I admit it. I hate Microsoft Office. I’m constantly appalled at how bloated and complicated it is even to do simple things. I won’t write in Word, mostly because I’ve never been able to simply sit down and write with it. Maybe I’m too easily distracted? I know I don’t have the time to try to figure out how to simplify the interface by getting rid of useless toolbars and turning off annoying pop-ups that second-guess what I’m trying to do. I want to scream, «shut up and let me write!»

I’ve also been indoctrinated with enough of the Open Source mumbo-jumbo that I’m eager to try out all sorts of stuff I don’t have to pay for. I use Firefox most of the time and I do most of my instant messaging with Jabber. I do my Web development work with Perl and MySQL on Apache rather than some sort of dot-NET monstrosity. I even call .NET a monstrosity, see? I have Gimp installed on all my machines (even though I never use it). And until I migrated to the Mackertosh, I used OpenOffice (and StarOffice before that) instead of MS Office.

So it is only natural that I would install and try out NeoOffice, which is an answer to OpenOffice’s poor showing on the Mac platform. Yeah, there is a Mac version, but there may as well not be one. It’s usually several versions behind and it requires an X server, which generally means forget about using the same fonts as the rest of my system. Yes, I know there’s a way to share the fonts, but that would take a few hours of Googling to determine. Just because I’m capable of editing files in my /etc directory doesn’t mean I want to just to get some word processor to look pretty. Besides, I like being able to cut and paste between my applications, and with X that just doesn’t work the way it should. I like that X is on my machine, I just don’t like using it very often.

Well, I hadn’t really put NeoOffice through the paces until tonight. I used it to generate an invoice a few weeks ago and I’ve opened it up a few times to see what it was like. I liked it. It seemed pretty typical of office software.

The operative words in the preceding paragraph are, unfortunately, «until tonight».

I admit, I’m working with a pretty long document; it’s over 300 pages of text. But it is for the most part only lightly formatted, and what I’m doing with it is pretty simple. The document’s parts are all out of order and I am using two windows, one with the original document and the other with the sections in order. So I’m basically just going from window to window copying and pasting.

This would have been no problem using the word processors I used fifteen or twenty years ago. Okay, so switching between documents and doing all that cutting and pasting would have been pretty cumbersome in WordPerfect 5.1, but fifteen years ago I was using Lotus Word Pro for OS/2 on a 66MHz machine with less hard drive space than my laptop has RAM. It was fully capable of handling very long documents.

Unfortunately, these tasks seem to be too much for poor NeoOffice. I’m seeing my mouse pointer turn to a spinning disc more than not by a factor of three. It’s crashed twice on me tonight, and worst of all it is totally unpredictable. I start highlighting a paragraph and somehow the act of clicking changes my position in the document, suddenly giving me an unexpected starting point for my highlight.

This habit NeoOffice’s word processor has of jumping under the mouse is annoying enough when it’s simply a few lines away from my intended selection, but several times it’s been more than a page away. Twice I found myself suddenly more than fifty pages from where I clicked. Menus take several seconds to pull down, and my toolbar selections won’t stick. I try to close my toolbars and for some reason (probably a feature, not a bug) they keep on reopening, forcing me to use less screen real estate.

My version of Microsoft Word for the Mac is several years old, but it is sufficiently bloated that it takes several minutes to open the aforementioned document. However, once the document opened, I have encountered no difficulty with switching between windows and copying and pasting.

I hate to slam the «good guys» but NeoOffice is the first piece of software I’ve encountered in a while that has brought me within inches of smashing my laptop into a zillion pieces. Which of course would be a mistake, considering what a challenge it was just to get the screen back in place.