their ooxml documents and render them correctly precisely so they could avoid accusations of it being a fraud.

              It took years and they could still not get a properly rendered document based on the specs.

              Don't know what happened to that project but I guess everyone forgot about open documents enough to care.

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

      It's a great idea, but unless it's just for one person, and they never need to exchange documents with anyone, using alternatives to MS Office just isn't a viable option any more.

      For someone who doesn't exclusively produce documents (not documentation, you'd be crazy to use M$ word for that) the Google offerings work pretty well.

      If, as a company, you subscribe to that ecosystem then Outlook and the rest of Office can mostly die off. Import/export is generally ok.

      Of course you'll still have accountants/management consultants who can't operate outside Excel, but remind them that they used to Lotus 123 and their eyes will light up in fond memories. They can learn a new system if they need to.

      1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

        Re: Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

        Myself, I'll use google docs and google sheets within my company because... it works. It does most of what I want most of the time, and I never need to share documents with other companies without converting them to PDF first anyway.

        But there's no way I could persuade any of our business customers to use it. They just want to use Word and Excel because they always have.

        My kids on the other hand, have been using Google Docs from school right through to university. They can't understand why anyone would try and write a thesis in Word.

        1. solv

          Re: Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

          Yep, exactly the same boat here.

          Use G suite for everything in my IT company, but I do have one basic subscription to Office365 for when someone sends me a horrible looking word document with fields and tables (fillable PDF's are so much easier or Google Forms, but I digress), and expects me to fill it out and send it back.

          Also my kids have all grown up using G suite for education at school - so they have no desire to use a clunky desktop office suite. My daughter just recently switched to a school that uses Office 365 and she hates it

    3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

      "And the prices that Softmaker charge are around the same as a personal MS Office subscription,"

      Personally, that's what I see as the biggest problem. Why can't I just outright buy a version and keep it? Why should I have to rent it? Yes, it's not a lot per month. But everything is heading to "....as a Service" these days and all those "small" monthly rental charges add up quickly and I still don't own anything at the end of it. Like all the new streaming services. You just know that in a few years, some will fall by the wayside or be bought up and we'll end up with a couple of big players who will charge what they like and lock you in with a choice of take it or leave it.

    4. DemeterLast

      Re: Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

      Somebody should find the date where Outlook became Microsoft's premier product instead of their OS or Office. It really has been their stalking horse for a long time. People just love their Outlook.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

        Yep, I've always loathed Outlook, but pretty much everyone I work with - including the IT department - is only, at best, dimly aware that there are other ways of handling email.

        And appointments.

        And room bookings.

        And to-do lists. And... well, admittedly it can get a bit complicated. But still, if Outlook could just be expunged forever from every computer in my employer's company, I'd be a happy bunny.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

      My company in Bangladesh migrated 1000+ desktop users to linux/Libreoffice. If everyone in the company migrates, no one worries about MS file formats. :)

    6. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

      First of all, Libreoffice has the same option to use Microsoft XML or Opendocument XML, so I can't see what the big play is surrounding file formats.

      The big play around file format is how well they are supported and how well the application interprets that file format and displays it. OO.o and Libreoffice provide support for Open XML, but it works in a different way to Microsoft Office and it can't display the file "cleanly", there are always minor differences between them on how things are displayed, so the formatting goes to pot.

      I've had presentation in PowerPoint that were displayed in OO.o or LO and the lines point to different objects on the page and the objects have moved as well! Word documents, the page formatting goes to pot, the ToC will say a section starts on page 12, which it does in Word, but due to formatting issues in LO, it will be on page 13 or 14 - the higher the page number the bigger the difference to where the ToC says things were and where they actually are.

      (The same goes in the other direction, of course.)

      If you are sharing documents with people, you really need to be on the same version of the same program - even version differences can cause formatting issues when swapping back and forth. I used Linux for a long time as my main workstation and worked with LO, but for documents that I had to share with clients (where I had to provide the original and not a PDF), I always had a Windows machine in the corner to check the formatting, before it went out. At some point, I was spending so much time correcting the formatting that I gave up and switched back to Windows and MS Office for document generation, because it saved time and I wasn't going to get a large, multi-thousand seat, client to switch from MS Office to LO, just because I wanted to use that.

    7. dajames Silver badge

      Re: Seems like a losing battle, and there's an elephant in the room

      ... using alternatives to MS Office just isn't a viable option any more.

