Document file format

Yesterday my wife received a request for a poll by email. She confirmed to participate and received ... - a Word document. Not a link to a website, not a PDF form, not a text file - no, a Microsoft Word document with form fields. And we are on Linux.

Although Open Office does a great job on importing Word documents some form fields (meant as a pull-down menu) did not show up the available alternatives). My wife told me and said she thinks that initially somehow something showed up for a moment. I have to say, that I had no interest in investigating this problem, because of a single reason:
People should write documents in a portable, platform independent standard format.
Especially when intended for large amount of people it is important to use a format that can be displayed (and edited where necessary) by everybody.

I had an interested talk a few years ago with a project manager who also teaches and trains other project managers about the format of documentation created during a project. He told me that prior to a project start they analyze the environment at the different partners involved and if they use different versions of Microsoft Office products then they estimate higher project costs due to compatibility issues because different versions of Microsoft Office behave differently and display contents differently. They often use the RTF format to overcome different drawbacks. However, using RTF reduces available formatting features.

I know these problems also. Not only once a co-worker wasted half a day correcting the layout of a concept that has been written as a Word document and has been edited by a customer.

So already years ago I switched to Open Office for every project relevant documentation. After evaluating the options that sounds the best alternative for me using the Open Office formats ODT, ODS and ODG.

The major advantages are:
  • Platform independency
    I can read and edit the documentation at work under Windows and at home with Linux.

  • No (or at least very few) compatibility issues.
    Using different platforms or versions of Open Office does not raise display or layout issues - or at least not with the amplitude known from Microsoft Office.
    In the past for major changes in the document features Open Office did change file extension keeping compatibility and transparency.

  • No license fees
    Open Office is free and would also help companies saving a lot of money.

  • Direct PDF creation with bookmarks and links
    Open Office can directly create PDFs (without the use of an external PDF printer driver) Preserving links from table of contents or other links within the document. Further (when using appropriate heading format templates) bookmarks are automatically created in the resulting PDF which makes navigation easy when reading the document online.
For mind mapping I also use FreeMind which is a good supplement when writing project documentation.

Especially in IT or more technic/industry focused companies there are other types documents also to be written that cannot be written efficiently using Open Office. For those cases I recommend looking at OSALT.COM. That site helps finding alternative Open Source software for different commercial products. - E. g. DIA as an alternative for Visio (although - with some limitation - Open Office Draw can be used also). The Open Source alternatives do not always offer the same huge feature set as some commercial product, so there are sometimes relevant limitations. But in other cases the

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