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


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15 responses to “Pointing the Finger – Interoperability and Microsoft’s Share of the Blame”

  1. Harry says :

    Thanks for your blog entry. I am not surprised by your finding with regards to the interoperability problems beween MS Office 2013 and MS Office Mac 2011. When working on .docx files in a mixed team with MS Office 2010 and MS Office Mac 2011, we had always mild-to-severe incompabilities. Hence, for complex documents in mixed teams, people are not allowed to use MS Mac Office anymore.

    So, these problems exist, even if there is nobody using LibreOffice. On the other hand, we had never problems between LO Win, LO Mac, LO Lin. Always the same result, excellent.

  2. Fahad says :

    So, Have you reported the bugs in LB bugs system?

  3. Jay Philips (@jphilipz) says :

    iplaw67 told me that MS Office Mac 2011 had problems with docx and i thought it was limited to just the new ooxml format, but i guess it also happens with doc files as well. 😀

  4. Anders says :

    It might still be the case that LO writes the file incorrectly, but that MSO 2013 is just better at error handling. It might be interesting to re-save the correctly looking document from MSO 2013 and see if MSO 2011 can handle it (and if it can, compare the files from LO and MSO).

    I find your “real world stress test” interesting. Perhaps the Document Foundation should do testing or sprints like this regularly both to demonstrate maturity of LO and to find and fix problems, as the Blender Foundation have done with their projects ( http://www.blender.org/features/projects/ ), where they gather users (in their case 3d-artists) to find bugs and developers to fix bugs and develop features and give them an ambitious goal. Had one or two developers been assigned to fix your problems as they arose, this might have ended up a nice case story.

    • joelmadero says :

      That’s really an interesting point. I find it to be incredibly unlikely that Microsoft invested time in handling crappy output – especially considering these are old doc formats that LibreOffice handles quite well. I suppose I can open the document in 2010 version on Windows 7 and see the results….will report back shortly 😀

      Also we don’t “assign developers” – there are no developers to assign, TDF has zero, our developers fix what they want to fix or are paid to fix by their respective companies – please read my other blog post on user expectations as I think it explains that process well enough 😉

      • Anders says :

        I don’t find it unlikely that MS tried to make their product more robust. That MSO2011 can’t handle it while MSO2013 can, at least shows that something changed and it is probably more unlikely that they tried to make their parser less robust.

        I know that the Document Foundation do not currently pay developers. That is why I referenced the Blender Foundation, that, to my knowledge, don’t either have paid developers, but even though make it happen. And in OS you of course don’t necessarily have to pay people to be able to assign them.

      • joelmadero says :

        Anders – look at my update. 2010 also works in Windows, so unless 2011 was made before 2010, it’s not a matter of Microsoft changing something that makes broken documents work

      • Simo Kaupinmäki says :

        Office for Mac is built from a different code base than Office for Windows. In effect, these are two completely separate product lines, even if they are marketed as a single product for two platforms. Microsoft are now trying to make the key parts of their various Office products converge, so the situation should get better in the future.


      • joelmadero says :

        Interesting information. Of course the regular user is still going to blame us for any hiccups which is unfortunate 😦 Thanks for sharing!

  5. Joel Oman says :

    I am new to this. Can I use LibreOffice along side of Open Office? I need to open WPS files that were copied from my old Windows XP to my new Windows 8.1 on a new computer. The Open Office chat doesn’t seem to offer any help. Or lead me to a website where I can get help.

  6. Eugene Seidel says :

    You keep harping on “blame”. In my opinion, blaming is not the issue when it comes to the interoperability problems between LO and MO. For all I know, the LibreOffice developers are doing heroic work tackling a near-insurmountable challenge, if the specs issued by Microsoft are really as bad as you claim.

    To the user, blame is irrelevant. We want something that does the job, period.

    As a stand-alone word processor, Writer is better for people who want a software capable of handling complex documents in a smooth workflow. LO does not get in the way and is more logical and intuitive to use.

    But the interoperability is the showstopper. (And not just .doc and .docx, RTF interoperability is also unreliable in my experience.) As FLOSS enthusiast Dedoimedo writes in his review:

    Using LibreOffice as an alternative to Microsoft Office is much like driving hybrid cars. It will work perfectly, as long as you restrict yourself to an odd 100 km commute, with a plenty of recharging stations along the route, and making sure you have a home kit. Otherwise, you’ll be left stranded.

    By the way, a number of people say that Kingsoft (in People’s Republic of China) does a better job at interoperability than LibreOffice. I haven’t checked to see whether this is true. Maybe they hacked into Microsoft servers and downloaded the real specs LOL.

    • MBB says :

      “To the user, blame is irrelevant. We want something that does the job, period.”

      Hear hear.

      And some users might not blame LO – the’d blame Apple, and it’s still a win for MS. But if LO managed to solve it anyway, they might actually overtake MS on Apple devices.* (At least, according to this article on Barriers to Entry http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000052.html )

      Were you to follow the ‘ interoperability improvemnent guidelines’ on the PR pages, you should file this troubleshooting as a bug report.
      But were you to do so, you’d get back a ‘ Not Our Bug’ and a ‘Go complain by MS” back. – which is discouraging at best.

      Still, I hope it gets solved one way or another and LO comes out stronger.

      *(NB: I understood new MSO versions do not run on PPC mac’s whereas LO does, so the first hurdle is already taken)

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