Updated: June 6, 2009
If you're using OpenOffice, you may have noticed that the conversion of documents from the OpenDocument Format (ODF) to Microsoft formats is not always the smoothest. The resulting output has style and layout issues, mainly with some document elements misplaced and fonts changed. And things have become even more complex with the release of MS Office 2007, which features the Office Open XML. Despite its name, this new format has nothing to do with OpenOffice; you will recognize files encoded in this format by their extension (docx, pptx, etc). And OOXML has just upped the ante.
To make things better, a number of projects have been created, all aimed at improving the integration among different office suites and their respective formats. In this article, I will introduce a number of options available to office suite users, which should help them maintain consistency in their documents regardless of which suite or operating system they choose.
All right, so we have two typical scenarios: OpenOffice users trying to export their documents to MS format and OpenOffice users trying to import MS documents, including MS Office 2007, into OpenOffice. Let's see what we can do.
OpenOffice > MS Office: Export
This one is pretty simple, which is why we start with it. OpenOffice allows you to save files in the MS formats from within the used application. There is no need for external conversions.
Will it work? Well, the answer is, maybe. It will definitely work, the conversion will succeed, but the quality of converted data may vary. If your documents are using complex elements, some of them may end up misaligned on the page. This is particularly true for Writer and Impress documents. So what do you do? Maybe you want to take a look at OpenXML/ODF Translator Add-ins for Office.
OpenXML/ODF Translator Add-ins for Office
The utility at hand, hosted at the odf-converter.sourceforge.net page and not to be confused with odf-converter-integrator mentioned below, although the two share code and functionality, provides MS users with the ability to open and save files in ODF format.
This is quite useful for dual-boot users, who share documents between Windows and Linux in general and OpenOffice and MS Office in particular. It can also be useful for MS Office users on Windows running OpenOffice, as well as people who occassionally have to open files created in OpenOffice.
Here's a slew of screenshots demonstrating the use of the OpenXML/ODF Translator Add-in in Microsoft Office 2003. The installation is very simple. It does take a few more steps, as Microsoft Office has to be reconfigured and the .NET component installed, but it takes just a few mouse clicks to complete.
Once you have the Add-in installed, the File menu in your Office programs will be changed. It will now include ODF options. Furthermore, if you right-click on a OpenOffice (ODF) file in the Explorer or any other file manager, you will have a context menu entry to open it with a relevant Microsoft Office application.
And we have the document open and working:
Still, this is a less complicated and less urgent direction. Most people require conversion the other way around - OpenOffice being able to read MS Office files and save to relevant formats, as this is the most prevalent office suite around. Anyhow, let's take a look at the second scenario.
MS Office > OpenOffice: Import
The name of the game is odf-converter-integrator.
This application allows you to perform automatic, high-quality conversion of OOXML documents to ODF format on any version of OpenOffice on any operating system. odf-converter-integrator is based on the Novell odf-converter, but is available for a wider range of OpenOffice versions. The goal of the odf-converter-integrator is to retain highest level of fidelity possible in layout and style compared to original documents.
On a first look, odf-converter-integrator may seem unnecessary, as OpenOffice 3.0 can perform native conversions from OOXML, but it still may struggle with some of the trickier elements like comments, tables or drawings. odf-converter-integrator aims to solve these issues. Furthermore, it allows pre-OpenOffice 3.0 users a powerful conversion capability that their suite does not offer. While some releases of OpenOffice 2.x do offer partial OOXML conversion, the results will vary across versions and platforms.
So who needs odf-converter-integrator?
I may have confused you a little there, so let's clarify. odf-converter-integrator also works with AbiWord, Kword, Gnumeric, and other office applications, in addition to all versions of OpenOffice. So if you're using any which one of these and do not feel satisfied with the quality of conversion to/from OOXML documents, you may want to consider using the odf-converter-integrator. As simple as that.
