Monday, March 08, 2010

Microsoft Office 2010 support for OpenOffice

Microsoft Office 2010 is due for release in May. A Beta version with the new features of Word, Access, PowerPoint, Publisher, Outlook, InfoPath, Excel, SharePoint Workspace, OneNote and Communicator is still available. The new version will be able to create and read document in both the Microsoft sponsored OOXML format (Office Open XML, ISO/IEC 29500:2008) and Sun sponsored ODF (OpenDocument Format, ISO/IEC 26300:2006). This will better allow the interchange of documents with the open source OpenOffice.Org office suite.

OOXML was provided with Open Office 2007 and ODF in Service Pack 2. However, it seems likely that many documents will still be created in the older proprietary .DOC (Word 97-2003) format to maintain compatibility with older versions of Word and other pre XML formats.

Neither OOXML nor ODF can be read directly by a web browser. My preference would be for a HTML based format. Microsoft tried this with a previous version of Word, with a HTML based format which could be edited, however it did not become popular. However, newer versions of HTML and CSS provide more features and so fewer workarounds to implement word processor features. In addition both OOXML and ODF are conceptually similar to HTML based ebook formats, such as Epub and the Amazon Kindle format. These all consist of an XML formatted document, plus formatting and images, zipped into one file.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Kogan Agora Netbook Pro Java, Flash, Audio and Video

It was a surprise to find that my Kogan Agora Netbook Pro did not come with Java, Adobe Flash, or audio/video formats installed. In some ways it is pleasant to surf the web without Java or Flash, as a lot of annoying interactive ads and applets disappear. But I need Java, as that is what uses to create generate XHML documents from word processing files (very useful to clean up the formatting Microsoft Word documents). And Flash is needed to play some useful videos on the web. Also I would like to play audio and video in popular formats.

Installing flash was relatively easy, I just had to click a box to say it was okay to install this non-open source application on my open source computer. To tame Flash I also installed the "Flashblock" add-on, which stops Flash files playing in the web browser, apart from those sites where I have okay-ed it.

Java proved more difficult. I tried installing a Java run time kit, but this didn't seem to talk to Open Office. So then I un-installed that and instead installed the full OpenOffice suite, which comes with Java. That worked.

Installing audio and video playback codecs was very easy. In the provided player application I was told a format was not available and offered a download, which then started the application installation process. A few seconds later the codecs were installed and the audio playing.

The hardest part of this process for someone used to working with Microsoft Windows is to relax and let the package management system sort out if your system has all the needed components. Normally with Microsoft Windows you have to worry if the package you are about to install is going to overwrite some new libraries with old versions and break something. With Linux, that is taken care of for you (as much as it can be).

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Powerpoint Presentation Minimizer from Sun

An interesting free extension provided with 3.0 Beta is the Sun Presentation Minimizer. This is designed to reduce the size of files from OOO's Impress and Microsoft Powerpoint. It is for a delivery version of the presentation, which is not intended to be edited later. As a result it can reduce the resolution of images and then compresses them. Optionally it can delete speaker's notes, which don't take up much space but can be embarrassing if they weren't meant to be read by the audience.

Such a tool has been on my wish list for years. I find it very frustrating when organizing a conference and I get emailed multi megabyte Powerpoint files which have images in them hundreds of times the required size.

Unfortunately the results with the tool are disappointing. It only made a 50% reduction in file size on one presentation I tested. Set to JPEG the images showed too many artifacts to be usable. With lossless compression the colors looked odd. What I would like is an option which retains the image type of the original image (lossless or JPEG) while reducing their size. Also it would be useful if the tool looked for duplicate copies of the same image and replaced them with just one.

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Limited OOXML support in 3.0 Beta (OOO) is offering limited support for Microsoft's OOXML format in the new 3.0 Beta release of This will allow opening of files created by MS-Office 2007 and MS-Office 2008 for Mac in the OOXML files formats for word processor (.docx), spreadsheet (.xlsx), and Powerpoint (.pptx) .