      What do you mean "any more". I grant you that there are edge cases in which LO can't quite match MS Office's functionality, but these are becoming rarer and rarer as time goes by. I use LO almost exclusively and nobody ever complains that they can't use my documents in the MS equivalent. A few years ago that would not have been the case.

      ... there's an elephant in the room - Outlook. We have tried this time and time again, and practically nobody likes to use alternatives (e.g. Thunderbird). People like Outlook because it's virtually biquitous.

      People who are used to Outlook and know nothing else tend to dislike change ... but Outlook is a truly dreadful piece of software. It is really sad that there are only a few big-name EMail packages and this is one of the best the world can offer. Thunderbird is OK-ish ... Nothing really works.

  5. Malcolm 5

    "A permanent licence costs £44.90 per year" is that a contradiction?

    1. Hubert Cumberdale

      Obligatory XKCD

      I came here to say just that. Ah, I remember the days when you could pay for software just once. But hey, I guess all software is really software as a service...

      1. chivo243 Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Obligatory XKCD

        software as a sieve?

        1. swm Silver badge

          Re: Obligatory XKCD

          Originally, IBM gave away software (FORTRAN etc.) to sell their machines.

    2. Lazlo Woodbine Bronze badge

      I'm assuming the writer was confused.

      There is a one-off purchase of Softmaker Office Pro available, it's £86.99 and offers a very similar version to Softmaker Office Pro NX annual licence (£44.90 a year) but obviously you'll be stuck with the version you buy, no annual updates.

      https://www.softmaker.com/en/softmaker-office

      1. Glenturret Single Malt

        > you'll be stuck with the version you buy, no annual updates.

        I have been using SoftMaker 2018 for Windows at home (not a business) for several years now (and am currently testing the beta versions of SO2021). From time to time (for SO 2018 and its predecessors), I get an update at no additional cost. Formerly, this had to be downloaded and installed manually but nowadays it happens automatically.

        I also notice the following on the SoftMaker website:

        "Includes a free upgrade to SoftMaker Office Professional 2021 upon its release."

        I do not stretch the capabilities of the different programs to the limit and have found no problems of compatibility with Word or Excel either sending or receiving.

  6. Charlie Clark Silver badge

    Testing

    We copied the torture-test document to an Ubuntu system and tried opening it in both LibreOffice and TextMaker.

    Why? Much better to round trip the documents and compare the markup with something like the OOXML Productivity Tool.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not for me. Being tied to a subscription model is just like the M$ Office trap road map. Does your access to the software stop if you do not renew the subscription?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Q: Does your access to the software stop if you do not renew the subscription?

      Yes. At least my old corporate copy stopped working eventually, after leaving the company.

      Office noticed that the 'live' account I was using was no longer valid, and so would pop up a warning to renew my sub, or log in with a valid account. Attempts to change the login to a personal 'live' account, that had no O365 subscription, would fail (understandably) with an error.

      Office continued to work for something like 2 or 3 months (can't remember exactly, this was ~2 years ago), but with warnings. Eventually it refused to allow editing open documents, so I could still open documents (I used Word and Excel), but you could no longer edit them.

      I installed LO at that point.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "These experiments show that getting perfect reproduction of Office document formats on Linux is still not easy."

    "It is worth noting too that there is an interaction with the printer driver in word processor documents, so you will not necessarily get exactly the same appearance on different computers even with Word."

    Quite. And who really needs another proprietary document format?

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "These experiments show that getting perfect reproduction of Office document formats on Linux is still not easy."

      And, of course, the opposite is true.

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      You want portabililty? First kill all the font designers...

      I imagine that even a hypothetical Linux version of Microsoft Office would have trouble with one of the issues mentioned in the article: the chosen font does not exist on the destination PC. In fact, why bring Linux into it? Who here hasn't ever received a document that displayed terribly because the sender used a font that they only have on their system because of some random and unknown third-party package that they happen to have installed?

    3. NATTtrash Silver badge

      Be honest, it also comes down, for a very large part, to user complacency. For example...

      Yes, sure, Calibri is the standard font in MSO. But why is that an issue? Is it an exhaustive task to drop the .tff in ~/.fonts if you're on *nix? Or if licensing is an consideration, take Googles open Carlito, which is identical dimensionally, and activate LOs "Replacement Table". No "large and ugly" (yes it is) Liberation to be seen.

