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Coexisting with Microsoft Office Users

Apart from its attractive price and its features, a key selling point of StarOffice is its Microsoft Office import and export filters. One of the goals of the StarOffice team has always been to provide users with seamless interoperability between Microsoft Office documents and the StarOffice desktop environment. To accomplish this, the StarOffice team has put together a database containing all available features within Microsoft Office 97/2000/XP files and the Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel applications. With more than 12,000 entries collected over the years and regular updates to achieve compatibility with the latest Microsoft Office file formats, this database serves as the basis for implementing, testing, and evaluating the quality of the existing Microsoft Office filters.

Although this comprehensive database lays the foundation for solid and extensive filter development that is unrivaled in today's office suites, don't expect the engineers behind these filters to be miracle workers. Creating conversion filters is tricky and time consuming at best. The key to creating filters that translate as much as possible of the functionality and formatting of the source document is the availability of good documentation that describes all aspects of an application's file format (as is the case with the openly documented StarOffice XML file format). In most cases, however, these descriptions are not readily available, and when they are published, they are typically incomplete and unsupported. Hence, improving the interoperability between applications through conversion filters is mostly an incremental process that gets closer to but can never achieve 100% compatibility.

In short, when importing and exporting a document from and to the Microsoft Office file formats, be prepared for the document to appear differently in the receiving application than in the application in which it was created. Depending on the complexity of the document, you may lose some layout features and formatting attributes. In addition, if a certain feature is not supported, you may also lose the content or data that was associated with this feature (as is the case with some document properties fields that cannot be mapped to StarOffice equivalents during the conversion process, for example). In general, however, features or attributes that pose serious conversion challenges are few and will not affect your ability to use or work with the content of the converted document.

The following sections provide an overview of the conversion challenges you may face when working with Microsoft Office files in a StarOffice environment.

Text Documents

In most cases, the text contents of Microsoft Word documents convert accurately, because both Word and Writer recognize the same ANSI character mappings. In some instances, however, content may be lost if text appears in hyperlinks or fields that are not supported or is linked to a non-supported font set to create internal characters, letterheads, or logos.

Likewise, StarOffice does a good job importing most of the layout information of Microsoft Word documents. Because each office application defines formatting and layout differently, however, parts of the converted document may look slightly different than in the source in some cases. In most of these instances, the result of the conversion can be largely improved by adjusting those formatting and layout features that may cause problems prior to conversion. For example:

  • Use character and paragraph styles instead of direct formatting. Most formatting discrepancies between the original and the converted document can be attributed to improper formatting techniques. This can be avoided in large part by using styles instead of direct formatting when applying attributes to characters and paragraphs.

  • Remove unnecessary hard returns between bulleted- and numbered-list items. The inclusion of extra returns (empty paragraphs) in a list results in extra numbers or bullets within the list. If you want to increase the spacing between items or paragraphs, define the spacing attribute in the respective paragraph (or list) style's properties dialog box. (For more details on formatting with styles, see Chapter 8.)

  • Do not align table columns with multiple tabs. To align text in columns, define tab stops so that only one tab separates text between columns. Alternatively, you can use the Table feature instead of aligning text with multiple (default) tabs. Otherwise, the table appears out of alignment in the converted document because both programs use different default tab settings.

  • Use only commonly available fonts. As with any document, the reliability of the document layout and appearance is very dependent on the fonts used. For more details, refer to the sidebar "A Note About Fonts" earlier in this chapter.

Some discrepancies in formatting and layout you may notice are also the result of functional differences between both applications. Although these differences cannot be avoided, they also don't create problems for the user of the documents. Here's a list of things that may change and their causes:

  • Character styles for lists. In StarOffice, list numbers have the same font style as the list items. Word has an option for setting the font style of the numbers.

  • Indents and spacing in lists. In the default style, Microsoft Word and StarOffice use different indents for the lower levels of a hierarchical list.

  • Font and spacing metrics. In general, Microsoft Word font metrics are tighter, allowing more text on a line, though occasionally the situation is reversed. Likewise, both applications use different default measures for vertical spacing. For example, StarOffice measures vertical spaces in inches, whereas Microsoft Office uses points; when a paragraph format in Word has "Auto" spacing, StarOffice uses .07 inches. As a result, the number of lines on a page may change during conversion. Note also that Writer does not support animated character font effects, which are lost during import. Writer also handles hidden text differently—in Word, hidden text is an attribute; in Writer it is a field, which you have to select manually (Insert, Field, Other).

  • Page breaks in tables. Unlike Microsoft Word, StarOffice Writer does not support page breaks within a table row. Instead, in the case of tables that stretch across pages, the application breaks the table after the last row that completely fits on a given page; it then automatically inserts the table's column headers across the top of the new page (which is something that Microsoft Word doesn't do) and continues with the next table row.

