Because FLOSS is handy, isn’t it?

Word processors are easy to use

Posted by isilanes on February 18, 2007

Frustrating. Very frustrating.

I am teaching my father how to use OpenOffice.org, as a replacement/reinforcement of a MS Word course he took recently.

My present rant comes from the ubiquitous problem of where some feature of a text piece starts/ends, which is not always obvious. More precisely, I’ll refer to itemized/numbered lists and nested lists, like:

* Item 1 
  - Subitem 1.1
* Item 2  
  - Subitem 2.1  
  - Subitem 2.2

After years using LaTeX almost exclusively for document writing, I found it annoying to no end the way in which OpenOffice.org (or any other word processor) handles this kind of things. When I make a list of items, I want the list to be perfectly separated from the surrounding (regular) text, so that I know exactly when I am introducing items in the list, or text before or after the list. I also want to have a logical tree of items and subitems, so I know in every moment at what nesting level I am, and what comes after, or at a lower level than, what.

With LaTeX, this is trivial, as can be seen in the following example:

text before list


  \item Item 1

  \begin{enumerate}    \item Subitem 2  \end{enumerate}


text after list

I have absolute control about what belongs where. No more fuss about terminating the lists, or about inserting them somewhere, or anything.

On the other hand, word processors provide neither clear separation from the surrounding nor logic for lists. My poor father was struggling to teach the damned program what nest level each entry he wanted it in, how to eliminate the damned dangling “last item”, how to add text after a list, but telling the program that it is already out of the list… a nightmare. Yes, some of his problems were probably trivial, but I am the first to admit that I have come across all of them at least once. And some, I never figured out.


4 Responses to “Word processors are easy to use”

  1. slyam said

    Thanks for sharing your experience

  2. Kaj Kandler said

    Thanks indeed!

    to make your life easier we produce Plan-B for OpenOffice.org – professional help for non-technical users.

    Check it out and let me know if it helps your father and/or you.


  3. Jonathon said

    An awkward, but reliable solution to your problem with lists in OOo, is to create a list style, and a paragraph style for every list in your document.

    I’ll also point out that OOo has either four or five different methods of numbering paragraphs.



  4. Iñaki Silanes said

    Thanks Kaj and Jonathon for your input.

    I do not doubt that this issue has a solution, maybe an easy one. But my problem is not “getting things done”. My rant is about the different concepts underlying word processors (like OO.o) and typesetting systems (like LaTeX), and how and why the former betray their fame of being user-friendly.

    There are workarounds for problems, but the problems themselves are deeply rooted in the core philosophy of word processors.

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