I am kaitco

a writer's log

My brief flirtation with LibreOffice Monday, November 4, 2013

Filed under: Coding,Writing — kaitco @ 3:13 am
Tags: , , ,

From blog.doriennesmith.com:

I’ve not written here in ages, but it is time for another review.

In my zeal to have full computing capabilities available in the thinnest, lightest form, I bought a Mid-2012 MacBook Air back in January. Initially, I was in love with the thing despite being staunchly anti-Mac since middle school, but when I began to utilize it for “real” work, I started to remember why I have always claimed that I hated Macs.

As an aspiring author, I write all the time and all writers who don’t wish to waste forests of trees and rivers of ink need proper word processing software. The de facto has been, throughout my lifetime, Microsoft Office Word and, despite disliking what Microsoft has done with the product line in the past six years, I’ve come to depend on Word like I depend on Firefox. So, in using my new Mac, I sought out Mac Office 2011, thinking that since it was Microsoft-produced, I would have the best option for document compatibility and “ease” of use.

Mac Office 2011 sucks in ways that would require a completely separate domain, server, and blog to explain entirely. To put it succinctly, Mac Office 2011 contains everything that you dislike about Office 2010, with none of the familiarity, and none of the features available in Mac OSX since Snow Leopard. What irritates me most is that Microsoft could have easily ported Office 2010 to Mac OSX without hardly deviating from the original product, but they refused. Note, that the blame for Mac Office’s lack of usability and general crumminess lays with Microsoft, not Apple.

With Mac Office acting barely usable, I sought other options for word-processing on the Mac. Pages was a possibility I considered right up through the last two weeks, when Apple made drastic changes to their iLife products. I tried Pages through iCloud in Safari, but gave up within ten minutes as I could not find simple a word count utility and nothing about the application brought any familiarity. Additionally, Apple insists on keeping all of its users within its “walled gardens,” which does not trouble me on iPhone/iPad because of the multiple workarounds, but is intolerable with a full laptop. Apple refuses to allow Dropbox integration with its apps, thus everything I’ve carefully organized and used with Dropbox on multiple platforms, operating systems, whatever, is unavailable to me when trying to use Apple’s Pages. Here the blame rest entirely on Apple and it was here that I began to once again mumble to myself, “I hate Macs.”

As neither Apple nor Microsoft could offer me what I wanted, I turned once again to LibreOffice. I say “once again” because I’ve experienced this application several times in the last decade with mixed results all placing me back into Microsoft Office’s slow, bulging, buggy arms.

Back when OpenOffice.org was whole, I found gross incompatibility with Word documents, few of the fonts available in Office, difficult to use features such as Word Count, and corrupted files upon going back to Office. I later tried LibreOffice when it was first forked from OpenOffice and still found that it was not anything close to Office’s usability and quit once again. Some time even later, however, I began to play with using Ubuntu and LibreOffice, installed with the operating system, was attempted again before I gave up and finagled Wine and Office 2007 to work relatively well together.

With my fifth or tenth or so attempt at LibreOffice, I was determined to make this application work for me as both Apple and Microsoft had spectacularly failed me. I installed LibreOffice 4 on both PC and Mac and spent an hour tweaking Writer on each operating system to make it as close to Office 2010 as possible.

My initial impression this time around was moderate joy over how LibreOffice had improved over the years. Built-in Word Count utility, default fonts from MS Office, and perfect Word doc compatibility through Windows, Mac OSX, and Ubuntu. At last! I had hit the jackpot! Then, I began to melt into the fictive dream and write like normal…

First came even more tweaking and searching and further tweaking to counter app deviations that were not immediately obvious. Then, I had to resign screen space in Windows and Mac OSX to some immoveable toolbars. The final straw, however, came with Autocorrect.

Writing in a plain text word processor provides straight apostrophes and quotation marks that, lacking the technical term here, do not have “curves” that are typically used in writing drafts. I have no issue with this, but I cannot stand a mix. Either all of the marks in a document are plain text and straight or all have “curves,” but a mix of the two completely throws me when I’m writing. I found myself paying closer attention to whether LibreOffice’s Autocorrect was automatically correcting these marks than on my actual writing and, even after triple checking Autocorrect settings, I was often forced to stop in the middle of prose or dialogue to adjust what LibreOffice called a grammar issue due to Autocorrect failing.

I also use ellipses when I write. A lot. I’ve remained conscious of it, but when I need to use them, I need them. LibreOffice’s Autocorrect includes switching three periods … to an ellipses, which is a very specific character that looks similar, but is functionally different in word processing. The problem is that unlike MS Office, LibreOffice does not take into account Autocorrect “wildcards.”

For example, three paragraphs above this text, I used a word and followed directly with an ellipsis, “normal…” In MS Office, the three periods directly following a word is auto-corrected in the same manner as it would be if it was typed “normal …” with a space between the word and the ellipsis. LibreOffice does not do this. To LibreOffice, “normal…” becomes a grammar issue that I have to stop and correct because the Autocorrect does not recognize that, despite coming after another character with no space between them, three consecutive periods should be automatically corrected into an ellipsis.

These may sound like minor trifles to an average user, and they very much are. To a high school kid writing a two-page essay on The Scarlet Letter, these aggravations would hardly be worth mentioning. To a writer, these minor trifles completely disrupt the flow of thought, which renders the application unusable.

Often times, when seeking to write with no distraction or interruption of any kind, I will utilize Microsoft’s Notepad application just to get down my thoughts without regard to grammar, redlines under spelling issues, or paragraph, spacing, and font. Ultimately, I have to take whatever I write in a blank atmosphere and add it to a true word processor to make the proper literary adjustments and continue writing from there. That word processor must include a Word Count and page number utility, it must be compatible with Microsoft Word’s formatting, and it must enable one to write without the need to pause the writing experience to fix what the application should be able to do on its own.

A word processor should be able to correct simple errors, like “teh” for “the” and three consecutive periods for an ellipsis, without the writer’s intervention and sadly, LibreOffice is still not quite there.

It could be argued that after several months’ use, I could grow accustomed to these differences, but I see no reason to force myself to ignore problems that should not exist in the first place. Were I further along in my programming knowledge, I would hack the application myself or even be so bold as to make the specific recommendation that the LibreOffice team focus on perfectly mimicking Office’s simple functions before adding all the bells and whistles.

I suppose no application will ever meet the expectations of everyone all the time, but I’ve never had to return to Microsoft Office with such dread since I began using Windows 95 versus the old typewriter my mother let me play with as a child.

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