      After all, if you want to address it, so many things can/ have to be solved like this. Even if documents were produced by the same source. How many users have you encountered that really love that exotic font they always use? You just have to love the fact that all those US docs you always get never switch over to the default paper size you (your printer) use, right? Why not default to an ISO (216) paper size to begin with? Or the fact that the spelling your sender prefers (en_US) is carried forward in your documents (default: en_GB)? And yes, rejoice the busy bees that "lay out" a document with figures, captions, tables, and literature references (Error: internal document reference not found) which transform into an inquisitorial burning POS?

      Having said that, and sure that we can come up with many, many more daily pains, I'm surprised the presentation module wasn't investigated further. If there is ever a cesspit of creative fonts, layouts, wipes and transitions (!) and many more TIA inducing elements, it's presentations. And the fact that in the "presentation circuit" alternatives to PPT(x) are even more scarce than they are in the other Office docs application areas...

  9. izntmac

    Softmaker

    I have used SoftMaker Office on Windows and Linux for the past 10 years. I have had great luck with importing files in Word or Excel formats. I also love the fact that you can still have the traditional toolbar or classic menus style which I find more productive. There is also a tabbed interface you can use if you desire. The price of their products is reasonable and the the tech support is good. You are also not tied to the monthly or yearly subscription model like Microsoft Office is pushing. A good office suite.

    The disadvantages are that there is no cloud version. I also do not like the auto-hyphenation. This can be shut off though. Not a bad Office suite and one I am happy to use daily.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The disadvantages are that there is no cloud version

      That's an advantage in my book. Take your cloud service away and what then?

      Go somewhere where there is no internet (aka Mobile or WiFi) connectivity. I can take you to such a place just outside the M25 where this is true.

      What about if you are deep in the bowels of some tower block where there is limited connectivity?

      Or even inside a big metal container? such as a ship that just happens to be in the middle of the ocean? What price using a cloud service then eh?

      The answer to Life, The Universe and Everything is not 'The Cloud' (especially for everything).

      Yes, I have been bitten by cloudy stuff and the lack of connectivity. Made me look like a real plonker in front of the customer.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: The disadvantages are that there is no cloud version

        Having bought a many a grey market Office licence from the purveyor that's up a long big river for less than half the price of this product that will last me the life of the machines I install them on suits me fine.

        I had three years on this machine before I upgraded to Win10 & the old licence wouldn't validate. A trip up the river got me a new licence that validated & installed for less than the old ones cost.

        Yes they want me to sign in to get the cloud "benefits", but no thank you.

    2. Glenturret Single Malt

      Re: Softmaker

      I am glad to echo your comments about SoftMaker office but, unfortunately, hyphenation can only be switched off for the document you are currently working on, Permanent switch-off is not possible using the settings menu.

  10. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    This...

    one of a few occasions where the product feels dated

    given some of the websites that have recently gone all 'ribbony' which can take up 1/3rd of the screen then feeling dated is no bad thing.

    the real questions should be...

    - Does it work?

    - Am I productive with it? (or does it get in the way of me doing my job?)

  11. Pete 2

    The other bane ...

    > A permanent annual licence costs £44.90 per year

    ... is software subscriptions. Essentially holding your content to ransom.

    Software security is intended to stop outside agents from doing this without the user's consent. But people are forced to do this by legitimate companies.

    1. Danny Boyd Bronze badge

      Re: The other bane ...

      Nitpick: "annual" already means "per year".

  12. theOtherJT

    Technical solution to a philosophical problem...

    ...and therefore not a solution at all. People won't use things that aren't MS branded and that extends from the senior executive level right down to the bottom. I've run into this every place I've worked - even one that was actually under a policy to *only* use foss software at the time. The policy was simply ignored for the office staff because they would without exception simply down tools and refuse to work with anything that wasn't Word / Excel / Outlook. Outlook particularly. You'll prise outlook from an office drone's cold, dead hands.

    It literally does not matter how good an alternative is or isn't. There are office managers, and PA's and accountants and all other kinds of back-office staff who have been using MS office for their entire 20 year careers now, and they will not change unless absolutely forced to, and that's not going to happen because their managers are in exactly the same position.

    1. conscience

      Re: Technical solution to a philosophical problem...