  • Fields. In general, Writer supports the import and export of reference tables and most standard fields such as the bookmark, cross-reference (import only), date and time, hyperlink, and page numbers fields. The Show Number On First Page and Include Chapter Number field options, however, are not supported in StarOffice. To achieve similar results in Writer, you have to assign a different page style to the document's first page without header or footer regions as containers for page numbers. To include a chapter number with your page numbers, you have to add a Chapter Field after import (Insert, Fields, Other). Note also that Writer does not have the equivalent of a CreateDate or SaveDate field, which by default shows both the date and time a document was created. In Writer, date and time are two separate fields. You should also know that Word does not have an equivalent of the Time Fixed and Date Fixed fields in Writer. During export, the contents of these fields are saved as plain text.


→ For more details on using page and chapter number fields, see "Adding Headers and Footers" in "Working with Long and Complex Documents," p. 355.

→ For more general information on fields, see Chapter 10, "Working with Fields and Data Merges," p. 315.

  • Merge fields. Although both Writer and Word support the use of merge (or form letter) documents, in Word this functionality is implemented in a slightly different way, which is not supported by the current import filters. As a result, you have to make some changes to merge fields in the converted documents if you want to use this functionality after import. If you can access the same data source with the converted document as you can with the original document, choose Edit, Exchange Database and use the resulting dialog box to select the database and table you want to use. If the names of the merge fields do not map to fields in your data source, you have to reinsert the form letter fields into the converted document or template after import. Note that Writer merge fields do not export to Word.


→ For more details on merge documents, see "Creating Personalized Form Letters with Mail Merges" in "Working with Fields and Data Merges," p. 328.

Spreadsheet Documents

When it comes to the spreadsheet basics, everything Excel can do, Calc can do as well—but not necessarily better. Although Writer at times wins out over Word in terms of what it has to offer, Calc also lacks some of the features that make Excel stand out from its competitors. The following list summarizes the key differences between Calc and Excel that may affect document conversion:

  • Worksheet size. Excel supports 65,536 rows on a single worksheet and a total of 256 worksheets in one document. Calc worksheets, on the other hand, are limited to 32,000 rows and 256 sheets. If an Excel worksheet contains more than 32,000 rows, Calc automatically starts a new worksheet when importing the data. However, any formula that may have referenced a row below the 32,000 row limit has to be edited manually—Calc does not automatically modify cell references in formulas when distributing data across worksheets during import. If you are trying to import data that exceeds the Calc 256-sheet limit, an alert informs you of data loss. Just for the record, an Excel workbook can hold a total 16,777,216 rows of data; Calc cuts off at 8,192,000.

  • Named ranges in formulas. As power worksheet users know, defining a name for a range of cells makes it easier to reference the range in a formula (for example, instead of using A1:E8, you can refer to the same range as Expenses by naming it that). This feature is supported by both Excel and StarOffice. Excel users, however, can also define another range with reference to two range names (for example, name1:name2). Calc does not support this feature. If an Excel formula or function refers to a range with reference to two range names, Calc imports these formulas with the "#Name" (invalid name) error message. You can fix this error by replacing the named ranges with standard cell references in the affected formula. Note also that Excel users can use the same name for different ranges on different worksheets. In Calc you cannot use the same range name twice in the same workbook.

  • Constant arrays in arguments. Excel supports constant arrays in matrix formulas such as =mdeterm({1,2;3,4}); Calc does not. If used in an Excel worksheet, these formulas are imported with empty arguments. If you want to use these formulas in Calc, they must be modified in Excel before you import the workbook into Calc; specifically, the Excel users must replace the constant arrays with array values in a cell or range of cells (for example, =mdeterm(A1:B2)).

  • Optional parameters. Excel supports functions with missing optional arguments as in this generic example: =function(arg1;;arg3). These functions are imported with an "Err:504" error code. For these functions to work in Calc, you must manually insert a vaid (optional) argument (for example, =function(arg1;arg2;arg3)).

  • Form controls. In brief, form controls, which are a form of custom solution, are neither imported nor exported, because of some fundamental programmatic difference between each application's object model. In each case, controls must be rebuilt in the target application. In terms of functionality, form controls in StarOffice are not fully compatible with Microsoft Office controls. (For more details on custom solutions, see Part VI of this book.)

  • Charts. The StarOffice chart engine does not have quite the edge of the Microsoft Office chart engine. As a result, some Excel chart types lack StarOffice equivalents or appear differently. Excel chart types that are not supported in StarOffice are Radar Filled, Bar of Pie, Pie of Pie, and Surface, which the import filter maps to the Columns (Normal) and 3D Columns (deep) (Surface only) StarOffice chart types. Although the Radar (Radar with Symbols) type has a StarOffice equivalent in the Net with Symbols chart type, each chart reads the information provided in the base table differently. In Excel, the information is read clockwise; in Calc, it is read counter-clockwise, resulting in two different charts. Chart types that appear differently but have a similar functionality are Bubble and Doughnut Exploded, which are imported as XY-Chart (Lines with Symbols) and Pies (Ring), respectively.

