OpenOffice trouble, again, again, again

So I already noted my frustration with OpenOffice yesterday but today I’m definitely reaching my limit. And I’m going to rant, yes, it’s going to be pure rant about OpenOffice, encompassing some of the most annoying problems I had with it in the past years. So if you’re one of those people who can’t stand when other Free Software developers complain about projects that are not perfect, please move along. I’m not just going to bless OpenOffice as perfection just because it’s Free, it’ll have to improve for that. Oh, and yes I know that version 3.2 was just released, and I’ll test that one, but then again I’m not sure that there is any improvement about this, I’ll have to see it by myself, and right now it’s not available in Gentoo for me to try.

So let’s begin with one of the most hyped and, apparently, still incomplete feature: interoperability thanks to the OASIS OpenDocument Format. With OpenOffice 2, there should have been total interoperability between Free Software aiming at managing documents, presentations, spreadsheets and so on so forth. Unfortunately, just after the release of the first two suites using that format, I came across a difference in implementation that caused the two of them to export the same content (lists) in different way, both available in the specification for the format, and yet not equally implemented. So long for the interoperability. At the time, I even considered Microsoft’s much more complex solution more feasible — two years after my first rant, the bug was still open; it was only fixed an year later with OpenOffice 3.1.

Interestingly enough, yesterday Morten Welinder, of Gnumeric fame, posted an unrelated rant that finds its root in the same problem: OpenDocument wasn’t specified nearly as deeply as it should have been to begin with. In this particular case, the problem is even worse, as the lack of a standardised interface for formulae makes it almost useless as a format for complex spreadsheets. On a more related note, I also complained about the formula support especially related to the fact that formulas in OpenOffice change function names depending on the used language, and the comma/dot change as decimal separator makes it almost impossible to use it properly in Italian.

To defend OASIS here, ODT is definitely not the only format designed for interoperability that is not interoperable by a long measure. For instance, SVG caused me headaches also including OpenOffice in the mix.

Other problems are intrinsic in the way OpenOffice is developed, I guess, and the priority that they have. I already complained about the tentative imitation of Word regarding their work toward adding “HTML editor” to the list of features Writer has. Not sure how to read the fact that they moved the MediaWiki editor support to an extension… I didn’t even know it had such feature… wasn’t the point of Wikis to not have to use a full-fledged editor to begin with?

There is definitely a number of minor annoyances with OpenOffice as it is. The fact that to set a colour, anywhere, I need first to get to the options and define it as a custom entry in a palette, rather than having a simple colour picker like any other software (Inkscape, Gimp, …) is just the start. You also need to install extensions to have any kind of document template available, and quite a few of them look also totally broken.

Most annoyances seem indeed to come near the areas of drawing and spreadsheet handling (especially charting). You might have noticed my Ruby-related charts and graphs but you might not have noticed one bad things with them. Beside the minor annoyance that I have to copy the graph from Calc to Draw (and thus lose the correlation with the data I’m charting) to be able to export it properly, if I copy the legend out and add text boxes… OpenOffice Draw exports the spell-checker warnings! Look at the images, and notice that the text is zigzag-underlined in red. I couldn’t believe it the first few times.

And today’s problem, is due once again to Calc, and to the charts provided above: I have a spreadsheet file where I keep the scores for the various implementations, to see the trend in porting (for instance I know that nobody else beside me is handling JRuby support nowadays, as it’s stuck when I don’t touch it).

One of the problems I had before is the area and line charts have different ideas on how to handle empty values. If I chart a 30-lines spreadsheet area with a line chart, which is only half-filled in, the graph stops at mid-air, and that’s it (works out fine since it gets automatically extended when I add more lines); on the other hand, if I do the same with an area chart, then it assumes that the empty results have zero as value, and will draw a line falling down to the X-axis at the first empty position. Annoying, but at least acceptable.

On the other hand, what is definitely not acceptable to my way of using this is the way it handles the X-axis values! I was away for FOSDEM, and then had a bit of personal trouble, so I stopped gathering data on February 3rd and I resumed yesterday, February 10th. I added the data to the spreadsheet and… the graph didn’t jump, the same distance that applies between February 2nd and 3rd is applied between 3rd and 10th. This is not right. Indeed, Microsoft Excel gets it perfectly right in this case, and this is exactly what I was expecting: keeping proportions. And before you suggest I keep the same value as 3rd for all the missing days, that’s not how it was, and it’s not what I’m interested in charting. I’ll have to see if I can get some other software to deal with that kind of data (interestingly enough, Gnumeric does not seem to have that feature either, but it might be I just don’t know how to use the charting tool there).

So, should I accept the compromises just because this is Free Software? I don’t know what you think but I don’t think so, I’ll look for a better software, if it’s Free it’ll have extra points, but since there is a boolean gate to the “better” definition (either it does what I need or it does not), right now OpenOffice is definitely not better than anything else for this task (it does not do what I need). It’d be definitely absurd if I’ll end up relying on Microsoft Excel to provide the graphs for Gentoo’s Ruby porting trends, but right now, that does pass the boolean gate. Please, do provide suggestions! I do want to find a better software, a Free Software doing this.