There is no provision to save files from OOO in OOXML, just open them. The files can, of course, still be saved in the older MS-Office formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt), as well as OOO's native ODF format. This could provide a useful open source tool for those needing to deal with incoming OOXML files.

Curiously, OOO's announcement of the release does not mention OOXML, just .docx, .xlsx and .pptx. Perhaps OOO does not want to lend credibility to these formats, or just wants to avoid the controversy over their adoption as standards.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Open Source Office in the Sky

Singapore airlines Linux in-flight entertainmentThe Singapore airlines A380 airliners have's office software available from passenger seats. The passenger plus a flash drive into supplied USB socket with their documents, then uses a thumb board and the LCD screen to look at the documents. This must make the A380 one of the biggest mobile offices ever built. ;-)

A380 thumb keyboardA380 USB socketThe only images I could find of the setup were in a Singapore airlines video. Here are two still images from the video of the thumb keyboard and the USB socket on the seat back. There is also a larger keyboard in the video which appears to be plugged into the USB socket.

The eX2-branded upgrade of the Krisworld in-flight entertainment (IFE)
system running on Panasonic Avionics’ S3000i platform will provide 100 movies,
more than 150 TV programmes, 700 audio CDs, and 22 audio programmes – all on

Passengers will be able to access files on thumbdrives via the IFE by
plugging the drives into at-seat USB ports and using the ‘QWERTY-thumboard’
provided to run documents, spreadsheets and presentations on a system based on
Sun Microsystem’s StarOffice.

From: Singapore
Airlines unveils A380 and lays out service plans
, By Kieran Daly, Flight,

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Online applications

According to September 2007 PC World, the ability to have web applications which work offline is coming, but not quite here yet. PC World points out that many of the applications don't allow the user to seamlessly switch from offline to online and have more limited features than pure online services (which are themselves much more limited than the typical PC application).

Firefox 3 is planned to have an offlineResources attribute to allow the web designer to tell the browser what should be cached for offline use. The Google Reader feed reader now has an offline options, which requires Google Gears to be installed on the user's PC. Dojo Offline is an toolkit to make Google Gears easier to implement.

The same issue of PC World looked at web based office packages, such as Google Docs and Spreadsheets, ThinkFree and Zoho. Currently these are purely online: you have to have an Internet connection to work on documents, or export the work to a PC based package such as or MS-Office.

Also in PC World were more specialised business applications available online, such as HighRiseHQ and FreeCRM Customer Relationship Management systems (CRMs). These are also online only systems at present. Also of interest is the AgoraCart Open Source e-commerce shopping cart software, although this is downloaded software, not an online system hosted on a host web site.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Clustering TDB right answer to wrong question

Andrew Tridgell from IBM OzLabs gave an impressive live demonstration of Clustering TDB on Monday. He claims that the clustered version of Samba will allow for very large servers to be built to serve Microsoft Windows PCs as well as Linux computers. These can service 30,000 PC users with one server machine having 100 processor nodes. The server could have 10,000 disk drives and hold millions of gigabytes of data (petabytes).

The bit I didn't understand was why anyone would want such a server. If you have a very large number of users running from the one server in an organization, it is likely they are mostly running the same small set of applications. In this case it would be far more efficient to run those applications on shared processors, than on desktop PCs. This would likely result in a 90% saving in hardware.

In the extreme case if 30,000 desktop PCs are running the same application, there will have to be 30,000 copies of the same software loaded from the server and installed in 30,000 sets of RAM. Ideally, if a shared processor was used, only one copy of the application would need to be loaded in one set of RAM. In reality several copies would be needed and each user needs some RAM for their own data, but this could still save 90% of the data traffic and RAM.

One reason to use PCs is to be able to use Microsoft Office and other windows applications. It is possible to run these from a remote server and use software such as Citrix to provide it to a desktop. An example of this is the new State Library of Queensland, which uses Citrix for some reader machines.

A better approach would be to use applications which were designed to run efficiently in a shared environment. One way to make this palatable to users would be to offer them Web based applications which they could use remotely. While these would have a less interactive interface than PC applications, they would have the advantage for the user of being available anywhere there was a web browser available. They would also work well with the Web 2.0 collaborative idea, allowing staff to share information more easily.

