Pointing the Finger – Interoperability and Microsoft’s Share of the Blame

Had a very interesting experience today. Sent my 35 page brief over to my partner using MS Office 2011 on OSX and it was a bit screwed up (not unusable but quite a bit changed in it including font size). I decided to boot into Windows and test MS Office 2013 – guess what – was literally perfect.

The unfortunate truth is that situations like this make LibreOffice look bad despite it being completely out of our control to resolve. This was a .doc file – to say the least two .doc files should look the same in MS Office 2011 and MS Office 2013 – so why don’t they? Well, because Microsoft Office has some serious problems. But what Microsoft Office doesn’t lack is a brilliant PR department who can convince people that OTHERS are to blame for these insanities.

Truly unfortunate – so now the experience from my partner is “LibreOffice sent a document that doesn’t look right” and the finger gets pointed at us — even after I showed him the document looking perfect in MSO 2013 on Windows 7….thanks Microsoft….thanks a lot.

 

Update: Tested on Microsoft Office 2010 on Windows 7 and the results were also good. So – it is definitely OSX specific which makes our poor developers and QA people’s job 100x harder . . . what a pain

Supreme Court Brief – Interop

Well interoperability is becoming more of a problem as we move forward. Not to blame LibreOffice – as has already been stated many times on the web, one of the big problems is that Microsoft themselves don’t accurately stick to their own specs which can cause problems for anyone trying to use both LibreOffice and Microsoft Office. I’m still not sure what version of Microsoft Office my partner is using – I vaguely remember seeing him on a Mac so I suspect MSO 2011 for Mac. We’ve switched to docx (I sent him doc, docx, and pdf) and he returned the docx with his edits, some things I noticed:

1. TOC is very screwed up – I think that this is due to Microsoft Office and not LibreOffice though. I think they handle lower level headers (e.g., header2, header 3, etc . . .) in a different (and lamer) way than LibreOffice so the page number doesn’t go all the way to the right which is idiotic.

2. Page breaks are gone – and with them the page styles I had on. For some reason Microsoft converted all of them to “Converted” and then some #, no clue where that came from. Perhaps the biggest issue :-/

3. Not only were the particular styles lost, things like page margins went back to default instead of what we need them at.

Good news:

1. Comments are awesome and working fine – this is tremendously important for anyone trying to commingle their works and provide feedback;

2. Font was maintained;

3. My partner seems to think all of the bad news stuff isn’t that bad ;) He’s not asking me to use MSO or any such thing, says it’s all minor that we can fix at the end.

Nothing is beyond repair with a little time.

LibreOffice for Lawyers – Update 2

Well – first interoperability problem. I wasn’t aware that Microsoft Word doesn’t support styles…having setup about 10 styles to handle all the nuances of legal writing, after sending it to my partner and having it returned I noticed that fonts were changed (both font type and font size). A bit unfortunate but not really sure how to correct it :-/

Workaround: Copy and special pasting as unformatted into my document after he sends me his docs. This is easy enough, but still, for people needing to have consistency, I could see this being a tad bit of a problem.

Still chugging along and only minor hiccups that I’ve been able to resolve with quick workarounds.

 

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EDIT: Apparently Word does support styles so now I have to do some future diagnostics to figure out what is going on. Still not sure if it’s LibreOffice problem with exporting to .doc or Microsoft Office problem with not handling styles correctly. Need to add it to the list of things to check out when I have time.

User Expectations and the Reality of Our Community

Notice: I debated if I should write this or not – so in advance, I apologize if it comes off as overly aggressive.

Lately I’ve been seeing a spike in users demands both on the user mailing list, the chat room, and on bug posts. More and more I’m seeing things like “this is a blocker for me and therefore it should have a higher priority.” This is truly a problematic trend and I hope that those reading this will take a moment to reflect on the impact that such comments have on our community.

It is incredibly easy to point fingers and tell someone else to “fix it.” Fortunately, that is not how our community has worked, nor is it how it works now. Angry comments that criticize a regression, or try to manipulate priorities/importance in order to get higher attention, is only bound to lead to developersĀ  and QA becoming unmotivated, avoiding the bug completely, etc . . .

