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OOops: Why OpenOffice.org* Isn’t Nearly Good Enough

By on Mar 5, 2011 in Tech Takes | 6 comments

* Et tu, LibreOffice I have lived through a fair number of Year of the Linux Desktops, and consequently had the pleasure of using tolerating OpenOffice.org for years. In the light of recent news of the German Foreign Office migrating back to Windows XP from Linux, I thought of writing about one aspect this ‘interoperability’ that the German FO is crying about. I never felt OpenOffice.org to be lacking in any respect compared to Microsoft Office 2003 when I was in high school (back in the day, Office 2007 wasn’t out yet). OOo satisfied my requirements without costing me a dime. In hindsight, that was only because on most occasions I was printing out hard copies of documents for submission, and didn’t often have to bother about whether a document that was displaying as I wanted on my PC would display the same way on another. Now, in university, interoperability is a major headache for me. And yes, by ‘interoperability’ I mean the very narrow of definition of ‘whether document files work with Microsoft Office’. When working on project reports or some such, I often have to work on documents that have images, charts, tables formulas et al, i.e., fairly ‘complex’ formatting in as to how any element on the page is placed. More often than I like it, I find the formatting screwed up. Even for something as simple as taking a document to the library for printing, it has become second nature for me to export my ODF documents to PDF so that I have ‘assured’ formatting on library (Windows) machines. Let me illustrate my points with a few examples. I am the studio director at the student TV station in my (exchange) university and I need to edit studio scripts every week that is sent to me by the production assistant, edited on her Office 2010 install. This is how it looks when opened in Microsoft Office 2010 Starter Edition on my netbook. When I open the same file in OpenOffice.org 3.3.0, out of that 15 page document only TWO pages are displayed. I am not kidding. It actually shows up as ‘Page 1 / 2’. I can understand this is an Office 2007/2010 .docx format document and support for this “isn’t as good yet“, but jeez, showing 2 pages out of 15 is a major screw-up, isn’t it! Let’s see what out of the pages it can read does OOo show. On surface, it seems that OOo got most of the page displayed correctly, but a closer look will reveal page elements that are completely missing. The ‘SOVT’ icon is gone, so is the box with ‘S/I’, as well as adornments such as boxes around ‘ZOOM 5sec’. If I had to solely rely on OOo for my document needs, I wouldn’t have known these elements are missing. For me, this is a major problem as those are crucial directives that I need when directing the studio shoot. Even if I concede that this problem may be because OpenXML file support isn’t as ‘complete’ yet in OOo, that doesn’t explain why it utterly messes up page display with older .doc files, like this example below. Content from two consecutive pages was stacked on top of each other on one page along with previous edits even though show changes was turned off, rendering this file useless. Note that this file was created in Office 2007 and exported as .doc. Okay, so maybe the whole problem is with Office 2007/2010 creating corrupted files which it itself can figure out, but not other software. Maybe the files that I was trying to open was ‘too complex’ (debatable). How about a simple document – a table with two columns with text in rows – created in a word processor not developed by Microsoft – say, Mac OS X’s bundled TextEdit – and exported as a .doc file. Like this file below. This TextEdit-created file displays correctly in Microsoft Office 2007/2010 too. And here’s how the same file displays in OpenOffice 3.3.0. It isn’t as if these are two isolated incidents where OpenOffice.org has failed me in being passably reliable, even for freeware software. I have lost track of the number of times when my documents/presentations have been messed up by OOo. Sometimes, opening a .docx file created and saved using OpenOffice.org fails to render correctly on the same system with the same install of OOo. Figure that. And while Microsoft may have a conflict of interest, Doug Mahugh makes a seemingly well-reasoned argument how certain aspects of ODF file rendering is broken among variants of OOo itself like IBM’s Lotus Symphony. Throughout this blog post, I have mentioned OpenOffice.org as the errant document suite, but the new Document Foundation’s ‘LibreOffice’ fork isn’t any better. A few weeks ago, I was working on a presentation that I needed to send for a job interview. I created it in OpenOffice 3.3.0 one day (saved as ODP) and picked up work the next day on a new install of LibreOffice 3.3.1. (The Document Foundation advises users to remove OOo before doing a LibreOffice install.) I saved a PPT and a PDF version of the file in addition to the native ODP file (my usual routine) after I was finished. I opened the file Microsoft PowerPoint 2010 Viewer to check before sending it off, and got an error message telling me that the file...

