Transitioning Documents from Windows

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For casual home users, small-office workers, and large corporation personnel alike, moving from Microsoft Office to another Office suite is an experience that can range from simple to harrowing. In general, it is useful to examine this migration in terms of "home use" versus "work use":

■ Home users typically have to concern themselves with maintaining access to their own documents. In a personal context, it might be rare for friends and relatives to send Excel spreadsheets, Word documents, and PowerPoint presentations. But over the years you may have accumulated term papers, recipes, letters to the editor, account spreadsheets, and other such documents that you'd like to be able to read and print. In most cases, OpenOffice.org applications will handle files in Microsoft formats just fine.

■ At work, in addition to the accumulation of documents over time, there is a more pressing issue: Other people will be sharing Microsoft Office documents with you. So while home users need to concern themselves most with access to historical documents, in the workplace you probably need to accommodate new documents as well as your historical information.

Because you can convert your documents, there are no real challenges to migrating simple documents. However, if your Microsoft Office documents include extensive macro, scripting, or embedded object usage, you may find the conversion is not a very clean one. Make sure you attempt conversions using the following options before moving on to the last resort of using multiple applications or re-creating documents.

Using Microsoft Office to convert documents enables you to save your files in an alternative format. For example, Word allows you to save your document files (the Word versions anyway) to a variety of formats, including:

■ HTML (.htm/.html) — HTML is a great format for your information if it is basically text and you need only a few formatting options and some embedded images and links. The resulting HTML document will be smaller than the corresponding .doc file.

■ Rich Text Format (.rtf) — Another wonderful minimalist format (owned by Microsoft but an open standard nonetheless) that preserves some formatting and graphics, but any scripting or macro usage is lost.

■ Plain Text (.txt) — Works if all you need to save is the text of the file. Everything else is lost.

■ Word Document (.doc or .docx) — An alternative format that may save some of the elements you want yet make it more accessible to OpenOffice.org. Using this format may not resolve all of the issues you have with converting those hard-to-change documents, but it just might do the trick.

J TC/I THe default format for Word 2007 files is . docx — Office Open XML.

Other Microsoft Office applications offer similar functionality. PowerPoint can convert presentations to HTML and general image formats such as JPEG and TIFF. Excel can save tab- and comma-delimited files that are easily importable into a large number of applications.

If you make use of Access to save data, you may want to move data stored in Access's .mdb format into a SQL database. SQL is more scalable, powerful, and virtually platform-independent. Migrating to SQL will preserve your data, but if your .mdb file will not open in OpenOffice.org, you will need to re-create any forms for accessing the data that you would like to continue using.

If you are likely to continue to receive Microsoft Office files and you are concerned about interoperability, here are some options to consider:

■ Keep a copy of Microsoft Office installed using WINE and the CodeWeavers CrossOver Office plug-in. CrossOver Office lets you run Microsoft Word on a Linux desktop. For more information about CrossOver Office, visit CodeWeavers' Web site at www.codeweavers.com.

■ Ask individuals sending you documentation to use a less vendor-specific format, such as Adobe PDF. Document formatting can be exquisitely preserved and will be viewable by anyone capable of installing a PDF viewer, which supports virtually every operating system in widespread use today. Documents posted on Web sites, for example, should be in PDF and not Microsoft Word format for security reasons.

■ For forms that have user-editable fields, scripting, or complex embedded information, use HTML documents instead. Anyone with a compliant Web browser will be able to interact with the document, and Microsoft Office applications universally support saving files into this format.

■ If you will want to access your documents a long time from now, say a few years, consider storing your documents in the Open Document Format, or ODF. ODF, being open and not encumbered by patents, will make it easier for you to access your documents in the future. If your organization has any requirements for long-term data storage, use ODF. Remember, Microsoft does not support old versions of Word documents today. Furthermore, Word's latest document format is encumbered by patents, so you may lose the right to access your documents in the future, or you may need to pay any fee required by the vendor. Use ODF.

r* A ' ■- C'V.'iJ [ before making any wholesale conversion away from Microsoft Office, make sure the files you need to use will work as expected with the new office suite you have selected or that you can construct suitable replacements if needed. Testing things ahead of time enables you to make necessary adjustments without later having to endure the frustration of finding some important document inaccessible or unusable.

Many organizations start their transition away from Microsoft Office by switching to OpenOffice.org on Windows. This way you can have both Office and OpenOffice.org running on the same systems as you gradually work out any conversion issues. Once the issues have been resolved, you can migrate to Linux. In any migration effort, follow good practices such as starting with smaller groups to ensure any glitches or problems are properly handled.

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