So a couple incredibly important points:

  1. The Document Foundation (the non profit organization behind LibreOffice) has zero (yes, not one) paid developer. The implication of this is that there is literally not one single person on the project who can dictate how bugs are fixed.
  2. There are paid developers being paid by other companies – again TDF has zero power to influence these companies. They do incredible work and TDF has helped to develop an ecosystem where such third party, independent, companies can thrive.
  3. The remaining portion of our commits are wholly from volunteers. What does this mean – again, we have no power to dictate how a volunteer uses their time.

So what we try to do (at least in QA) is to do as much work as possible to help move the bug along, and then, it’s truly out of our hands. Things that can be done:

  1. Debug (for crashers especially): https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/Development/How_to_debug
  2. Bibisect (for regressions, 64 bit linux required): https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/QA/HowToBibisect
  3. Clear, simple reproducible steps + clean document for a test case.
  4. Prioritize correctly: This means WITHOUT bias of “this affects me” (honestly if developers are going to trust our priority/severity at all even as a guidance on what to fix, we must do this without bias, I completely avoid prioritizing my own bugs, even after 3 years on the project and thousands of bugs triaged). For guidance: https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/images/0/06/Prioritizing_Bugs_Flowchart.jpg
  5. Most important at all: GIVE BACK. More and more I’m seeing users who give no time and demand the world – this is really just a way to demoralize the entire community. There are lots of teams – please do more than complain, because that really does nothing to improve the greatness which is Libreoffice.

Two particularly troublesome things have come up recently, more so in the past. Complaints about regressions have increased and this demand on developers to fix their regressions immediately, drop all other priorities, etc . . . etc . . . Some have gone so far as to ask if developers have “any responsibility to test their commits.” Rest assured – they test like crazy, but with >10,000,000 lines of codes, crazy shit happens. So getting involved earlier (download the pre-releases, daily builds and test) again….helps us help you. It’s easy to wait until a release, give zero time, and then start spamming wherever possible to complain. Second, enterprise users demanding we do things for free and prioritize highly because “this makes using LibreOffice in my office impossible.” For those of you using LibreOffice in an office, who are making money off of all of our volunteers incredible work, please consider getting support . . . making money off of others work and then complaining about the product you get is surely not the best approach to building a happy and healthy open source project.

So lastly – the options for bugs, they are pretty clear but I find myself having to repeat them over and over again:

  1. Submit a patch yourself (the code is free, go check it out);
  2. Find a family, friend, spouse, etc . . . to submit a patch (what are friends for right? ;) );
  3. Pay for a fix (there are companies out there that are really quite fantastic);
  4. Wait patiently (yes that’s the last option – wait, complaining helps no one).

If you choose option #4 – I highly suggest doing the stepsĀ  from the QA side to help move it along (help us help you!) – debugs and bibisects in particular.

LibreOffice for Lawyers (Update 2)

Well I have to say that LibreOffice is really outshining my own very high expectations. I’m incredibly impressed that it’s been able to handle basically everything I’ve thrown at it. We’re about 10 pages into our brief and so far all the “routine” work is going smoothly. There are quite a few quarks with regards to the table of authorities – maybe I just don’t know how to use them exactly right – but if we hope to penetrate the legal market in a real sense (especially in the United States), these quarks will have to be resolved. Mostly minor things:

1. Inconsistency with what is highlighted when you insert a new entry. (i.e. highlight the entry, go to insert -> Entry) and push ok. About half the time only a little mark is entered at the beginning of the entry to indicate that it’s now an entry that will be in the table, the other half of the time the entire entry is highlighted.

2. For some reason I’m getting a really strange entry (will try to get a cleaned/non confidential document together) that shows “1p” in the Table of Authorities for page (instead of “i, 1″ because the value entered is both on page “i” and on page “1”)…this one is a bit more problematic.

3. Enhancement could be made to make it much easier to remove entries or edit entries (Insert -> Indexes and Tables -> Entry).

