Apr 1

I’ve looked at tracked changes and comments in LibreOffice Writer and MS Word before but thought it might be worth another closer look now with the release of LibreOffice 4.4. As I’ve said before, tracking changes and inserting comments are important features of MS Word for authors and editors in the publishing field and any progress towards a more seamless exchange of changes and comments between MS Word and LibreOffice Writer (shortened to LO Writer from here onwards) may help to encourage use of open source rather than commercial software in that particular field.

If you just want a summary of what I’ve found, just jump down to the Conclusions and read on there, otherwise if you’re interested in the details of exchanging comments and changes between Word and LO Writer please read on.

As an editor, I usually receive files from authors and publishers in Word doc format and have to return them in the same format after editing. So I’m going to start with a simple doc format file created in MS Word 2007 with changes tracked and comments added, I’ll open that in LO Writer 4.4 and make some more comments and changes there, then save the file in doc format and open that in MS Word again to see the final state. Obviously, my eventual intention is to be able to receive documents from authors, edit them in LO Writer and return the file in Word doc format. I’ve managed to make some progress with changes and comments in a very simple file which I’ll go through here. However, I’ve no doubt that files with other complex formatting will show some incompatibilities. I’m only looking at tracked changes and comments in this post.

For compatibility of changes and comments between the two programs, the first thing that has to be considered is the labelling of comments and changes as they pass between the programs. In MS Word, this means setting the user name (or author name) and user initials. In Word 2007, this is done by clicking the Office button at the top left of the screen and choosing the Word Options button at the bottom of the menu that opens. Under Popular you can enter your User name and Initials.

User name and initials in MS Word

If you’ve used tracked changes and comments in MS Word, you’ll know that, when changes are visible, if you hover your mouse over changes or comments, information bubbles will appear explaining when the change was made and starting with the user name or author name you’ve chosen. Comments will be labelled with the initials you’ve chosen followed by a number in ascending order through the document. The simple example below shows the Reviewing Pane on the left with ‘User name’ for the user name and INITS for the initials. The first comment is labelled INITS1.

Reviewing pane in Word

So now here’s a Word document with change tracking turned on and showing Markup. This time I’ve used T&L for the initials. As you can see, to the original document I’ve added a sentence, deleted a sentence, inserted bold and italic in places and added three comments labelled T&L1, T&L2 and T&L3.

Lorem ipsum with changes added in MS Word

After much trial and error with user names in Word and LO Writer, what I’ve found is that, to achieve compatibility of labelling when adding comments and tracked changes in both Word and LO Writer 4.4, you must have the same user name/initials in Word and again the exact same Company/last name in LO Writer. The problem seems to start in LO Writer which won’t use the Word initials field for labelling comments inserted in Word but uses the Word user name field instead. But when you add new comments in LO Writer, it will label them using information in the last name field in LO Writer. Interestingly, when you save your work as a doc file in LO Writer and reopen the file back in Word, the original Word comments reappear labelled from the Word initials field but new comments added in LO Writer have all labelling dropped and are just numbered consecutively.

So to avoid these labelling problems, open LO Writer and add your Company name and last name by clicking Tools>Options>User Data. Company name in LO Writer appears to be the equivalent of User name in Word while last name in LO Writer appears to be the equivalent of initials in Word. As I’ve said, to maintain compatibility between the programs, these should be the same as entered in Word.

User name and initials in LO Writer

Now we can open the Word doc file in LO Writer, turn on tracked change and add more changes and comments. The old and new comments are all added with the correct label T&L but aren’t numbered.

Lorem ipsum with changes added in MS Word and LibreOffice

All the old and new comments are highlighted correctly in the text as shaded boxes. They weren’t last time I tried this with the older version of LO Writer. All additional comments and changes made in LO Writer occur in the same colour as the older Word changes as they are done by the same user.

So far so good, but after adding the new changes and comments in LO Writer, we now have to save the file in doc format then reopen it in MS Word to see how the original changes and the new changes made in LO Writer are displayed.

Lorem ipsum with changes added in MS Word and LibreOffice and viewed again in Word

Everything looks file. The old and new comments have been integrated into one consecutive list labelled T&L1 to T&L5, and all tracked changes have been made by the same user.

Of course, you may not want to pass files from Word to LO Writer and back to Word, but instead just create the file in LO Writer and save it as a doc file so that someone else can open it in Word. After much trial and error with Company name/first name/last name/initials in LO Writer, I was unable to produce labelled comments when the doc file was opened in Word. The comments just appeared numbered 1, 2, 3, etc. That’s disappointing. I hope someone can sort this out in LibreOffice in a future release for the sake of seamless transfer of doc files to MS Word.

