Ben Langhinrichs

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September, 2006
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Genii Weblog


Civility in critiquing the ideas of others is no vice. Rudeness in defending your own ideas is no virtue.


Tue 19 Sep 2006, 11:33 PM
If there is one item where Office Open XML (OOXML) is clearly better than ODF, it is in the area of merged table cells.  Both Office Open XML and ODF support merged table cells, and they both handle merged columns (horizontal merging) in a somewhat similar manner which is also similar to HTML's COLSPAN attribute.  But merged rows (vertical merging) is an absolute disaster in ODF.  To quote a description from the on-line OASIS OpenDocument Essentials - Chapter 4:

Cells that span rows are an entirely different story. Rather than a simple table:number-rows-spanned attribute, OpenDocument represents the cells on either side of the large cell as sub-tablesFigure 4.6, “Cells Spanning Rows” shows a table with a cell that spans two rows. As far as OpenDocument is concerned, the table has only two rows. The second row consists of: 
  • A cell that contains a two-by-one subtable
  • An ordinary cell (labelled main 2,2)
  • A cell that spans two columns and contains a two-by-two subtable.

Figure 4.6. Cells Spanning Rows
Sample table with spanned rows
So, a table with four columns and three rows has two cells merged and becomes... a mess.  Ugh

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Tue 19 Sep 2006, 09:38 PM
This post is a bit different than my past few which showed differences between Open Document Format (ODF) and Notes rich text, as this shows differences between OpenOffice.org Writer and the Notes client rich text editor.  Let me start by saying I vastly prefer the Notes client approach.  The most obvious issue with the OOo Writer properties is that they are modal, meaning that you must act on the dialog box or cancel out of it before you can go to another element.  To see how incredibly annoying this is, simply try to find out the widths in a simple table, such as this:







Looking at properties in Notes client

In the Notes client, I would start by clicking in the first column and selecting Table - Table properties (or using Shift-Enter and switching to Table).  I would get the following, which shows the width of the column as 1.500 inches.

Table properties for first column

Then, leaving the non-modal dialog alone, I would click on the second column, and the properties would instantly switch to that column's properties, showing 1.750 inches.

Table properties for second column

and finally, I would click on the third column, still leaving the dialog box visible, and I would see that column's properties, showing 2.725 inches (trust me, as I won't bother showing it here).  Three clicks to see three columns.  I could even switch to non-table objects and instantly see their properties, and switch between the possible properties (text vs table vs hotspot) for any place in the rich text.

Looking at properties in OpenOffice.org Writer

This is much less simple in the OOo Writer.  To see the same column values on the same table, I would click on column 1, then right click and look at the long list of possibilities:

Drop down list of options

Sheesh, do I pick Table... or Cell or Row or Column?  I would guess Column, which is correct, and would then select the submenu item Width, thus displaying:

Column one width properties

So, from this dialog, I try to click on the next column, but I can't.  I have to close out the dialog box first.  But look, I can switch to the next column inside the dialog!  Well, that is great, but I seldom want to work on just one thing at a time, so what if I want to change the background color of the cell, or the borders, or the text color or size of the text in the column.  I can't get at any of those values without closing this dialog.

But that is not my major complaint.  My major complaint is that some bright person noticed that this was extremely annoying and made a fix.  But, where you might ask?  Why, they just put it somewhere else.  If I had gone back to that dropdown menu and selected Table..., I would have seen:

Table tab of table properties

And if I were to click on the Columns tab, I would have seen:

Table tab of table properties

Now, there is a handy view of the column widths.  You can change them and everything, but the question is, why is it here?  Or rather, why is the other column width dialog there with a completely different look and a different way to cycle between columns?  And why is there a Cell tab with the cell properties, and a Row tab with the Row height and other such properties?

That is my major complaint with the OpenOffice.org Writer properties, and it pervades the product.  There is not a sense of logical order, and there are several instances of the same information being presented different ways in different places.  The dialog boxes are not sized to the proper sizes, and there is an overwhelming sense that multiple people worked on the product at different times and with different visions.  I mean, even Microsoft Word 2003, which shares the limitation of modal dialogs, has a more coherent table properties dialog:

Microsoft Word 2003 table properties box

There is obviously much, much more that could be written about the various properties boxes, but mostly because they vary all over the place in OpenOffice.org Writer.  This is an area where the Notes client is much better thought out and organized.

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Tue 19 Sep 2006, 08:52 AM
Jeff Eisen posted today about activity-centric computing, and he made a comment which hit me (although it was probably not the comment he meant to hit people with):
I've been struggling answering the question in an easily graspable manner of how activities (ok, I'm tired of typing "activity-centric computing") is really different from other related paradigms such as discussion databases, teamrooms, Quickplaces, and the like.
The juxtaposition of the substrings, "easily graspable" and "I'm tired of typing", made me think.  If Jeff Eisen is already tired of typing this, we clearly need a buzzword for "activity-centric computing".  Think of what the term AJAX did for that whole concept, and think how much more accessible "activity-centric computing" would be if it had a short, "cool" name.  Something like AcCentric.  What do you think?  Do you have a better idea?

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