      "they would without exception simply down tools and refuse to work with anything that wasn't Word / Excel / Outlook"

      They can also simply be fired for refusing to do their work, which may be no bad thing as the company would be far better off getting rid of the problematic deadwood and replacing them with better staff who are more willing to do whatever the company decides it needs.

  13. Hubert Cumberdale

    It's a losing battle

    I have a single Office Microsoft 365 subscription, and somehow my documents still display and print differently on my laptop and my desktop. If they can't get it right between two installs of the same version of the same software on the same licence on the same OS in the same house, what hope has anyone else got.

  14. BenDwire Silver badge
    Gimp

    LO Ribbon UI

    LibreOffice does have a ribbon UI if you really want it, and offers alternatives too. Personally I hate ribbon interfaces and much prefer a 'proper' menu system, so have no idea if they are any good or not.

  15. Steve Foster

    EBU 20B

    The compatibility issues aren't helped when the source document was poorly constructed in the first place. Back when I was playing bridge with regular partners, I spent some considerable effort on cleaning up the document so that I could reliably work on it with less of the sort of nonsense you've encountered. And that was just in Word itself.

  16. John 110

    Fonts

    Don't forget that a big problem was Microsoft moving to the proprietary C fonts in Office necessitating other office suites to either license or substitute. (and yes, the default LO Liberation fonts are a bit ugly...)

    1. WolfFan Silver badge

      Re: Fonts

      I rarely use Calibri or the other MS fonts. Many years ago I set my own font settings up, using fonts I like, and standardized it across the board. My Normal template bares little resemblance to the Normal template installed by a default Office install; the Normal style in it does not have Calibri, nor is it 11 point (an abomination) and does not have a trailing 8 point space after each paragraph. I use MS Office in large part because MS has made it easy to setup and update the styles and other items in the Normal template; LibreOffice has a ‘Load Styles’ feature, but it’s nowhere as easy to use as MS’s system, and really hates anything other than the Open Document formats. (Go on. Try to import styles into a DOCX file using LO; I’ll wait... not fun, eh?) Their ‘my way or the highway’ attitude means that I simply cannot use LO for documents which go to non-LO users. I have LO, but don’t use it as often as I would like, or as I’d planned, because it just doesn’t play nice with others. Mellel, for example, does a much better job of round-tripping Word files than LO. Mellel does a better job than Word sometimes does; Word 2013, 2016, and 2019 can have problems with Word 2007/2008 and 2010/2011 files, particularly when being moved from Windows to Mac or, worse, Mac to Windows. Unfortunately Mellel is only a word processor, and a Mac-only product, so it can’t be deployed universally. Even Pages does a better job than LO, and Apple went insane with the ‘updates’ after Pages 4. Pages is currently at version 10, and is still broken and probably will never be fixed because Apple likes it this way. You’ll notice than Pages, like LO, is free, but I pay actual money for MS Office and Mellel... (Note: whenever Apple releases a new version of Pages, I post a Apple Store review, listing its deficiencies. It’s amazing how fast my reviews are removed. It’s still better than LO...)

      1. James O'Shea

        Re: Fonts

        LibreOffice is clunky; it suffers from the "UI designed by a programmer without input from users" syndrome (The GIMP has that problem, too) and its main virtues are that it's free and runs on Inux, Mac, and Windows. LO's word processor is simply not as capable as Pages, or WordPerfect, or MS Word or... well or any other word processor on any platform that I've tried word processors on, going back to DEC All-In-1 on a VAX, though admittedly I was accessing the VAX through a dial-up connection. LO's presentation system isn't as bad, but it's not up to PowerPoint or Keynote. LO's spreadsheet system is better than Numbers (not difficult) but simply is nowhere close to Excel. Sorry, but these are the facts.

        Let the downvotes begin.

  17. Joe Drunk

    But moving on, we've had several clients where we've tried to help them save money by using LibreOffice. The best I can say is that some of them 'put up with it'. Every single end user has complained about documents either not formatting correctly, or when they send them to MS Office-using recipients, that they can't open documents properly (if at all). Our clients have tried, and are happy to pay a sub to Microsoft rather than struggle with the likes of LibreOffice.

