I’m not really interested in investigating the reasons behind Microsoft creating a proprietary file extension for the most commonly used document type in the world. I expect it has something to do with struggling to maintain a stranglehold on the market, as most of their decisions seem to be based on that goal. (My indifference toward monopoly will have to be another post, however).

My interest in this subject is twofold:

1. To inform my readers about the evils of .docx.

2. To spread the word about quality, free alternatives to Microsoft Office.

As a professional editor and publisher, I spend the majority of my waking hours with my head buried in word processing documents. If you aren’t using Word, you can still open .docx word processing documents, but they tend to pick up a variety of random formatting glitches. In particular, the Track Changes feature – which I use constantly for editing – is very inconsistent. In a job where consistency is one of my primary functions, this is simply unacceptable.

It seems I’m not the only one who doesn’t like .docx. According to this post on the Amazon digital text platform site, they’ve encountered the same formatting glitches when uploading content for the Kindle. As a publisher that has content available through Kindle, this is just another reason not to use the nasty file extension.

So here’s a little test to check whether people submitting to me are reading my blog:

Never, ever send me a .docx file. If I’ve requested material for editing, and you insist on using Word, (which I understand if you’ve already purchased it) please use the “Save As” menu to change the file type to .doc. If I’ve requested material to review, I really prefer .pdf, but .doc is acceptable.

Now, on to my second point. As a small-business owner, I am constantly looking for ways to be more economical, and purchasing the Microsoft Office Suite doesn’t fit that criteria. I have been using NeoOffice – the Mac-friendly version of OpenOffice.org‘s productivity suite – for close to 10 years now. It performs all of the basic functions of Office and it is free. (In this case I mean free in the sense of ‘open and available’ rather than ‘without value’ – I highly recommend donating to the OpenOffice foundation so they can continue to provide this amazing service). There is no doubt that these community-developed-and-supported programs are less polished than their gargantuan competitors. There is also a learning curve when switching over as many options and menus are structured differently. These minor issues seem a very small price to pay in view of the advantages.

Another good option for budget-conscious writers is the Google Docs suite. The range of in-depth formatting is much smaller than full desktop-suites, but it offers the benefits of being completely free (somehow I don’t feel like Google needs donations) and the collaboration tools are amazing. Best of all, any documents created there can be easily downloaded in a wide range of formats for printing or offline use (including .doc and .pdf). I don’t advocate storing passwords or sensitive corporate data, but for general use Google Docs gets my thumbs-up.

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