4. Enhancement could be made for a toolbar that does entries (same entries as from #3 above) easily.

Note: This is just a laundry list of things – I don’t expect anyone to do these things, not demanding, not anything beyond observing ;) To all you lawyers out there reading this – I’d love to get a pool together that is dedicated to improving LibreOffice for lawyers. Comment or email me if you’re interested :)

LibreOffice for Lawers – Update

So – because briefs are so picky, the TOC and Table of Authorities has to be in a particularly finicky format. This is completely 100% manageable in LibreOffice by using “allow manual edits” in LibreOffice. Unfortunately, any update to the automated tables causes the user to lose their manual edits completely. Furthermore, paragraph styles are not carried over to the tables/indexes. For example if you have a header that is italicized, this is not italicized in the TOC – again, you can resolve this with a manual change, but these changes are lost if you update the table.

Will report enhancement request. Request will be as follows:

(1) Indexes/TOC should maintain manual changes where possible – a smart algorithm (probably hard to implement) to “guess” at what kinds of changes are wanted to be kept, examples include:

  1. Order of entries: For instance in the table of authorities, all entries must be in alpha order, not by how they appear in the document. You can copy/paste these into a reasonable order but an update pushes them back into the “automatic” order based on where the entries appear in the document;
  2. Paragraph Breaks: You might have the following situation “Someone v. Government,” BREAK, citation. Upon update, this all goes on one line again

(2) Character/Paragraph style should be maintained/carried over to indexes and TOC.

  1. For lawyers this is important as entries in TOC and Table of Authorities must be formatted in a particular style and that must be maintained not only in the body of the document but also in any and all tables/TOC/etc . . .

Overall LibreOffice is really doing an incredible job – I’d argue a much better job than I’d be facing in Microsoft Office right now ;) But this of course is a subjective (and perhaps biased ;) ) view :-b

LibreOffice for Lawyers

Hi All -

Just a quick post for now. I’m writing a Supreme Court sample brief and have decided to do this in LibreOffice to really put it to the test. I’m going to (hopefully) write about my experience and the experience of my partner (who is using Microsoft Office, so it’s a good interoperability test). Along with this I’ll also be reporting bugs that are likely to impact lawyers trying to use LibreOffice and I’ll add these to the blog as well :)

Couple notes:

1. Unfortunately I cannot share my final product. That being said, it should look something like this at the end: http://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/09-1088_pet.pdf

The goal for any lawyer is to automate as much as possible – this means that things like the Table of Contents, Table of Authorities, etc . . . should be automated and thus will put these features to the test.

2. Because I’m working with a partner using Microsoft Office – my plan is to work locally in odf format but upon sharing the work I will save a copy as a .doc, send it to him, and he’ll edit, return the work, and then I’ll incorporate the changes in my odt file. A bit roundabout but it’s good for interoperability reasons, respecting ODF format locally, and it’ll remove the local issues which *might* happen with doc format (no clue if it will, but better to stick with odf where possible).

3. Using .doc instead of docx just because from my experience it’s had better support. We’re on a bit of a time crunch so I don’t have too much time to be fussing – I could be 100% mistaken here but just decided it’s best this time to stick with what I have experience working with). Additionally, my partner and I use different version of Microsoft Office (I have 2013, he’s on 2011 for Mac I believe), we all are aware that docx is actually 3 different versions – to avoid the headache, even had I been using Microsoft Office to create this, I would have stuck with the .doc format since Microsoft seems to hate itself when it comes to .docx format ;)

The final document will be quite complex, encompassing multiple page styles, character styles, automatic features (TOC and other indexes), etc . . . I’m excited to see how LibreOffice can work for a lawyer doing “real work.”

First couple days have been quite successful. I’ve set up the basic document with multiple page styles, set up the title page, TOC, set up the Table of Authorities and done a few samples to make sure it works correctly. I also saved as a doc and sent to my friend – he said it looks good which is a big + :-D

That being said – I have reported an enhancement request (border line bug).

Summary: TOC does not track numbering styles of page numbering – a bit of a problem for lawyers doing these kinds of work.

Workaround: Allow manual edits to the TOC/Index (for Table of Authorities) and manually update. Not perfect as you have to do it every time (if you refresh the TOC you lose manual edits) so if you miss one, judge can legally refuse to accept the brief.

Bug report: https://bugs.freedesktop.org/show_bug.cgi?id=84700

Special thanks to this great tutorial for using LibreOffice (originally written for OpenOffice but steps carry through generally) for legal briefs. http://www.wikihow.com/Write-Legal-Briefs-With-Openoffice.Org

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