    Unfortunately that pretty much describes my experience with directing folks to the free-office route. First is the learning curve since most were schooled on MS Office when they were introduced to personal computers. The largest obstacle is always the interchanging of documents with MS Office users. Eventually they end up paying the Redmond tax

  18. Mage Silver badge

    Permanent and Rental are incompatible.

    "A permanent licence costs £44.90 per year for the full version, or £24.90 per year for a (only slightly) cut-down Home version." I doubt even Mac users would be keen to rent it.

    I do buy software and even contribute real money to free software. I'm not going to rent software, ever. I'll decide when and if I'll upgrade. Over the last 40 years I have bought upgrades when it was worthwhile. Rental/Subscription removes the incentive to do decent tested releases. Though that can be a problem with free software, not just Linux, but what percentage of Win 10 users actually deliberately bought the software?

    I used to use MS Office, bought various versions of Office and Word from 1992 to 2002. Used Office 2002 / XP till about 4 years ago when I decided that LibreOffice was now "better". Then a couple of years ago I ditched Windows, though had a Win 10 tablet for a while, gave it away.

    1. Inkey
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: Permanent and Rental are incompatible.

      Yeah similar experience here...

      I've noticed that on the occasions I've needed to open a word doc or xml file in LO there seems to needlessly be an extra page... By turning hidden characters on and deleting the line breaks at the end of the page it seems to work... Fonts and formatting aside....

      One wonders how/why so many people are unwilling to break free from Saas yolk... The more that do the better the open offerings become

  19. Buzzword

    Compare with WPS Office?

    See title

    1. WolfFan Silver badge

      Re: Compare with WPS Office?

      Word Perfect Office doesn’t do Macs or Linux. WPS Office has... problems... with heavily formatted files. I once fed it a 87 page Word document, with multiple tables, graphics, and other items. The resulting mess took quite a bit of fixing. LibreOffice struggled with that file, too, but Pages ate it, no problem except some of the paragraph borders didn’t come out correctly. Word Perfect did a better job than Word 2016 on Mac, though not as good as Word 2016 on Windows. If you have to deal with MS Office formats, it really is best to use MS Office.

      1. keithpeter

        Re: Compare with WPS Office?

        @WolfFan

        https://www.wps.com/

        I think parent poster means this one...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Compare with WPS Office?

          They discriminate by platform.

          On Windows you can buy a one-off licence. Other platforms are only ongoing subscriptions.

  20. Reg Reader 1

    TeX, LaTeX, ect... not hard to use and available on MS, Linux and BSD OSs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Reg Reader 1 - You seem to

      be largely underestimating the average office worker/manager computer literacy. Yep, the same people who think the round "e" icon is the Internet.

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: @Reg Reader 1 - You seem to

        & can't differentiate between Internet Explorer or Edge.

        It go so bad that I had a "Help document" that showed the different browser icons we supported for a given application.

        Icon - Because the users at that place were more challenged than the norm & I needed a drink as a reward for dealing with them by beer o'clock.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Reg Reader 1 - You seem to

        And you seem to be underestimating the difference between 'overestimating' and 'underestimating'.

    2. mmccul
      IT Angle

      Most technical workers I see in IT departments (network administrators, SREs, Windows administrators, etc.) cannot handle even simple markdown formatting correctly. I believe that expecting such individuals and the non-technical business analysts and finance analysts, etc. to use TeX is an unrealistic goal.

      It's bad enough getting these supposedly technical people to write four coherent explanatory sentences in a text editor or email. Ask for even elementary formatting like a simple three column table, and I'm regularly asked to write it for them.

  21. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Word processors are not for page layout

    "It's 2020 for Pete's sake, and there is still no guarantee that a word processed file will display and print properly across different machines. "

    Yup, word processors are for word processing and not page layout. Even if you have slightly different margins on your printer, Office systems can and will re-wrap all your text to accomodate it, not cut off stuff that's past the margins (as a page layout system would.)

    ""there is still no guarantee that a word processed file will display and print properly across different machines" Yes, and it's exactly that reason why companies "trust Office" and therefore buy it - and nothing else. It's not an accident."

