Probably the most used piece of software on a computer, behind the web browser, is the word processor. We use them for work tasks from reports to resumes, and for more personal things like letters and shopping lists. And one huge barrier to using a non-windows operating system such as Linux, is the lack of Microsoft Office.
Those who use Wine to run Windows applications know you can have your cake and eat it too. Sometimes, a native application is preferable for speed and ease of use with a Linux system. Linux has Open Office.org, a full office suite that rivals Microsoft Office. That's all good for writing those letters and quick lists, but can Open Office hold a candle to MS Office's functionality when it comes to that seemingly universal file format — the .doc?
This is a two-part series that will look at compatible features in the two rival word processors. This first part will examine the basics such as font styles, and headers/footers. The second will look at advanced uses like tables, and file meta data.
The most basic parts of any word processor are the words themselves. If the font styles aren't preserved then it really limits the usefulness of the word processor. In this case, everything was fine. Font type, size, color, and highlighting were all preserved in the .doc file I opened in Open Office Writer (OOO). However, If you use Linux and want the core Microsoft fonts such as Times New Roman, they must be installed on your distro, since most don't ship with them. This is because these Microsoft fonts have a proprietary license.
In past versions of Open Office, I've found these always weren't preserved. WIth Open Office version 2.4.1, the margins I set in Microsoft Office remained the same when opened in Open Office. One interesting note is the gutter margin setting in MS Word. The gutter is an additional margin setting that moves the text to give space for binding. Open Office doesn't have this, so the gutter position is simply added to the margin position. For example, in MS Word the left margin is .5" and the gutter is 1". In Open Office this instead would be just a left margin of 1.5". For most applications this is not a problem, however the gutter can affect right-to-left directional text and special page layouts.
This refers to the space between lines of text, which by default is single-spaced. This was preserved in the .doc file I opened in OOO. In both programs you have a number of spacing options from single, double, one-and-a-half, to more specific measurements. MS Word specifies these specific measurements in points and OOO in inches, but they are equivalent.
Tabs and Indentations
I tested the different types of tabs with both programs. MS Word has five types of tabs — left, right, center, decimal, and bar. Open Office has all of these except the bar tab, which is a vertical line at the tab location. If a document created in MS Word has a bar tab and it is edited and saved in OOO, then the bar tab is automatically deleted. The other four tab types were preserved in both programs. Both programs have leaders, these are dots, dashes, and lines that fill the space between the tab and other text on the same line. These are useful for doing table of contents, for example. The name is often on the left with the page number on the right and a line of dots between them. Leaders were preserved in OOO without a problem. OOO also has the option to use a custom character as the leaders instead of the basic dots and dashes.
Header, Footers, and Page Numbers
Headers are special text areas at the top of the page, and footers are the opposite at the bottom of the page. A common use in a manuscript is to keep the header blank on the first page and have a page number, title, and author name on the subsequent page headers. In earlier versions of OOO, I sometimes found these headers to either completely disappear or the first page would not be different. In the current version, the first page was different, just as I had wanted, and most header and footer information preserved just fine. I did have trouble with a tab set at the right side of the header moving further right, but other than that everything was good.
Page numbers are special fields that automatically update. Delete a page in the middle of a document, and the last page number will change accordingly. These also were fine in both programs. Another often-used special field is the date and time. The date field worked fine. Unfortunately, the time changed to 24 hour format and had weird symbols for "PM."
For most basic uses, Open Office can read and edit .doc files that were originally created in Microsoft Word without any problems. There were however a few hiccups to be aware of, but most of this shouldn't radically change a document. However, just to be safe, it may be a good idea to first backup a .doc if you aren't sure.