January 25, 2013

The horror of using Office files in DTP

When using Microsoft Word documents and Excel-files to compose a book in InDesign one inevitably encounters the lack of logic and structure Microsoft and its users included in their products. First, the new type of Office interface with the ribbon is horrific to work with. Functions are buried deep underneath a shipload of illogically designed icons, while the documents that are compiled lack, whatever is required to build a sensible parametric structure.

When participating in an Adobe FrameMaker course years ago, I was told that Word has specs similar to FrameMaker - on paper, in theory that is. Everyday practice however is a ballgame obviously not quite so well understood and / or attended by the Microsoft developers. Using InDesign gives you a deeper understanding of the above statement, since most people do use the Office programs to create their documents. If one thing, it makes clear that Microsoft does a magnificent job in marketing. One would wish however that they would make an equally meticulous effort at creating applications.

Today I spent more time than I would like to on importing tables from Word into InDesign. Straight from Word that was impossible, so using Excel would seem like a logical thing to do. The tables I was working on contained fractions to teach students how to convert the imperial system of measurement into the metric system and vice versa. Excel considers any number smaller than or equal to 12 to be an indication of a month of the year and every number smaller than or equal to 31 at the other side of the slash to be a day of the month. Using any of the Paste Special options did not result in rendering what was in the tables in Word.

Editing in Excel was no option because it automatically forgot what it fetched from the tables from Word. Open Office Calc faced similar problems by the way and CorelDRAW also wasn't able to make sense out of Word 2007 tables. Undoubtedly there are work-arounds that actually do the job properly, but for some tables I was forced to revert to making screendumps to make the InDesign pdf's look acceptable.... The parametric principle went right out of the window into the snow that covers the spec of dirt called Holland in spite of Al Gore's global warming hallucinations.

Word managed to put up to four drawings on top of each other in a random sequence, not in the location where they were intended to be. When working with images of one tool that has slightly different settings or readings, figuring out which drawing goes where can be rather time consuming when one has to solve such riddles. Especially if you have dozens of those in a 100+ pages document. It really makes DTP-artists look forward to composing the next dozens of modules that are waiting to be created, many of which exceed the number of pages this particular one contained.

It made me wonder if generations 10,000 years from now into the future, when excavating the remains of this civilization will be able to detect a difference between the stone age and the period we are living in today. Not just by these types of trivial stupidities of course, but by all the silly, backward and cruel matters that are all too common in current societies. I am probably not the first or last to ponder such things that so far haven't resulted in efforts to actually improve what is keeping us occupied.

Update October 4 2017
Microsoft Word has one distinct advantage over many professional DTP-programs, I must say in all honesty; it is capable of reading SQL-databases without conversion. This is useful for companies that must work in structured ways. At the same time it is utterly ridiculous that programs like InDesign can not do this without purchasing expensive third party plug-ins. Since SQL is one of the major modern database platforms, professional users would expect this functionality to be available in the very costly software of market leading companies.

Have a nice day!