    No it's not! Have you tried opening a file from Office for Windows on Office for Mac? one from "Office versus x" with "Office versus x+1?" These absolutely do cause little formatting and font changes. Printer margins (as I mention above)? Change layout. If you read the article, even going from office to online office changed things a bit. People buy office because they're used to buying office, so they continue to buy office (or not -- several of the small businesses I saw just used whatever version was force-bundled with their business PC, even having non-matching office versions on their systems.) A lot of these people ARE NOT interested in paying monthly and would put libreoffice on in a second if they weren't using a "pay once" version of Office still.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Henry Wertz 1 - Re: Word processors are not for page layout

      I dispute your last statement. You underestimate how much abuse can Microsoft users take at the hands of their preferred software provider.

  22. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

    Zotero

    I've not used it in anger, but did have a play with their free reference manager at https://zbib.org - it's quit neat, particularly the client-side storage of your references.

    1. Glen Turner 666

      Re: Zotero

      Zotero and EndNote are the two most popular citation managers, so to have Zotero described in this review as "...integration with an open-source citation management system called Zotero" did make me wonder how little academic writing the review's author has done.

      If you do academic writing then you need a citation manager before you even begin to read -- then you can let the citation manager record all your sources as you go. Zotero works better than EndNote for modern multi-device users and I'd strongly recommend Zotero over EndNote for PhD candidates (who aren't just writing one essay, but a multi-year series of documents). In response, EndNote offer $0 licenses to current students, but this has the effect of making your years of curated citations inaccessible when you leave the university sector (again, more of a concern for higher-degree students rather than undergrads pumping out disconnected essays they'll never revisit).

      1. Mike_in_Oz

        Re: Zotero

        You can easily export your EndNote to Zotero and then use it on Linux with LO, if you like. I did this as an exercise recently because I am the claustrophobic type and hate being locked in by a vendor. but EndNote is pretty slick. I write a huge amount (am an academic) and prefer LO to Word (less clutter and crap). LO spreadsheet not bad except that it is a bit of a hassle to insert subscripts and superscripts into chart labels.

  23. Johnny Canuck

    MS core fonts?

    In Linux you should install the "Microsoft Core fonts" otherwise your "office" program will make a font substitution which can screw with your formatting.

    https://www.onmsft.com/how-to/how-to-install-microsoft-fonts-on-linux

    1. Anthropornis

      Re: MS core fonts?

      Unless your correspondent has sent you something formatted on an antique version of windows, that is bar locks. MS office documents from recent years have used fonts such as Cambria, Calibri, Georgia. And there are metric-compatible alternatives available.

      And if you really do get sent documents which use Arial or Times New Roman then there are also metric-compatible versions of those.

      By 'metric compatible' I basically mean they take the same space - a particular glyph (letter) in a compatible font might not look identical, but it will take the same space and should therefore preserve the formatting. Unfortunately, there are a lot of old 'HOWTO' documents for linux users which are severely outdated - the MS Core Fonts nowadays are reported to look horrible in modern linux systems with current versions of freetype.

      I have some PDF examples of font alternatives at http://zarniwhoop.uk/files/PDF-substitutes/

      And examples of fonts (PDFs of the glyphs, and which languages I think they support) at http://zarniwhoop.uk/ttf-otf-notes.html.

      Most modern linux distros will already provide sensible font.

      1. elgarak1

        Re: MS core fonts?

        Well, yes.

        Those fonts exist.

        Now LibreOffice or whatever just needs to properly select the correct replacement font out of the box...

        Or not even a 'correct' one. Just one that does not have completely different metrics.

  24. zhsysnova

    My company in Bangladesh migrated all 1000+ computers to Linux/Libreoffice. That's the best way to never worry about MS office formats again :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      zhsysnova - Please remain vigilent.

      MS might and will be back. It is not about money, it is about you setting a bad example for other MS customers.

  25. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    TMDX, PMDX and PRDX

    I wonder just what goes through the mind of the guy who decided that it was a good idea to invent Yet Another Document Format in 2020.

    You want competition with Microsoft ? Fine, go ahead and good luck (you'll need it), but for Christ' sake use ODF.

    We don't need another frakkin' document format.

    1. Hubert Cumberdale

      Re: TMDX, PMDX and PRDX

      See https://xkcd.com/927/.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Can anyone point me

    to a place where I can find that scary word document mentioned in the article ?

    1. Steve Foster

      Re: Can anyone point me

      I mentioned its name earlier - it's called an EBU 20B (EBU is the English Bridge Union).

      You can find it here:

      https://www.ebu.co.uk/laws-and-ethics/system-cards

      It's been about a decade since I had to work with their version, and they might have cleaned it up somewhat since then (I did grumble at them about it a few times).

