We’ve all heard the interoperability hype. Let’s see what is actually there.
First, we start by looking at the many ways in which documents are integrated into the Windows/Office platform. Any fluent user of this platform will use many of these capabilities on daily basis. These are basic features which have been around, in some cases, since Windows 3.0, maybe earlier.
Windows shell integration
- Double-click on a document on the Desktop or in a folder and it loads into the appropriate application. Double-click on a Word document and it loads in Word.
- Right-click in a folder and choose “New XXX” to create a new XXX document in the specified folder. So, “New…Microsoft Office Excel Worksheet” creates a new, blank Excel document.
- Right-click on a document, choose Properties and on the Summary tab you can view metadata for that document.
- Recently-edited documents appear in the “My Recent Documents” under the Start menu.
- Documents referred to in web pages, via URL links will render in an inline Office session in the browser.
- Documents are indexed by the Windows search engine.
- Ability to File/Open, File/Save and File/New a document via the familiar menu options.
- Ability to set a file format as the default file format for the application.
- Ability to use the familiar keyboard shortcuts, Control-O and Control-S to open and save documents.
- Ability to forward a document to someone in an email and for them to be able to launch the a document by clicking on it when received via email.
- Ability to password protect a document.
- Ability to post a document to a web folder or to a SharePoint server
It must be noted that none of the above integration points are allowed by the ODF Add-in for Word, the much-touted translator for which Microsoft provides the, “Funding, Architectural & Technical Guidance and Project co-coordination”.
Instead what we get is a new menu option added to the Word 2007 Office menu:
Note that this is parallel to, but not included in the Open menu where the formats that Word natively understands are accessed. Although the option presented here says, “Open ODF”, it should more properly be called “Import ODF”, for reasons which will be clear shortly.
After selecting an ODF document to open, the following progress bar is given while the conversion takes place:
This is followed by a warning dialog listing elements which may have been lost in conversion:
No option is given for disabling the above message from displaying. It should be noted that when converting from a legacy binary document to OOXML, Word gives a similar conversion warning dialog, but their version can be disabled by checking a “Do not ask me again” dialog.
Once loaded, the user will find that their document is no longer an ODF document. It has been automatically converted to a read-only OOXML DOCX file as the title bar reveals:
So any future operations the user performs on the document, such as mailing, saving, posting to a web server, etc., will be in OOXML format. The only way to get back to an ODF format file is to manually and explicitly go back to the Office menu, go to the ODF submenu and choose to save it to ODF format. At that point you will be presented a default name based on the DOCX temp file name, not the original name. In this case, it suggested “sampler_tmp1.odt”.
The “Save as ODF…” dialog will default to the directory last used to save a file, not necessarily the same as where your document was loaded from. So to save you must first navigate to your original document, select it and choose “yes” when warned about overwriting an existing document, and then the document is converted back into ODF format.
If you do further work on the document in Word, in that same session, and then want to save again, you must avoid the natural tendency to do a Control-S or to save the document when prompted when existing Word. These methods all will lead to a Save As dialog, suggesting an OOXML format, which will prompt you to rename the document since it is read-only. But it will not offer you the choice of saving to ODF format. The only way to ensure that you are saving to ODF format is to use the above steps, going back to the ODF menu, etc.
You cannot create a new ODF document from scratch in Word. If you try to create a new document and save it to ODF format, you will get an error message, telling you that you must first save the document. You must save the document before you can save it? Yes, you must first save it to a temp file in a natively-supported format like DOC before you can save it as ODF.
The difficulties are complicated when you have documents accessed by other means than the Word menus. Imagine that you receive an ODF document in an email which you want to edit and return to the sender. The following steps would be required:
- Manually detach and save your hard drive the ODF document from the email, since you will not be able to launch it directly into Word from your email client. Remember where you detached the document.
- Manually launch Word, since you will not to get Word to launch by clicking on the ODF document you just detached.
- From the ODF menu, choose to open the ODF document. Navigate to where you detached the emailed document and select it. Around 30 seconds later the document will be automatically converted to an read-only temporary OOXML document.
- Make your editing changes.
- Export the document back to ODF format using the ODF menu, either writing over the original file you extracted from the email, or to a new temporary file. Remember where you exported the ODF document to.
- Go back to your email application and attach the ODF document.
If this had been an OOXML document (or any other format that Microsoft really supports, like RTF) it would have been much simpler:
- Double click on the attachment in your email to automatically launch in Word
- Make your editing changes
- Use the Send/Email menu option in Word to send the email
As you can see the ODF support provided by the Add-in is very unfriendly.
Compare this to the OOXML support Microsoft added for older versions of Word via their Compatibility Pack. The OOXML support is tightly integrated with the UI, in a way users would find familiar and easy to use. But the ODF support is very shallowly integrated, amounting to little more than a menu item patched in.
One wonders if Microsoft’s intent was really to annoy users? That would best explain the available evidence. It is simply not credible that anyone at Microsoft believes that they are listening to customers or providing interoperability with a feature that defies real-world use. What customers did they talk to that said that this Add-in was even remotely adequate?
Since Microsoft is the one providing the, “Funding, Architectural & Technical Guidance and Project co-coordination” one would think that they would contribute more in the area where they are uniquely qualified to assist, the full and native integration of the ODF support into Office.