    Excel also defines the start and end points of the X and Y axes differently, which has the effect that Excel charts never begin or end on the axis but always leave a small gap. In StarOffice, chart lines begin and end on the axis lines. Furthermore, Excel users can specify data labels for their charts that are part of a range of cells that may be separated by multiple rows from the range on which the chart is based. In StarOffice, labels must be the first row in the range on which the chart is based. If the Excel document you are importing uses charts of the type described, the imported chart appears without data labels.


In general, the StarOffice PowerPoint import filters do a fine job with the basics and contents when importing a PowerPoint presentation. Some might even say that any differences between the original and the converted presentation are cosmetic. That said, when it comes to presentations, cosmetics of any size and shape can make or break an image. The following list provides an overview of the key changes you can expect when importing a PowerPoint presentation:

  • Object shadows. Impress supports only the PowerPoint shadow types 1, 2, 4, 6, 14, 17, and 18. During the import, unsupported shadows are mapped to the closest existing shadow types, or as is the case with the horizontally oriented or tapered shadow styles, ignored.

  • Object attributes. Unlike PowerPoint, Impress does not support three-color gradients, double and triple borders, or round-dotted borders. Import can be largely improved by changing three-color presets to comparable two-color gradient fills and changing double and triple border lines to a single border line with appropriate width. The round-dotted border lines that are mapped to rectangle-border lines look very close to the original style in PowerPoint, so manual editing should not be necessary.

  • Color schemes. Impress does not support the same concept of color schemes in presentations as PowerPoint; it uses graphic and presentation styles instead. Because both concepts are completely different, color schemes do not migrate smoothly. To allow PowerPoint to set the color of StarOffice elements correctly, StarOffice sets fixed color attributes for each object. This results in StarOffice presentations looking virtually identical in PowerPoint after export; however, it also disables further use of the color-schemes concept within PowerPoint. As a result, PowerPoint users can no longer specify color schemes in presentations that have been exported from Impress.

  • 3D AutoShapes. StarOffice has a real 3D graphics engine; PowerPoint, however, only simulates 3D graphic objects through the use of a pseudo 3D engine. The StarOffice import filter converts these pseudo 3D objects to true 3D objects, which can result in a slightly different appearance. However, the StarOffice 3D engine makes it easy to change the appearance of the object during post-cleanup to ensure a smoother and more accurate look.

  • Object transition effects. Impress uses different names for object-transition effects, and in some cases slightly different appearances, than PowerPoint. As a result, object transition effects have different names or appear differently after the import. Furthermore, StarOffice does not support the Random Effects feature; the import filter maps the unsupported effect to the Vertical Lines effect. This can be avoided if the effect in the source document is changed to one particular effect. (Table 3.3 at the end of this section provides an overview of how the StarOffice Impress filters map PowerPoint object transitions.) PowerPoint users also can assign an effect to a word or letter within a block of text or to a group of paragraphs. However, effects of this type cannot be imported, because you can assign a text effect only to individual paragraphs in Impress.

  • Slide transition effects. Impress uses different names for slide transition effects, and in some cases the effects appear slightly differently in Impress than in PowerPoint. Table 3.4 at the end of this section provides an overview of how the StarOffice conversion filters map PowerPoint slide transitions.

  • Headers and footers on slides, handouts, and notes. Unlike PowerPoint, Impress does not support a conventional "header and footer" concept. However, you can insert fields such as slide number, date, time, filename, and author anywhere on a slide in Impress. When importing PowerPoint presentations, the Impress import filter adds the content of the header and footer regions as static text to the master (or background) page of the presentation. You can replace the static text with corresponding StarOffice date, time, and author fields if you must. However, when exporting Impress presentations to the Microsoft PowerPoint format, the current export filter does not preserve dynamic date and number fields; instead, it replaces them with static text.

  • Dynamic date formats. Every dynamic date field in PowerPoint is associated with a language locale attribute that controls the date format. With the help of this attribute, you can easily switch the date format. However, the StarOffice import filter does not read the locale attribute from the Microsoft PowerPoint presentation; it uses instead the default locale for StarOffice documents. Therefore, if the locale settings between StarOffice and Microsoft PowerPoint differ, StarOffice imports the date in a different format. To prevent this from happening, you can either modify the default locale in StarOffice to match the locale of the PowerPoint presentation, or you can replace the dynamic date field in PowerPoint with a fixed one. To change the locale in StarOffice, choose Tools, Options, Language Settings, Languages and select the language from the Default Languages for Documents drop-down list. When importing PowerPoint presentations, users will now see the correct date format.