  27. cjcox

    Summary: Bridge players have a document that is formatted like how your grandmother does formatting, without thought or structure. And, it only displays correctly using the software it was created on (please don't touch it though), Microsoft Office. Conclusion: Anything that is not Microsoft Office is crap.

    1. Steve Foster

      Of course, it was created by a bridge player (or official), who used Word because it's what they had available to them at the time, and they weren't a "computer expert" (and probably were someone's grandmother!).

      And either they weren't clever enough to be able to do booklet printing of a simple paged document, or possibly the automatic booklet printing options we take for granted now might not have been there in the combination of Win95/Me + Word 95/97 that was probably around when it was first created (it might just have been in the WinXP + OfficeXP era - certainly that's what I was using when I first got my hands on a copy of the document in the mid-noughties), so they created a multi-column layout to achieve the same end.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The problem is not any office suite

    The real problem was the introduction of the WYSIWYMG model to information distribution (the M stands for "mostly") - we started to focus on style over substance, design over quality, a problem that has even invaded the academic sphere. Heck, is has even been used to great success making people upgrade from MS Office to the later version before they went with the we-have-run-out-of-new-ideas subscription model.

    I have been using wordprocessors from before proportional fonts started messing up ASCII art, and I'm pretty sure that the first thing most technical people install is still a vanilla text editor because we work with data that can't even stand tarting up without the device involved justifiably throwing a hissy fit.

    In fact, people that produce actual content tend to use tools that get rid of all the crud that surrounds writing - that's why some people still bemoan the end of ye olde text based WordPerfect because that too could separate contents from format, and why a lot of writers on Mac and iPad use, for instance, Ulysses which you can set to a blank screen as background (no, I'm not going to mention LaTeX, no.. no.. dammit, I have :) ).

    If your problem is purely Word vs Writer, that's a one-off issue of fonts and margin. Once you have it together, template it and presto, problem solved.

    The optimal process to convey information effectively, which is structure - contents - styling - delivery. This is also why Apple's office suite is perceived as "weird" by beginners - Apple has gone completely the other way with Numbers and Pages by making formatting dominate, and style-before-contents gets in the way of standard doc production unless you do it once and template it, and it has IMHO no place in a spreadsheet.

    So, carry on with your looks over brains. I'm about to fit a new ribbon to my typewriter..

  29. Arf M

    WPS

    I must admit, begin a Linux user I struggled with libreoffice for a number of years but to be frank I've never really got on with it. Then I discovered WPS which is the current name of the old kingsoft office suite; the interface is a complete rip-off of Microsoft's ribbon which makes it incredibly easy to get to grips with, and the rendering of native word documents seems pretty much spot on. In fact it seems to render them better than office 365, quelle surprise!

  30. conscience

    This article has a very misleading title. "Microsoft's document formats and Word application are the bane of word processing" would be more accurate.

    Hubert Cumberdale hit the nail on the head: The MS Word application cannot reliably round-trip a document with itself without causing formatting issues. That this still happens between machines when the version numbers of MS Word and Windows are identical and are both fully updated is as ridiculous as it is damning. You cannot get more closely matching versions of both OS and application than the mandatory upgrades that come with Windows 10 and Microsoft 365, especially when both are using the same licence!

    It is not like this is even a recent problem. I first used MS Office sometime back in the early-mid 90s and these round-trip formatting bugs were present even back then. The fact that decades worth of updates did absolutely nothing to stop this from happening is quite revealing. After all, why would Microsoft change what sustains their lucrative office monopoly?

    Microsoft have always used these formatting problems to their great advantage over the years, creating a wave of fear, uncertainty and doubt to scare people into using and routinely upgrading their inferior and more expensive products. On the one hand, other vendors' platforms and application products are always blamed for the messed up formatting issues, and on the other hand scare tactics warn that anyone who dares not to use MS Office will suffer much embarrassment, the loss of their professional reputations and business will suffer as others would simply refuse to do business with anyone who uses anything other than .doc/.docx! The 'our employees would down tools with any other office suite etc. etc.' bullshit that shills tend to wheel out whenever it comes up may work as a Microsoft sales and marketing scare tactic to influence the technically illiterate, but why it gets repeated on tech sites is a total mystery.

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