OSSCamp Delhi 2009

By on Sep 10, 2009 in Personal, Tech Takes | 4 comments

OSSCamp Delhi was held at NSIT Dwarka on 5-6 September 2009. OSSCamp is an unconference on open source software, technologies, and ideologies, one of the largest events related to open source in India. Even as I was travelling by Delhi Metro to NSIT Dwarka on the morning of the first day of the event, I met a guy from NSIT who was going for the same. (He figured I might be heading there too since I was wearing the ILUG-D t-shirt.) Met Kinshul Sunil outside NSIT’s administration building; he works as a community manager at a company called OSSCube, which is in the field of open source software development / training / support. Kinshuk oversees a lot of the organizational details of the event and even with this being a community-driven event a lot of credit must be given to him for managing the event so well. Was handed a name tag; designed by Yadu Rajiv. (Yeah, I know it looks like a name tag for a Rage Against The Machine concert, but they probably don’t use name tags.) Also met other people at the start of the day – Mohak Prince, Sachin Khosla, Ankur Sethi, Apoorv Khatreja, Udit Agarwal, Triveni Yadav, Sanchit Gulati, Anshu Verma. By 10-10.30am (of day 1) we had quite a respectable crowd of 142 people (I kid you not) assembled in the NSIT Delhi auditorium. The event kicked off with Kinshuk giving a short introduction to OSSCamp. Lalit then urged audience members to give jadoo ki jhappi [which made Lalit (in?)famous] to each other and we had a small-scale free hugs campaign going on for a while (only a handful of the audience participated). The talks started in earnest then. I won’t be going into the details of the talks since they have already been live-blogged on the NSIT CSI society blog – check it out for a short summary of sessions held (a few held at the end of day 2 are missing). During the sessions, what Mohak Prince and I noticed was  that every speaker mentioned licencing, but didn’t go further into nitty-gritties. We had quite a few first-timers to open source this time who seemed thoroughly confused by this talk of licenses, so we both decided to give a session on Creative Commons licenses. Unfortunately, NSIT administration hadn’t given us permission to set up a WiFi network, and their own WiFi network had been shut-down ever since Ankit Fadia had scared the living daylights out of NSIT faculty, post 26/11 Mumbai attacks. We both were trying to find a presentation to aid our talk so we borrowed a laptop with a Reliance data card from someone and searched out a suitable presentation. We scheduled the session post-lunch. Lunch took a long time to arrive. It was ordered from some big dhaba (oxymoronic term, I know) called Apni Rasoi or something which is apparently quite popular in Dwarka. Post-lunch the number of attendees reduced drastically, so I decided to postpone the Creative Commons session to day 2. Clearly, there is some such thing as a ‘free lunch’ at least at an unconference on open source – and that was what some seemed to have come for. Although I wouldn’t blame them entirely for wanting to leave, since some of the talks in the morning had nothing to do with open source. On of the highlights of the day was a video conference with Bryan House of Acquia on the future of Drupal 7, but could not be carried through because of low bandwidth issues (we had to switch to text chat and then eventually call it off). What else would you expect on a Reliance data card? After a session on indie game development by Yadu Rajiv, we wrapped up for the day. Day 2 started off late as it was a Sunday. (I was stopped at a Metro checkpoint for carrying a ‘walkie talkie charger’.) When I arrived at the venue at around 10.15am there were just a handful of people – almost all of them speakers who were schedule to give presentations that day. By 11am though the crowd has swelled in number to around 90 people; quite respectable for second day of an event. We had people from Adobe too to give presentations on Flex and BlazeDS – open source software released by Adobe (!!!) – and those were some of the best designed presentations by far. Students in the audience were given free (as in beer, not speech) licensed versions of Flex Builder. I think it’s a good start by companies such as Microsoft and Adobe to take some initiatives in interacting with the open source community and we shouldn’t be too cynical about it. Lunch was better on day 2 as we had pizza from Domino’s. While placing the order we had also asked them to provide ketchup sachets. The lazy asses thought “Why bother buying so many ketchup sachets when we can ‘solve’ the problem in one go by providing a 2-litre ketchup sachet”. I didn’t even know that they made 2-litre ketchup sachets! Hilarity ensued, or rather, didn’t since we sent that back. We had a working lunch with presentations continuing while the audience wolfed down pizzas. Mohak had to give an exam that day, so I proceeded with the talk on Creative Commons licenses on my own. The presentations I used were made by...

