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From Rob Weirvia Slashdot via the indispensable Open Access News comes the news that two VERY important journals won’t accept Word 2007 documents: Science and Nature are not accepting submissions created by Microsoft Word 2007.

This is a very nuanced issue. Office Open XML format is, after all, a standard and Microsoft have published plugins for pre-2007 versions of Word.

What’s wrong with that?

For one thing, I have written before about how automated citations and bibliographies done in Word 2007 won’t survive opening in older versions of Word they simply silently turn into plain text. And the the Nature and Science people are noting the same thing for equations only they turn into pictures, which is worse.

Microsoft is not surprisingly trying to drive the pretty much stalled upgrade cycle here: once you use some of the features in 2007 and try to share with users of older versions of Word, even via the new standard format, then documents will start breaking and there is apparently no way to resolve the muddle (did I say muddle? must have been working in the library too long and forgotten how to use rude words) without forcing your collaborators to ‘upgrade’, even though everyone’s ‘using’ the new standard. If they gave away the new features then why would you buy? Add this to the fact that the forthcoming Mac version of Word will not support the VBA macro language, and will therefore break even the simplest of macros that help integrate Word with your organization, and I’d say that a move to OpenOffice.org is looking pretty good if you are willing to accept a level of fit and finish that is below that of Word.

(But see the comment from Anonymous Brave Guy in the Slashdot thread about how ten year old TeX documents no longer work and compare with my experiences with 16 year old Word docs which pretty much do work).

Peter Suber at Open Access news likes this advice from Rob Weir:

If Science and Nature need to update their templates, then I’d suggest they take a look at ODF. Not only does it use MathML for equations, but it is an open standard, an ISO standard, a platform and application-neutral standard that has many implementation, including several good open source ones. If they need to update their processing, then they might want to make the smart choice now, the choice that increases their choices and flexibility going forward.

http://www.robweir.com/blog/2007/04/math-markup-marked-down.html

I’d agree that looking at ODF (that’s the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications) is a good idea, but I wouldn’t trust the list of supported applications at Wikipedia.

For example there’s a link to a thing called Coventi Pages. I had a look at that one this afternoon and I would not say that it supports ODF. I managed to upload an ODF document but it lost all my styles, and every time I added a paragraph it buggered up my formating and there are bullet and numbered list buttons but no promote or demote (indent) buttons. Almost as bad as the the thing I looked at last month.

That’s not ODF support, that’s partial support at best, and not particularly useful partial support ’cos it will break real documents pretty comprehensively.

There’s Also a link to a thing called AjaxWrite. I tried that one with and ODF text document and it told me ‘format unknown’ or words to that effect. I’d strike that.

And what about Google docs? Well I’ve covered its limitations here before.

Ok then, but surely the much-vaunted Microsoft Word plugins count? Not according to my findings in February. Maybe things are better now…

The main part of the list is dominated by variants of OpenOffice.org whose format was the basis for ODF; initially even OOo couldn’t claim full support but I think things have moved on a bit since the release of 2.0. But even with OpenOffice.org, supporting the standard doesn’t always make for a great user-experience. Our resident seven year old, who has never heard a broken record, says I sound like one, but I have to say it again: the list formatting in ODF, with its hierarchical list structures in a flat word processor structure and the confusing clash of paragraph and list styles is barely usable (unless you use our ICE template).

I have not covered the full list here, just the things I already knew about or had time to look at this arvo, but if Science or Nature are looking, then they’d better look hard cos a list on Wikipedia is, well, a list on Wikipedia and I bet that both journals use styles and will be very frustrated by the way they round trip in and out of Word documents. I’m off to to edit that Wikipedia list if I can figure out how to deal with the fact that there are two different lists of software in (at least) two places.


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