Conclusion

If you want to ensure compatibility of tracked changes and comments when moving documents between MS Word and LO Writer 4.4, you must have the same label in all four of these fields: User name in Word, initials in Word, Company in LO Writer, last name in LO Writer.

I’ve also found that that this only works for the older doc format. Try using the newer docx format and compatibility breaks down – new comments added in LO Writer are not labelled when viewed back in MS Word, they just have consecutive numbering and aren’t integrated with the older comments as happens when using doc format. A good reason to stick with the older doc format, something which publishers seem quite happy to do when you look through author guidelines for manuscript submission.

I also couldn’t produce labelled comments in MS Word when a doc file created in LO Writer and with comments added in Writer was later opened in Word. That’s disappointing and I hope it can be fixed in LibreOffice.

But all in all, quite encouraging. If developers working on LibreOffice could fix the user name/initials/company/last name labelling issue of changes and comments so there was no need to use my workaround, then that would be one more reason to drop MS Word in favour of LO Writer.

I have recently discovered that an overseas author client of mine does in fact use LibreOffice Writer, then saves his file in Word doc format for me to edit. As we exchanged files for revision, it was only the comment labelling that gave away the fact he wasn’t using MS Word! In fact he’d been using LibreOffice to prepare doc format manuscripts for some time and I hadn’t noticed! That’s very encouraging and hopefully we’re not far away from a viable open source solution for authors and publishers.

So if you’re still using an old version of MS Word and don’t want to upgrade to the latest version, if you can’t afford to upgrade or if you’re using a pirated copy of MS Word, have a look at LibreOffice. It may just be an adequate replacement for MS Word for the things that you do.

Do you use LibreOffice and exchange documents with someone using MS Word or vice versa? What’s your experiences?


Apr 25

Are you fed up forking out for a commercial OS, OS updates, and office software? Well, in this series of posts, I’m considering whether I can move away from Windows 7 in the future. So far, things look promising, especially with the explosion of the Android platform and with viable Linux desktop options. As I’ve discussed before,  one thing holding me back is that I need to be able to edit MS Word documents for clients – you may be in the same boat. In an earlier part in this series, I looked at open source software OpenOffice and LibreOffice from one aspect –  editing documents with tracked changes. I ran a test on these two packages to see whether I could:

  1. Open a MS Word doc file with tracked changes in the file and with tracked changes turned on
  2. Edit it adding further tracked changes and comments in OpenOffice or LibreOffice
  3. Save it in MS Word doc format
  4. Open it in MS Word to see if all the tracked changes and comments had been preserved through the process.

In that first test, OpenOffice was just slightly better as LibreOffice introduced some minor formatting errors, but both did a pretty good job.

So what about other free options online for editing MS Word documents? Well as you may know, there have been some developments from Google Drive recently with add-ons to allow, among other things, tracked changes in Google Docs.  Microsoft have also renamed its Microsoft Web Apps to Office Online so I wanted to check that out as well. As I go, I’ll try and walk you through using Google Drive and Office Online. I hadn’t used either before so if you have some comments or tips or if you feel I missed something important, please drop a comment at the bottom and I’ll update the post.  On the other hand, if you want to skip the detail, you’ll find a short summary of my results at the bottom of the post. For fairness, I’ll be using the same starting Word doc file that I used to evaluate tracked changes in OpenOffice and LibreOffice.

Google Drive

If you don’t mind relying even more heavily on Google and allowing them access to more of your data, then this may be an option for editing Word doc files with tracked changes. Obviously, you’ll need a (free) Google account to access Google Drive. Once you upload a MS Word doc file from your PC to Google Drive you can view it, but to open/edit it, you must open it with Google Docs. Right click on the MS Word doc file you want to open and chose open with Google Docs.

Google Drive1

Now, if you want to track changes made to the Google Docs file, you first have to install the Track Changes Add-on. Navigate to Add-ons and select Get add-ons. Then look for the Track Changes add-on and install it.

Google Drive2

 

The first thing I noticed was that some tracked changes that I had already made previously in MS Word didn’t come across into the Google Doc file. For example, deleted and inserted text were not highlighted as tracked changes as they were in LibreOffice and OpenOffice. Comments made in Word did come across but the commenter name was shown as ‘null’ and the comment insertion point was missing. Again, LibreOffice and OpenOffice did this perfectly, so that’s not a good start.

I then made the same tracked changes in the Google Doc file as I had made in the LibreOffice and OpenOffice files. On the Track Changes menu, I had to click Highlight my new changes before I started. When I deleted words in the Google Docs file they only showed in the separate track changes window not in the main document. However, tracked insertions did show up with a purple background in the main editing window. I later discovered that I could actually see the revision history including the comments made in Google docs and all tracked insertions and deletions. You get there by clicking File, See revision history.

