Happy Document Freedom Day (Belated)


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Mar 31, 2013 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

March 27th was Document Freedom Day. In the crush of other events that day I was not paying as much attention as I should, and it took an article from a friend of mine talking about Office Suite compatibility to focus my attention.

Of course compatibility between office suites is a big hindrance from a lot of people using an office suite like LibreOffice in their business. When you send a document to someone and they can not read it, or you get a document from someone and you can not read it, that is a problem. That is why it was nice that LibreOffice published a white-paper on migrating from other major office packages. While this document gave a lot of procedural steps to make a migration plan, particularly if they are a large company, it was short on concrete steps to help with interoperability between office packages. If they mentioned the issues at all, it tended to be in a “high level language” that probably would confuse or frustrate some readers. Undoubtedly this was because the migration was supposed to be generic from “other office packages” and not a specific one.  For instance, in the document they discussed some of the differences between the office packages, but they did not mention a feature comparison (from their own web site) for any specific office package.  Nor did they talk about real issues with fonts and macros, but only point out that there might be issues and you would have to work with the people you collaborate with to solve the problem.

If compatibility with Microsoft Office is important to you, then you should print the above chart and indicate that all the features that are not on both sides of the graph and which would affect the document itself be “off limits”to your staff. This does not include features that are just used for searching or other type of “use” functionality, but just the functionality that might cause problems in formatting.


There are two main issues with fonts:

  • missing fonts
  • fonts that are named the same, but are not really the same

Fonts, like a lot of other arts, are copyrighted. A lot of fonts are sold, and these days you can download lots of fonts at a very low price to put into your text or artwork, mixing and matching them to create a really complex document.

Please do not use lots of fonts unless you have a real need.

If you are creating documents to share with other people, the more fonts you have in them (and particularly ones that are not used by millions of people every day) the more likely it is that the receiving person will not have those fonts on their computer and your document will not look the way you envisioned it would look.

What happens if the font used in the document is not found? It depends on the application. Sometimes the application tries to substitute another font so you can (somewhat) see what was written. Sometimes “black botches” appear and sometimes the characters might appear but be somewhat larger or smaller than the original characters (or take up more white space) and the pagination of the document is wrong. This causes people who are reviewing documents via two different systems to find the same words on different pages.  When people are reviewing documents on different systems it is better to export a PDF in PDF/A-1a format,which is a format typically used in “long term storage” that includes all the fonts used in the source document. When reviewing of the PDF/A-1a document is done, the reviewers can then go back to their source copy and edit it.The fonts used with LibreOffice are all “free” fonts designed to be compatible with every operating system, so it would be wonderful if every document was created with LibreOffice, but that is not realistic and it is better to try and get your collaborators and business partners to agree to a particular minimalism in font selection and use that you use for everything.

You also should make sure that LibreOffice is completely installed for more complete compatibility. Some things that Microsoft Office does “naturally” is done with extensions by LibreOffice, so you have to install those “extra things” in the form of extensions.

Compatibility issues also do not exist just between Microsoft and LibreOffice. Compatibility issues exist between all office systems, and even between various versions of office packages. Particularly “backwards compatibility” (the ability to take a document created on a new version of an office package and trying to open and work with iton an earlier version of that office package. Even consumers that “freeze” their own office packages at a various version are often forced to upgrade when their business partners all have upgraded to a newer version.  A lot of the same work that has to be done in an office package migration should also be done when upgrading to a new major release of an office package.

I must admit that I am not a “power user” of any office product. I do relatively simple things, particularly when it comes to text processing, so when I started to do this blog entry, it was the first time in a long while that I really looked at LibreOffice and its capabilities, and I was very impressed.The new feature in V4.0, however (and I am using V4.0.1) is the ability to use an Android device as a remote control for a slide presentation. Whether it be an Android phone or Tablet, as long as it is running a recent version of Android you can download the application from Google's Play store and use either Bluetooth or WiFi to control it. I am looking forward to using this feature during my next presentation.

Carpe Diem!

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