The advantage for the technical staff would be that they would be extremely efficient in processor and memory use. In addition web based applications using efficiently encoded data will need less storage space. The 100 node 10,000 disk PC system may only need 10 processors and 1,000 disks if implemented with a web based interface.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Microsoft Office OpenXML to ODF Standard Transalation Software

Version 1 of open source software to translate from Microsoft Office 2007's OpenXML format to Open Office's standard ODF is available:
Open XML Translator provides tools to build a technical bridge between the Open XML Formats and Open Document Format(ODF). As the first component of this initiative, the ODF Add-in for Microsoft Word 2007 allows to Open & Save ODF documents in Word.

From: Open XML Translator: Release 1.0 now avalaible!, OpenXML/ODF Translator Add-in for Office, ollie_d, SourceForge, 2007-02-05 22:45
As well as an add-in for Microsoft Word, Powerpoint and Excell, there is a command line interface available. There is a detailed list of what is and is not supported:
The ODF-Converters (cooresponding to Word translator, Excel translator and PowerPoint translator) translate OpenXML documents, spreadsheets and presentations (.DOCX, .XLSX and .PPTX) to Open Document Formats - ODF 1.0 formats (.ODF, .ODS and .ODP respectively) and conversely, for Open XML processing applications.

From: Features, OpenXML/ODF Translator Add-in for Office
Unfortunately the software requires you to have Microsoft software installed. That is, the translation allows you to create OpenOffice documents, using Microsoft Office, without a copy of OpenOffice. But you can't create Microsoft 2007 OpenXML format documents from Open Office. So this is not as great an advance as it would first seem.

The OpenOffice software is free and runs on Linux and Apple systems as well as Microsoft Windows. It already supports the old Microsoft Office formats and so could be sued to translate from Microsoft to ODF formats. What would be handy is a standalone OpenXML to ODF translator. But that would be considerably harder than an Office add-on.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Online Collaboration for Government

Denise Holehouse, from Microsoft presented "Creating Business Value through Better Collaboration" to the ACS Canberra branch on Tuesday:

The world is becoming more interconnected and organizations that want to succeed in this new environment need to become more connected as well. This is not simply an information technology (IT) architecture issue, but a challenge to individuals, teams, government, businesses, and the wider world:

How can we work together better?

How can we pool our knowledge to improve results?

How can we make processes more efficient, while delivering personal care and service when it matters most?

How can we manage the flood of information that’s overflowing our inboxes, our mobile phones, and our lives? ...
Denise concentrated on aspects likely to be most of interest to an audience of government ICT people (A show of hand indicated three quarters of the audience were from government agencies). She showed a slide illistrating some of the issues for government, including consultation and collaboration.

She then showed a short video which saw a spoof of the film The Devil Wears Prada. This had people in an office quickly organizing a video conference, interacting using computer and phones and using technologies such as voice recognition.

Clearly none of the technologies Microsoft was illistrating in the video, or offering, are new. Collaboration tools, including desktop video are already available, including open source free versions. What Microsoft were claiming is that all the technologies can be combined together and made easy to operate. Microsoft Office 2007 includes interface features such as
"The Ribbon" and Contextual Tabs.

One interesting development is that Microsoft have acquired Groove, and incorporated it in Office:
At its most basic level, Groove is desktop software designed to facilitate collaboration and communication among small groups. It is a Windows-based commercial product initially developed by Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie (former CEO of Iris Associates). The central Groove paradigm is the shared workspace, a set of files to be shared plus some aids for group collaboration. ...

From: Microsoft Office Groove, Wikipdedia, 16:23, 27 April 2007
In incorporating new collaboration features and making its existing Microsoft Office product easier to operate, Microsoft is not so much competing with other companies, as with itself and with the web. The most commonly used office product is Microsoft Office. So to convince customers to use the new easier to use version, Microsoft must convince customers to stop using the old version.