And to keep on the ranting note, do you remember the “OpenOffice Mouse”? That abomination of design that was announced around the time of the past OpenOffice Conference in Italy? The one that a lot of people – me included – thought and hoped was just a joke, playing on Apple’s then just-unveiled Magic Mouse? Well I haven’t heard anything about that for a while, beside being confirmed by Luca that it had been actually developed, and even produced. I went to look it up today, as I wanted to add to the rant the fact that instead of getting a better quality product, time was wasted on products like that… and the results are even funnier. The link above, while having ”OpenOfficeMouse” in the domain, talks about “OOMouse” (trademark, anybody?) and if you drop the actual page, you end up finding that it’s now the “WarMouse Meta” which, and I quote, “compares to the Magic Mouse, the G9, the Naga, and other multi-button and multi-touch mice”… oh, the irony.

11 thoughts on “OpenOffice trouble, again, again, again

  1. Have you files bugs about these things, specifically about the export-spellchecker-underlining? Just curious, but without reports, not everthing can be checked by the developers.That being said, I also don’t think OOo is the best Office suite out there, but being cross-platform and Free makes it very nice. You may want to consider Go-OO which has some improvements over the main OOo: http://go-oo.org/Any thoughts on KOffice? I use it occasionally but overall, I don’t really use any office suite so when I open a file and it defaults to OOo, I can live with that. KOffice has some great integration between its various parts, but the move to KDE4 has taken its toll and the suite isn’t fully rewritten yet, unfortunately. http://www.koffice.org/

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  2. I filed a bug a few minutes ago about the spellcheck underlining that should be easy to fix, I actually was waiting for 3.2 to be released as I only discovered it a couple of weeks ago anyway. The problem with the colours palette is well understood and known, so I don’t think I need to open a bug for that; the same goes for the formula problems as those are really design issues that have been pointed out anyway.For what concerns today’s problem with the chart, it’s likely going to be a “feature request” (even though it’s a feature that I’m ready to bet was available on Microsoft Chart for OS), and I’m still hoping that it’s just buried somewhere in the options, even though I can’t figure out where it might be at all.

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  3. How about using R or perhaps octave+gnuplot to do the charts? R should make it easier to automate to…

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  4. I’m afraid that both R and gnuplot requires me much much more knowledge about statistics and mathematics in general than I have available right now. Even though I have read the excellent ”Gnuplot in Action” book, I’m still unable to get something working out of it.

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  5. A quick attempt at a gnuplot script:data file “targets.dat”, estimated by eye from your old chart, notice the “missing” data:

    # date          ruby18  ruby19  jruby2010-01-29      141     68      522010-01-30      142     68      532010-01-31      142     68      53# 2010-02-01      145     68      532010-02-02      152     72      562010-02-03      155     73      572010-02-04      156     73      572010-02-05      157     73      572010-02-06      163     76      67

    gnuplot script:

    #!/usr/bin/env gnuplotset xdata timeset timefmt "%Y-%m-%d"set format x "%m-%d"set xlabel "date"set ylabel "no. of ebuilds"set style data linesset terminal svgset output "targets.svg"lw=3plot "targets.dat" using 1:2 linewidth lw title "Ruby 1.8",     "targets.dat" using 1:3 linewidth lw title "Ruby 1.9",     "targets.dat" using 1:4 linewidth lw title "JRuby"

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  6. Thanks Karsten! This definitely helps, and produces just what I was looking for — with a couple of tweaks it would also cut down extensively on the amount f work I have to do to publish the results.I’ll see to get working even the area chart for the ruby/ruby-ng eclasses and then publish a pair of updated charts as they start getting quite interesting!

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  7. Maybe something like this?

    set xdata timeset timefmt "%Y-%m-%d"set format x "%m-%d"set xlabel "date"set ylabel "no. of ebuilds"set yrange [0:]set key bmargin center horizontal Left reverseset terminal pngset output "classes.png"plot "classes.dat" using 1:2 with filledcurves y1=0         linetype rgb "#9999cc" title "ruby.eclass",      "classes.dat" using 1:2:($2+$3) with filledcurves         linetype rgb "#333366" title "ruby-ng.eclass"

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  8. Usually I like to work with Open Office, but sometimes I also hate it. I wanted to copy a link into a normal document and saved it as a .doc-file which I sent to a friend. As he opened it, the whole text was blue and underlined. It took a long time to manage that problem. Calc also makes problems sometimes. Except this I´m really satisfied with Open Office.

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  9. Well I do agree with you that OO is not perfect. But it is still the best free tool available. I think that it is worth contributing to its improvement as it has great capacities. I am also satisfied and happy of working with it.

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