Google Drive3

Another minor failing for me was that tracked changes were labelled with my Google username. No chance of selecting another user or commenter name as you can in MS Word, OpenOffice and LibreOffice, so this may be a disadvantage for a freelance worker who may want to use a trading or business name for comments and changes.

I also discovered I should have renamed the file before I started because all changes were automatically added to the original Google Docs file, not what I’m used to in MS Word. I then downloaded the file to my PC. To do this go to File, Download as, Microsoft Word (.docx).

When I opened the file in MS Word and showed Markup, this is what I saw:

Google Drive4

The original tracked changes in Word had disappeared in the journey to Google Docs and back, and the tracked text deleted and comment added in Google Docs had also disappeared. All I had was the tracked inserted text shown with the purple background and the original comments in Word but now with the commenter name replaced by ‘null’. So, all in all, a much poorer result than with OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

Office Online

Office Online is free to use at the moment. The only proviso is that you must have a (free) Microsoft OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) online account as you have to access and edit your MS Word doc files from there. So I uploaded my original Word file with some tracked changes already made in Word, and tracked changes were turned on. Then, click on the file and it opens in the Word Online viewer. Now, to edit the file, click on Edit Document, Edit in Word Online

Word Online1

I found that the tracked inserted and deleted text in the original file were not highlighted in Word Online, and comment insertion points were not highlighted, although this time Word Online had got the commenter name right from the original file. Track Changes was still marked as ON at the bottom of the editing window. I didn’t see any way to turn tracked changes off and on from within Word Online.

There is a review section on the menu, but this only allows Comments to be inserted. So I made my standard editing changes as before. The username for comments was Guest. That could probably be changed if I knew how. Again, as I found with Google Docs, all the changes had already been made to the original file, but the original file was saved in the version history. That’s something I’ll have to get used to. Save the file with a new name before you start editing it online. So I downloaded the edited file from Word Online and found that all the changes made in Word Online had been tracked even though I couldn’t see the tracked changes when editing online!

Word-Word Online-Word

So, apart from the Guest username in the comments, all the tracked changes made in the original Word file and then in the Word Online editing had been faithfully carried back through to the file when reopened in MS Word on my PC.

Summary

I’ve looked at two free online alternatives for editing MS Word documents with tracked changes – Google Drive and Word Online. Perhaps not surprisingly, Google Drive didn’t perform as well as Word Online in my test. I found that, with Word Online, I could open a simple Word doc file with tracked changes and with tracked changes turned on, edit it in Word Online, and download it to my PC and still see all the tracked changes from the original Word file and from the editing in Word Online. The only downsides were that I couldn’t see how to set the username in Word Online, there seemed to be no option to turn tracked changes on or off in Word Online, and I couldn’t view the tracked changes in Word Online (but they were there!).

But for me, from every free option I’ve looked at so far, I’d put Word Online slightly behind OpenOffice from the point of view of editing a MS Word document with tracked changes. I have no doubt that a more complex Word file would have caused some formatting problems but it looks like free alternatives, online and offline, may be able to give MS Word a good run for its money for many of us who perhaps don’t need tracked changes. Have a look at Office Online and see what you think.

Next time in this series, I’ll have a look at editing MS Word documents (for free) on an Android tablet or smartphone and see how that compares to my frontrunners so far.


Aug 21

In this series of posts, I’m discussing whether I can move completely from Windows to Linux. In the last post in the series, I discussed why I’m sticking with Windows 7 for the moment rather than moving to Windows 8. It’s time now to look at some open source word processors and whether they can take the place of MS Word if I move completely to Linux. I’m sure many Linux users would say this is no problem but unfortunately it’s just not as simple as that for many of us.

I’m a freelance editor and spend a lot of time correcting the language of research papers for authors and publishers. The plain fact is that Microsoft Word has been around for a very long time (1983 to be precise) and is the established word processor. Kids, including my own, learn MS Office at school and go on to use it in business, academia and at home.  Although Google Drive is becoming more popular with some authors and publishers,  MS Word is the well entrenched standard in the publishing industry. Most publishers insist that documents are submitted in Word doc format (many publishers still can’t/won’t handle docx format). We have a situation now where authors worldwide have to fork out for a commercial product, or pirate it, because it’s the publishing standard. Many of these authors just can’t afford MS Office with its costly upgrades. And because they have to stick with MS Word and need a platform to use it, that makes it more difficult for them to move to a Linux OS. Or does it? There are several options to work with Word documents in Linux. The first would be to use open source, free software such as OpenOffice Writer or LibreOffice Writer to write or edit the article then save the file in Word doc format to send the document off to the publishers. But there may well be compatibility issues in the process. The second option would be to run MS Word in Wine on the Linux OS. I’ll look at OpenOffice and LibreOffice in this post and at Wine in a later post.

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