If Microsoft pushes the customers too hard, they may decide to move from their current version of Microsoft Office to something like OpenOffice.Org. This is a free open source product. It may not be as powerful, or as easy to use, as Microsoft Office 2007, but will look familiar and be adequate for most office tasks (and more than enough for home use).

Open Format Wars

Denise mentioned in her talk that Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) format has been adopted as a standard by the European body ECMA. This is a respected standards body and gives the new format some credibility (ECMA have also submitted the OOXML to ISO to make it an International Standard).

But it should be noted that OOXML is a new format and the formats used by the old versions of Microsoft Office (such as .DOC for word processing) are not part of the standard. Conversion tools will be needed for the old packages to read and write the new format.

OOXML is a Zipped XML format and is conceptually similar to the OpenDocument (ODF) format used by OpenOffice.Org and some other open source packages. But ODF is already an International Standard (ISO/IEC 26300:2006) and is much smaller and simpler than OOXML.

It is likely that the old Microsoft Office formats will continue to be used for day to day work. New application needing good integration will likely use some XML based format. But newer versions of XHTML are likely to be a better format to use than OOXML or ODF for most word processing documents.

What is likely is that simpler XML formats which can be directly displayed by a web browser will be used for publishing and interchange. These formats will be converted to the new package formats (and legacy Microsoft Office formats) only when the documents need to be edited. Applications such as ICE already take this approach, allow publishing of large, complex documents from Microsoft Word into print, web and PDF formats. Microsoft has similar features in its software.

Twenty first Century Collaboration On Web 2.0?

The competition for Microsoft's collaboration tools is not a particular product or company, but is Web based applications and the so called "Web 2.0". Microsoft is emphasizing traditional collaboration tools, such as automated workflow and support for meetings. If you ask, they will tell you they support web applications and Web 2.0, but they do not emphasize it as it is likely to worry traditional corporate customers.

Staff who are used to wikis, blogs and the like socially will want to use these tools to do their work. The idea that they have to use rigid workflow processes to move a form around the office electronically, or have to use a rigid meeting structure online will seem so "last century". These staff will want to get the work done online now, using the tools directly to do the work. If the tools are not available from the software on their PC, they will turn to the web for tools. These staff may not even realize that the Microsoft software they have on their desktop is capable of providing these functions, but that the corporate IT area has disabled access to it. The staff will just see Microsoft as providing last century applications and look elsewhere.

If collaboration is being done directly online, the most natural way is with software on a web server and a web browser on the desktop. An organization only needs one copy of the collaboration software on their server. They can even outsource the server to someone else. They don't need any special software on their PCs, as any compatible web browser using any operating system will do. In fact the organization does not need any PCs: they could use thin client terminals (most likely running Linux). Mobile staff many not need a desktop at all and can use the web on a smartphone running any operating system with a compatible browser.

Throw out your PCs and Workflow Systems

Organizations looking to upgrade their office and collaboration tools need to seriously look at the options. It may be time to throw out the desktop applications and perhaps the PCs for most users. This will greatly reduce the support costs, as the minimal software on a thin client will take little maintenance. With no disk drives and no data stored on the desktop, security will also be improved. For some offices the organization could just have a router with terminals and no servers at all: everything would operate over a secure Internet connection from a remote location.

Organizations need to take a long hard look at their work practices as well. As an example, government agencies which produce large traditionally formatted documents should look at why they are doing this. Few people want to read these big documents and almost no one reads them in print. If the document is going to end up being a collection of web pages, it makes no sense to use a word processor, or any traditional typesetting tools, to create it.

The traditional approach to creating a government report would be to circulate a request for input, collect contributions, collate a draft in the word processor, circualte it for comment, make revisions, typeset, print and then create a web version. An alternative would be to create a Wiki which allows any authorized staff member to edit. The coordinator would prepare the outline of the document as a series of pages in the Wiki and check contributions. But rather than approve contributions in advance, and have meetings about what should be in the report, the editor would check what was in and join the online conversation about it.
Most of the workflow and meetings are then not needed, nor is software needed to support them.