Gay Bollywood Dancing

By on Sep 2, 2009 in Uncategorized | 5 comments

Being ‘the geek’ in your family or friend circle can sometimes be an onerous task. You realize pretty soon that if you’re good at technical matters – if you solve a computer-related problem for somebody once – you’re forever ‘doomed’, so to say, to be the tech support guy everyone will be calling up when something goes kaput. Not that I mind, since it feels nice if I can help out somebody in trouble or who needs a bit of advice. However, this can sometimes become a problem, or at the very least a horrible experience that you want to forget. You could go deep into troubleshooting and then find out that the proverbial ‘plug wasn’t switched on’. Or, as it happened with my class 12th Board computer practical viva, end up being grilled for the better part of an hour just because the guy came to know the student in front of him is the president of the school computer society. A similar situation cropped up a few days ago. Dad’s friend had thrown a party and had a few videos which were shot there, so could I please collate all the files into one single video, convert it to another format and give it to them? I agreed, because it isn’t a terribly difficult job to do of course. (Just kidding. In case you’re ever able to successfully edit and export videos in Linux distros, the heavens burst open and angels shower gifts upon you. No documentary evidence of this exists since not a single person has been able to accomplish this task. Ever.) Alas, I did not know that horrors that awaited me. I wasn’t there at this particular party – and in retrospect I’m glad I took that decision. I tend to avoid any such parties which involve lots of relatives and / or family friends since I’ve to spend the whole evening grinning a fake smile that makes said relatives and / or family friends ask me whether I’ve come to kill Batman. I started playing these short video files which I would soon have to compile just to get an idea of what I had to edit. Not that I needed to do much since I was asked only to combine all the files into a single long file. While I was doing this, I came across a video that was so incredibly gay that it’s funny. (I’ve obscured the video so that the people involved aren’t personally identifiable. The video was edited in Windows Movie Maker on my new laptop; I had to reinstall Windows since quite a few functions on my laptop weren’t working properly in Linux. Video editing in Linux is a bit like astrology – favourable stars must align perfectly. Rupert was rising in Capricorn – or something like that – so I had to use Movie Maker.) Watch the gayest Bollywood dance here Note that the guys in the video probably aren’t even drunk (they’re kids) or asked to do a dare (they’re kids). Damn, I spent so much time ROFL-ing after watching this video that I couldn’t bring myself to completing the task at hand. I can never complete this task because I’ll just keep laughing and then I’ll lose my sanity. When I say “I’m ROFL-ing”, dude, I’m NOT kidding. I am actually rolling on the floor laughing. I eventually just emailed a link to download Windows Movie...

Meshed Up

By on Jul 27, 2009 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Just trying out the super macro mode on my Canon PowerShot A480. Yes, my Kodak C330 nightmare is over and I don’t have to deal with ‘proprietary’ batteries any more. Wiser from the experience, I chose a camera which use standard AA batteries instead. A480 is a new camera, released just a few months back so I can’t go around modding it with CHDK. Oh well. As Chef said, “There’s a time and place for everything and that is college” – albeit in a different context. For a point-and-shoot, it does offer some amount of control via its program mode. I also get a vexing error whenever I try to cut-paste files from the camera memory card to my laptop. It says “Error deleting file: -2 Bad parameter”. Quite randomly. Sometimes photos can’t be shifted because of this, and sometimes it is moved, but Nautilus cribs that it hasn’t been moved and leaves a copy on the memory card too. Happens when I try to delete images to. Viewing / deleting works fine on the camera. I did both a quick format and a low-level thorough format but the problem persists. Photos originally uploaded to my photo gallery here and...

Apology

By on Jun 24, 2009 in Tech Takes | 11 comments

Guest blogged by Anuj on April 11, 2008. I apologize for what I wrote in the post; “Ideological Confusion“. Turns out that GQ was right, one can make a Ubuntu PC almost as good as, hell better than Leopard through plug-ins like Compiz-Fusion. However, I would still love to by a MacBook Pro, see the essential thing’s that I feel that they have essentially copied the idea, no what I mean is that the seed of the idea is OSX, and it uncannily reminds me of OSX, it’s pretty good but I don’t know why I feel like it’s a copy of windows i.e. second hand ideology. I don’t know why I think this way but in my point of view Apple has been there, done that and maybe they have learnt a few lessons along the way. I know it’s irrational but I believe in Apple, oh deus it has happened twice in a day; I’ve started believing things! I am getting senile at 16!! Just kidding, I am waiting for their next distro to come out and then I’ll comment, but it looks pretty darn awesome. Can’t wait for 24th April, this is insanely great stuff!! I am waiting and...