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OpenOffice.org Saves my Day, Again

by Jonathan Gennick
May. 2, 2003

Awhile back I wrote about my experience installing OpenOffice.org for my family, pointing out that it's just the right introduction to open source for many people. I said then that OpenOffice.org saved my day, because it gave me an office suite I could freely install for my children. This week OpenOffice.org saved my day again, by recovering the contents of a corrupt, but very critical, Microsoft Word file.

It was Wednesday morning, 30 April. I was several pages into editing a chapter written in Microsoft Word when things took a bad turn. Word got very sluggish, and then "locked up". Windows Task Manager showed winword.exe monopolizing 99% of my CPU. The CPU (on my Thinkpad) got hot enough that the fan kicked in. Finally, Word died of some fatal error, dutifully reported the error to home base in Redmond, restarted itself, and "recovered" my file. Except Word didn't recover my file, not really. The problem began to repeat itself the moment I began typing again. I suspected some sort of internal corruption with my document file.

After several of Word's error, restart, recover cycles my heart began to sink. I was not keen to lose the file with all the edits I'd made so far. I went to Microsoft's web site and spent about 45 minutes downloading and installing all the available Microsoft Word updates, but to no avail. I tried saving to a new filename, but the problem persisted. I created a new, blank, Word file, and copied the chapter text from the problem file to the new file, but the corruption was copied too. I opened and saved the file using Word 2000, which I believe to be more stable than Word XP, but still the problem lived on.

Finally I got to thinking that perhaps Word was just too darn good at copying it's own files, and that I needed to pass my file through something other than Word in order to filter out the corruption. Opening the problem file in OpenOffice.org, I saw that the file contents looked intact, so I saved the file as an OpenOffice.org, sxw file. Then I opened that sxw file using OpenOffice.org, and saved the file again, this time as a Word file. With a bit of trepidation, I then opened the new Word file using Word and began typing. Everything worked! All my previous edits were intact. All the text was intact, including revision marks and embedded comments. The corruption was gone. Happy, and very relieved, I went to lunch.

I know that OpenOffice.org is not perfect—it has its own problems—but I find it very ironic that Word couldn't fix it's own file, that the only way I could find to save my Microsoft Word document was to filter it through a competing office suite, and an open source office suite at that. And this despite the fact that Microsoft has apparently gone to great lengths to add document recovery features to Word. My kudos to the OpenOffice.org team for developing a product robust enough to save my day, again.

Speaking of OpenOffice.org, I've been editing three books for which all the writing and editing has been done using OpenOffice.org The first of these books, C++ In A Nutshell by Ray Lischner, just went to print Tuesday this week. The other two OpenOffice.org-produced titles, which are moving through the production process now, are Essential CVS by Jennifer Vesperman, and UML Pocket Reference by Dan Pilone.

Jonathan Gennick is an O'Reilly Media, Inc. editor specializing in database and programming titles.

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