A more radical approach would be to also invite external stakeholders to also edit the report, or even the general public (I have used the approach in preparing ICT industry contributions to government which later became public policy). This would get government out a rapidly building problem: online consultation. The availability of the web has created an expectation that the public will be consulted by government, but the traditional approach of inviting submissions and taking comment will not scale.

ps: Microsoft offer a paper
"Creating Business Value through Better Collaboration" on their Australian teams web site. However, when I attempted to download it I got "Sorry, there is no web page matching your request".

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Office Open XML Ecma Standard

On 7 December 2006, Office Open XML (OpenXML) was adopted as Ecma standard 376. Ecma has also submitted it for fast track adoption by ISO (IEC JTC 1). OpenXML is based on Microsoft's Office Open XML and is an adaption of Micrsoft Office's word-processing , presentation, and spreadsheet formats to XML. It is similar to Sun Microsoft's OpenOffice format, which has already been adopted as an ISO standard. The Wikipedia also has a useful overview of Office Open XML and comparison with OpenOffice.

Unfortunately while ECMA's announcement says their documents can be downloaded from their web site, I was unable to find the approved standard 376 in the list. But presuimbly the standards is close to the final draft of 9 October 2006. In addition there is a overview by the ECMA committee.

The standard is divided into five parts:
  1. Fundamentals
  2. Open Packaging Conventions
  3. Primer
  4. Markup Language Reference
  5. Markup Compatibility and Extensibility
The standard is provided in PDF Tagged PDF and "WordprocessingML" formats (WordprocessingML is the OpenXML word processing format). The document is not provided in HTML format as ordinary web pages, which will severely limit access to it.

Like OpenOffice, OpenXML uses the zip format to bundle up the text of a document in XML format with any images and other binary files into a compressed file. As an example the "Fundamentals" section of the standard in OpenXML format is one 240 kbyte ziped file. When unzipped it contains 29 files, of a total of 2.4 mbytes: three PNG images and the rest XML. The main text of the document is in one 1.6 mbytes file ("document.xml"), with various formatting and references in other small files.

Assuming the IT community accept Microsoft's assurances that they will continue to make use of the format freely available, it should prove popular. However, neither OpenXML nor OpenOffice are compatible with a web browser and face their biggest challenge from web standards. After an author prepares a document using OpenXML or OpenOffice they most likely then have to render it other formats for distribution, such as PDF and HTML.

Newer XHTML standards are providing more of the formatting expected for word processing documents, while providing backward compatibility with web browsers. A word processor which use an XHTML format as its native format would provide the capability of simply saving the document to the web for distribution. There would be no need to convert to PDF or HTML. There would also be scope for better integration with web tools, such as blogs, wikis and feeds.

The creation, promotion and distribution of a new word processing package was previously a major undertaking. However, AJAX (Web 2) based office packages could quickly render irrelevant the debate as to if OpenXML or OpenOffice is better, by superseding them both.

Ecma's overview of OpenXML illustrates both the strengths and weakness of both its approach and that of OpenOffice:
"OpenXML was designed from the start to be capable of faithfully representing the pre-existing corpus of word-processing documents, presentations, and spreadsheets that are encoded in binary formats defined by Microsoft Corporation. The standardization process consisted of mirroring in XML the capabilities required to represent the existing corpus, extending them, providing detailed documentation, and enabling interoperability. At the time of writing, more than 400 million users generate documents in the binary formats, with estimates exceeding 40 billion documents and billions more being created each year."
This is a wrong headed approach to the creation of an electronic document standard. The priority for word processing documents has been to reliably produce printed documents which look identical. However, the production of printed documents is now a very small part of what a word processor is used for and should not be the priority. Most documents are used for on-screen electronic viewing. Exact reproduction of a printed format is exactly what is NOT needed. As a result word processing documents have to be converted into other formats for use. As an example, the OpenXML standard is provided in three formats: PDF for printing, Tagged PDF for on-screen viewing and WordprocessingML. None of these formats is particularly suitable for on-screen viewing.

A new approach is needed where the document format is designed for on-screen viewing with a web browser, and then the additional features needed for printing are added. This can be done with XHTML.

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