Generally, the more recent your office suite is, the lesser the chances you will dislike the conversion results. OpenOffice 3.1 (and 3.0) will definitely yield better results than its predecessors. Nevertheless, odf-converter-integrator aims to be better than the defaults.
For more details, you may want to visit the OpenOffice.org Ninja website and read a very useful article on the benefits of odf-converter-integrator. The article also has reference MS 2007 documents for testing, which we will use below.
Download and use odf-converter-integrator
odf-converter-integrator is like icecream. It comes in two flavors - chocolate and strawberry. Chocolate edition should be used with Ubuntu; the name probably comes from the orange-brown Ubuntu default theme. Strawberry should be used with Windows versions and vanilla OpenOffice - downloaded from the official site manually and not via repositories.
Let's see if it's any worth. First, I downloaded a PDF reference document from the above link. This is what it should look like:
Next, I downloaded the .docx file and opened it OpenOffice 3.0 Word without odf-converter-integrator working its magic. The output was not stellar in quality:
However, with odf-converter-integrator doing its magic, you get this:
Looks great. Not perfect, but quite reasonable. You can always use the command-line conversion, in case you have numerous documents to work with:
Simply run it against an OOXML file (docx, xlsx, pptx) and it will be converted to an ODF file, Word to Writer, Excel to Calc, PowerPoint to Impress, and so on. This makes it useful for batch conversion and scripts.
As you can see, even in the era of OpenOffice 3.x, which has a built-in MS Office 2007 importer, the quality of conversion is less than that offered by odf-converter-integrator. Therefore, you should strongly consider using it, in order to improve the cross-suite cooperation and save yourself the time and hassle of manual tweaks.
Strawberry fields forever ...
The author also lamented on the fact he does not have a screenshot demonstrating the use of the strawberry edition, as it cannot be used directly from inside OpenOffice and requires the files to be open manually by the user, e.g. double-clicking on a file located on a desktop. So here you go:
First, we install odf-converter-integrator in Windows. Next, we download the sample file and open it with a double-click from the folder where it resides. The file will be automatically converted, with an .odt file created inside the folder. And you will get the same results as before.
There are several more ways you can overcome the obstacles mentioned above.
AbiWord is a handsome, lightweight word processor (and word only), which natively supports the DOCX format and will open any such file with ease. This 25MB program has many incredible features you would not expect to find in such a small application. The DOCX support is just one of them. Then, there's a staggering range of other formats, Computer Modern fonts, equation editor, plugins, portable version, and much more. You probably want to read my detailed article, introducing and praising AbiWord.
Go-oo office suite
Go-oo is a set of patches for the OpenOffice suite to make it more useful. This includes reduced memory usage and faster operations, built-in OpenXML import filters, numerous extensions that are not included in OpenOffice by default, spell-checkers, WordPerfect graphics support, VBA macros, embedded Visio diagrams, and more.
Go-oo is available for all major operating systems, including software repositories in Linux. Simply think of it as OpenOffice on steroids. Best of all, Go-oo is free, even though it shares much with with OpenOffice 3.0 Novell edition, a payware version available with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED). However, Go-oo is also available for openSUSE. We will have a full review quite soon. Meanwhile, as an appetizer, you may want to read the Wikipedia article.
There you go. This article shows you numerous ways you can enjoy OpenOffice and MS Office content one alongside another on all operating systems. For those who may only MS Office, there's the OOXML/ODF Translator to help them use files in ODF format. And for OpenOffice users, there's the native translation and the more streamlined and powerful odf-converter-integrator. Likewise, you may also use want to use Go-oo or AbiWord.
Whatever your choice, there's a fair chance you'll be able to enjoy cross-office, cross-platform integration with a high level of accuracy, saving lots of time and trouble in getting the files to open and look the right way. Instead of working hard, you now have a set of tools that will toil for you.
I hope you liked it and see you around. The next pair of articles on office software will present the sexy KDE-based KOffice and the pimped-up Go-oo. Have fun!