BACK IN THE "GOOD OLD DAYS" when I was dealing with a lot of text produced by others coming into my office for editing and DTP, I worked in Nisus Writer of various vintages, and kept five means of translating Word files:
-- the import/export filters that came with Apple software, which Nisus used.
-- AppleWorks, which used the same filters but seemed to come up with different results sometimes, presumably because of different feature sets/ways of working, once the Word information had arrived through the filter.
-- MS Word 5.1a, with the translation filters, plus the bulk translator, the courts forced MS to produce when they changed format at Word 97 (I think it was).
-- that ubiquitous translation suite, the name of which escapes me for the moment, which would translate anything from and to anything.
-- Latterly, icWord.
With quite a few Word documents, I could get five different results! I often had to copy different bits from different translations into my NW document, and then run an NW clean up macro on top of that to get rid of the garbage from the Word files.
RTF is a "standard" but the quotes are needed. MS has added its own bits to that "standard", partly because it wanted to go beyond what RTF would do and partly, it would appear, in support of its market position -- it doesn't want its documents to be translated. It wants people paying for and working in Word. So it saves to .doc format as default rather than to .rtf. And if you don't think that's powerful, try persuading your Word using friends and associates to us .rtf as their standard format for saving!
But that aside, there are still problems. Save an RTF out of AppleWorks. NWE/Pro won't open it perfectly -- there will be some odd characters. I understand that "standard RTF" offers four different ways of encoding a carriage return, for example. When you are programming, you make your choices among the alternatives. So even an RTF document needs an import filter into an RTF program!
The new Microsoft format is another "standard" -- XML -- but I have read that MS is at it again -- they have introduced bits of their own to do things they want to do that XML either wouldn't or couldn't (easily) support. They say they have improved it and are trying to get it recognized as a "standard" because a number of governments around the world have legislated or are legislating to have all data in open/standard formats so they cannot be held hostage by a private company holding copyright over their data format and therefore being able to stop them accessing it by withdrawing or refusing to grant license to do so -- or by changing format, as MS did in 1997, then (initially) refusing to supply ready access to the old format through purpose-built translators.
To suggest that NeoOffice, supported by volunteers, cannot or should not be able to produce something better than commercial quality is to not understand business realities. In fact, if you want something done TO PERFECTION, volunteers are often best. Just think about the OpenOffice/NeoOffice project. Great programming brains around the world put in many hours, free, on solving a problem, bouncing off each other, testing each other's work. Even a huge corporation would be hard-pressed to pay for the time, to say nothing of gathering the team. Ordinarily, corporations do not get things perfect. They can't afford to, because the costs increase exponentially the closer you get to 100%. But volunteers can and will go further because they are not constrained by economics.
An example at a lower level is Nisus' recent public beta. How many of us put in voluntary hours on it? I don't know about you, but I used the beta for my work which involved some risk of possible file corruption and data loss, but in addition, I put in time testing stuff which I didn’t happen to be using at the time but which I am interested in because I know I will use it some time.
There is no way that Nisus could come to market at an affordable price for us all if we hadn't put in that voluntary effort to support it. The public beta was like gold for Nisus -- hundreds, perhaps thousands, of users of a wide range of sophistication working in every kind of environment not only running the program in actual work situations, but many actively giving specific features an extended, envelope-pushing workout! Doing stuff and making demands on NW that the handful of people building the program might never have dreamed of. And although Public Beta 1 was a very well behaved program, we STILL came up with lots of bugs, glitches and "not quites" which gave the programmers the information they needed to go that one or two percent further so that now they are right up against their 100% goal ... for THIS version of NWPro.
But if Nisus had had to pay for all that testing, the cost of the project would have been through the roof and the price to cover that might have been uneconomic for lots of us.
To come at this another way in respect of file translation -- I just checked the Panergy site for the latest on icWord. icWord costs US$20. It boasts that it will show you a view of any Word, Powerpoint, AppleWorks or ClarisWorks file with all formatting intact. Pretty good, huh? Yes, but that is not a document you can actually work on. You can "save as" into "your favourite application" or copy and paste stuff -- but that's not to say you are going to get the document you saw in the icWord window, in fact, you are going to get the document + or - some features and errors and whatever because the translation won't be perfect.
So you are paying $20 for an enhanced *import* filter, albeit a very good one (the Panergy guy -- it used to be just one guy when it started -- is pretty damned good). You might be willing to do that because of your particular needs, but for most, it will be overkill or they will have no need at all.
But if that capability were built into Nisus Writer Pro, would we think it was worth an extra $20 on the price? NWPro is US$79 -- would we want to pay US$99 with the only added benefit being some refinement of the import, and only the import, of .doc and .cwk files? And how much more would it cost to get an export match for that? Another $20? So now we are up at US$119?
You see what I mean about the escalating costs -- and therefore, price? And that's without even looking at the danger of the mouse getting as close to the elephant of known irritability as it has to be to make the near perfect filters.
If you want 100% compatibility with MS Word, you have to work in Word and not only Word, but the same version of Word as the other person(s). If you want 99% (perhaps), then NeoOffice may be the go (you also get PowerPoint and Excel compatibility for a bonus), although I wouldn't want to work in it -- I just don't like the interface and some of the ways it operates. NWE/Pro has, for me, a really sweet interface -- it is really easy to work with. If maybe 95% compatibility with Word actually does the job for you, then NWE/Pro is fine. If you occasionally need that higher level of compatibility, do as I have done -- download a copy of NeoOffice to use on those odd occasions when precise translation is demanded.
And hang in there with NWE/Pro, that sweet interface will gradually get more of the "Word-like" features you want so that compatibility keeps moving up.
Geoffrey Heard, Business Writer & Publisher
"Type & Layout: Are you communicating or just making pretty shapes" -- Revealed! The secrets of how you can use type and layout to turbocharge your messages in print. See the book at http://www.worsleypress.com