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.

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