Ouch – using OpenOffice this week nearly 1) cost me £7,500 and 2) delayed a major deal…

I’ve been using open office for 8 months now, and had no serious interoperability issues with receiving documents that are predominately written in Microsoft Word. Well that came to an end this week with 2 incidents that are worthy of recording:

Firstly, I recieved a quotation by email for some building work that was written in MS Word. I opened it in Open Office, read it, printed it, and it all looked the same. It was competitive, (but not silly) and I entered into many hours of late stage discussion and negotiation with the sender over a potential deal. After about 4 hours of my time, it emerged that the quotation I had on screen and in hard copy was different to the intended version, and crucially missed a sub total of £7,500 that completely destroyed the bid. (There was no grand total BTW – I can do maths!).

Dropping the font size to 2 point on each of the DOC pages emailed to me I “found” the missing text, hidden under the footer graphic. I’ve never seen this in Word, and it was a lesson that all formatting dosnt display as intended on Open Office. A waste of my time and that of the bidder.

Similarly, I’ve been signing off a major deal this week as part of my duties as a non executive director of Business Link, and the signature page of an emailed document I had to sign printed differently on open office to that of the “original” document. With so many lawyers around for all sides, someone noticed and at the (very) last minute we had to get the document resigned by fax to enable completion.

Now I dont feel agrieved by these 2 episodes, but it has made me more wary. For casual use, OpenOffice writer is excellent, and I’m very grateful to the community to have use of it. However, in business we cannt ignore the current status of the MS Word .DOC document format as the “definative” document format at the moment. If you try to work with other businesses by email using open source software, you do have to be careful that you are getting what was intended.


  1. PDF. easy, obvious.
  2. Or we could just have ONE combined ISO standard for documents (isn’t that ODF???) and not 2 “standards”.

We dont want (or need) OOXML as a second “standard” in business.

Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone if there was only 1, open (source), standard file format?

  • Matthew Flaschen

    Sorry to hear that you had those issues. I think the solution in these cases would have been PDF, since if I understand right no editing was necessary on your end. In general, I share your hope that ODF, already an open ISO standard, becomes the de facto industry choice.

  • I’ve not had that experience but I do see strange formatting sometimes – even from my wife (who I haven’t yet converted due to her current paymaster).

    I concur that pdf (An ISO standard BTW and one which passed in January this year with in almost absolute silence. Compare that to OOXML!) is the best way to send electronic docs that are not for editing.

    And yes, one standard is the right way – even the WTO thinks so and may well end up having words with ISO about it… http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/7546/469

  • Hi there,

    Firstly I read your article in the Express & Star with interest and will follow your open source exploits with interest.

    My opnion with regard to anything “legal” whether it be quotations, support contracts or invoices is always send as a PDF. Not just for cross compatibility but more for the fact that they shouldn’t be able to easily edit the document and “what you see is what you get”.

    Paul Dadge

  • Kevin Payne


    I would support Paul Dadge’s comments but for one thing – an electronic copy of a document is not legally worth anything, regardless of its contents or electronic format.

    Having once worked for a consultancy firm (in Highways and Transport Infrastructure) I gather that the original document needs to be conveyed by post / courier and accepted by the recipient in order for it to have any legal recognition. That consultancy firm once nearly had legal problems with a good and trusted client purely because they had Fax’d an A4 draft proposed solution to them on a problem they were working on. One would have thought that one A4 Fax to another A4 Fax would have come out identical, but in fact it did not.

    As you unfortunately saw an electronic copy can often bear no resemblance to the original, and personally I do not think that any electronic Standard should be applied, whether it be Open Office, MS Office, PDF, or even any other format that could be thrown at ISO. For business use I believe it should remain as the originally drawn up printed document handed over without any electronic intervention or conveyancing.


  • @Kevin,

    I think generally you are right, although I have had several conversations recently with solicitors (through networking events you understand!) who are saying Judges are now regularly allowing email and other electronic docs as evidence in court. So much busines is now done without any paper that it would be almost impossible not to allow it.

    The recent ISO approval of PDF/A (an Archive format) is specifically for the long term storage and faithful reproduction of digital documentation.

    Of course, proving that the recipient actually received it is another matter entirely 😉