  • Document property information. The Impress Properties dialog box does not provide as many pre-defined and custom user fields as Microsoft PowerPoint. As a result, any information that cannot be mapped to Impress document property fields is lost during import, including the information listed in the Manager, Company, and Category fields. If you really, really need this information, make a note of it and insert it into the available custom fields of the Properties dialog box.

  • Pre-defined page sizes. StarOffice does not have as many pre-defined page sizes as PowerPoint; however, using the flexible User-Defined Page Size feature on the Format, Page dialog box, you can specify the page sizes you want. When importing documents, however, Impress imports the proper page size of the original slide.

  • Action Setting "On mouse over." StarOffice does not support the "on mouse over" actions on objects. The import filter maps these actions to the equivalent "on mouse click" action. Although this mapping is a pretty good match, the behavior of the presentation changes, and a presenter has to be made aware of this. All presentations that use this feature should therefore at least be flagged or provided with a note highlighting this new behavior.

  • Re-record or split narrations or lose them. Unlike Microsoft PowerPoint, Impress does not support voice-over narration. The recorded narration voice is lost during import. However, Impress enables users to assign a sound file to each slide or object. To add the equivalent of a voice-over narration to an Impress presentation, the user must separate the existing PowerPoint narration into blocks (or rerecord it) and then assign these sound blocks as slide effects to each individual Impress slide.

Table 3.3 Microsoft PowerPoint Object Transitions and Their StarOffice Impress Equivalents





Fade Horizontally



Fade to Center









Fly In from Bottom





Flash once


StarOffice does not support the Flash Once effect, therefore the appearance after the import is different; the text does not flash, it simply appears and remains visible.


Short Fly In from Bottom


Random bars

Horizontal lines



Spiral Outward Clockwise

In Microsoft PowerPoint, Spirals move over the full slide area. In StarOffice Impress, they move only in the paragraph area.


Close Vertical



Stretch Vertically

StarOffice Impress supports only the Stretch Vertically effect; all PowerPoint stretch variations are mapped to this variant.


Fade from top to right



Rotate Horizontally

StarOffice Impress does not support the Swivel effect; the effect is mapped to the Rotate Horizontally effect instead. To get the same result as in PowerPoint, the user has to shrink the text area's to the length of the longest sentence.


Cross fade from top



Fade from center

StarOffice Impress does not support the Zoom effect; the Fade from Center effect approximates the Zoom behavior.

Random effects

Vertical lines

StarOffice Impress does not support the random use of several effects. The user has to decide which effect to use before import; otherwise, the import filter imports this effect as the Vertical lines effect.

Table 3.4 Microsoft PowerPoint Slide Transitions and Their StarOffice Impress Equivalents

PowerPoint Slide Transition

StarOffice Slide Transition

Blinds Horizontal

Fade Horizontally

Blind Vertical

Fade Vertically

Box In

Fade to Center

Box Out

Fade from Center

Checkerboard Across

Horizontal Checkerboard

Checkerboard Down

Vertical Checkerboard

Cover Down

Fly in from Top

Cover Left

Fly in from Right

Cover Right

Fly in from Left

Cover Up

Fly in from Bottom

Cover Left Down

Fly in from Upper Right

Cover Left Up

Fly in from Lower Right

Cover Left Down

Fly in from Upper Right

Cover Right Down

Fly in from Top Left

Cover Left Down

Fly in from Upper Right

Cover Right Up

Fly in from Lower Left


(Not supported; no effect assigned)

Cut Through Black

(Not supported; no effect assigned)



Fade Through Black

(Not supported; no effect assigned)

Random Bars Horizontally

Horizontal Lines

Random Bars Vertically

Vertical Lines

Horizontal In

Close Vertically

Horizontal Out

Open Vertically

Split Vertical In

Close Horizontally

Split Vertical Out

Open Horizontally

Strips Left Down

Fade from Top Right

Strips Left Up

Fade from Bottom Right

Strips Right Down

Fade from Top Left

Strips Right Up

Fade from Bottom Left

Uncover Down

Uncover Downwards

Uncover Left

Uncover to Left

Uncover Right

Uncover to Right

Uncover Up

Uncover Upwards

Uncover Left Down

Uncover to Lower Left

Uncover Left Up

Uncover to Upper left

Uncover Right Down

Uncover to Lower Right

Uncover Right Up

Uncover to Upper Right

Wipe Down

Cross-Fade from Top

Wipe Left

Cross-Fade from Right

Wipe Right

Cross-Fade from Left

Wipe Up

Cross-Fade from Bottom

Random Transition

Automatic (random)

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