Sunday, October 15, 2006

OpenOffice.org for documents

I'm writing my thesis in OpenOffice.org. I vowed a few years ago never to learn LaTeX because the whole idea of spending time writing formatting commands, rather than document content, is so last decade (or maybe the one before that?). Yes \{to_you_too.

For a while, I had used LyX which, apart from having been started by KDE founder, Matthias Ettrich, is a WYSIWYM ('M' means "mean" i.e. document structure not formatting) document editor, that importantly generates LaTeX. The great thing is you can have your cake and eat it too - have the benefits of interactive WYSIWYG editing but also produce nice-looking LaTeX.

I found the interface to be a bit clumsy (e.g. "Edit / Paste External Selection" and the overly fast scrollbar) so resorted to writing all the text in KWrite before dumping it into LyX for formatting. But after a while, things just got too irritating - like the lack of a key shortcut for the "type of text" (e.g. "Standard" or "Section" or "Subsection") or when it generates uncompilable LaTeX (when I tried to force blank lines or add images). And if I changed the text in LyX, I'd have to synchronise the .TXT too.

So I retreated back to OpenOffice.org Writer. LaTeX people scoff at such WYSIWYG editors but with paragraph, character and page styles (Format / Styles and Formatting (F11)) available with just a double click (or none at all, if you've setup "Next Style" correctly), I don't see why. You also get the benefits of WYSIWYM, a reasonable user interface and importantly, an easy way to override the formatting if necessary (use RMB / Default Formatting to revert an override). It doesn't generate LaTeX but the output is good enough for me.

Another really handy feature, if you use headings, is the document outline viewer (Edit / Navigator (F5)).

Of course, the binary .ODT is no good for meaningful SVN or CVS diffs. Unzipping it won't help since the XML for the whole document is on, like, 2 lines. So what I do before I commit is I always save a .TXT version for diff'ing purposes. Works great except that the diff won't show formatting changes. Also, it's important after saving to .TXT to immediately resave back to .ODT before you forget and lose your next set of changes.

Yes, it's slow. Yes, it crashes at the most importune times. But it's opensource, its feature set is sufficient for all of my document editing and the .DOC filters are pretty good. And I just submitted my 106 page thesis draft on Friday. Saves me from learning LaTeX, thanks :)

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

If you unzip and then do a xmllint -format you can get rid of the 2 lines Xml problem.
Not sure how well diffable the result is, though.

Thomas

Anonymous said...

In OOWriter's options, go to "Load/Save - General", uncheck "Size optimization for XML format". That will give you a well layed out content.xml.

Anonymous said...

And you can save in the DocBook format for diffing, too. AFAIR it's uncompressed XML, multiline and quite readable too, but you lose the formatting.

LaTeX is very good, but ODF-editors are becoming more and more usable every day. The biggest weaknessess in OpenOffice are importing bitmap images (always rescales them in some weird way) and representing complex mathematical equations. Also saving impress slides as pdf's really sucks.

Anonymous said...

>It doesn't generate LaTeX but the output is good enough for me.

Just upgrade to 2.0.4 or StarOffice 8 Upgrade 4. You can then Export as LaTex. Enjoy!

indrek said...

Well, as much as I can understand the new OpenOffice.org version supports export to LaTeX :)

And as a sidenote - I think latex has made me much much more productive - I started using it a year ago from most frustrating experiences with equations in OO.o and KOffice. Took couple of weeks of usage to understand it, but cannot live without it anymore. If you have to use equations, OO.o is no match to latex.

Knusper said...

Kile is a really good editor for LaTeX ... !

Go learn LaTeX .. makes your life better...

BlueBird said...

svn can store binary diff (and it has been optimized with svn 1.4) so it should not be a worry.

And OO itself can compare and merge documents (Edit -> Compare Document).

Clarence Dang said...

I agree equations should not be done in a WYSIWYG editor as it gets painful.

As for SVN, I've been using 1.2 and the binary diff has not been enough. Will try 1.4 anyway since I also heard it has a checkout structure that doesn't take so much disk space.

Thanks for the other tips guys/girls.

Anonymous said...

actually, I think there are shortcuts for section, subsection, standard, ... in lyx:

M-p 2 for section
M-p 3 for subsection
...
M-p s for standard

Anonymous said...

"I vowed a few years ago never to learn LaTeX because the whole idea of spending time writing formatting commands, rather than document content, is so last decade (or maybe the one before that?)."

dduuuuude..... the whole POINT of LaTeX is that you can concentrate on the document content instead of worrying about formatting the text yourself.

Juan Manuel said...

AS it has been said already, OOo now supports exporting documents to latex. And it works.

I have been using latex lately but from now on i think i will write my thesis in OOo and then export it to latex. The output code is very good. You may want to change the heading, but the rest of the latex code is fine.

There are, still, some problems, but I hope I will find a way to get around them.

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