Linux and MS Word Documents

04.18.10

I’m going to discuss something that’s a tad awkward.

It’s a call to improve on the Office Suite software available for Linux.  Is this really something worth writing about? It is, and I’ll tell you why.  After nearly 3 years at the same job, I find myself in a position shared by many—seeking work in a struggling economy.

The first thing I did was find a recent electronic copy of my resume.  Good news!  The most recent version just needed a little touching up.  Since I don’t own Microsoft Office software, updating an MS Word doc should be simple using Open Office dot org, yes?? Supposedly Open Office does the job for Word Documents.  Well, in my case…No.  Abysmally, failingly, No. Broke almost all formatting of the original document.  Caused me two to three times the work just to get it back to a ‘normal-looking’ state.  Mind you my resume was not heavily formatted to begin with.

But what about the FONTS?

Yes, fonts are a big deal when saving the document.  For resumes, it’s important to use a highly-readable font and keep the font size nice as well.  Chances are the resume will be scanned (for keywords) and also printed, faxed, and emailed to users of various Operating Systems.  Keeping the font as generic as possible will help.  Using exotic fonts that only come with Mac will not.  To make my text documents play nice, I installed the msttcorefonts (Microsoft TrueType Core Fonts) package.  This package will let you use fonts commonly found on the MS Windows Platform.

Ok, so is Open Office a total waste?

No, it is not.  I happen to like the Spreadsheet implementation.  For basic spreadsheets, it works great.  I have not tried to edit any MS Excel sheets with embedded macros (yet).  This is (from what I’ve heard) is the tricky part where Open Office has to do a lot of extra work to try and match all the macro languages and formulas—and on that—I’ll give them some leeway.

Your resume broke in OO.org; Can’t you use another app?

Usually, the answer to this question (when put to a Linux user) is yes.  With open source linux there are usually a plethora of substitutes available to try out.  However, when it comes to professional documents, it “just has to work” as the cliche goes.  I tried some text document office-suite alternatives.  First I tried Abiword.  Abiword also broke the formatting and made it’s own arbitrary decisions on font rendering, even though I had the correct MSTTCOREFONT installed (in this case, “Times New Roman”).  So, with the correct Font installed, it didn’t matter.  Document got very messed up.  Other alternatives include purchasing a licensed CD of MS Office and to make it work in Linux, Crossover Office (by Codeweavers), which I would consider purchasing.  MS Office (however) is not high on my list of things to buy.

Abiword is not a bad program.  I’ve written college term papers with it.  This was a start-to-finish document saved as *.doc as opposed to a document created in MS Windows.  I would just like to see Linux have the ability to inter-operate with .doc files that have a table as part of their layout.  I’ve used and recommended Open Office both on the Linux and the MS Windows platform and it usually works great.  Maybe I expected too much out of it?  Maybe tables in an MS Word Doc are not consistently imported into Open Office.

Although I like the idea of the Open Document Format, it’s not something I can count on for across-the-board compatibility with the business world.  This is critical.  If an employer can’t open your resume because it’s in .odt format and their version of MS Word is earlier than 2007, they will simply discard your resume.  They will not bother to read a file they can’t open.  It’s also possible that the .odt file format will make someone (not in the know) uneasy.  They are expecting a .doc file, so to keep yourself “in the game” it’s probably best to send them a .doc file for a resume.

Summary: how can we overcome these limitations?

Use whichever word processor program you want to (as long as it can save as MS Word format *doc).  Send your document to a friend or family member that has the “real” Microsoft Word on their computer and let them open, view, and print your document.  If it looks good, and prints as you expect, then you’re all set.  If not, then try another program or possibly take some time to reformat your document.

What did I wind up doing?

My final solution was to create the resume in iWorks for MAC (as I now use a macbook dual-booted with Linux).  Even if you’re writing your resume on MAC, remember fonts.  The Times New Roman font is recommended as the “generic” font most widely used for this purpose.  Do you have to use it?  No, you don’t.  Just remember the person receiving your resume will need to have the font on his/her computer or else your resume runs the risk of breaking while they see it or print it.  Not a good idea.  Resumes are typically given very little attention to start with as they are quickly scanned.  If a resumeI know Linux users typically do not lean towards conformity, but this is one time when it will work to your advantage.

For the Linux side of the computer, I rebuilt the resume, not relying on tables for formatting in cases where you want to “right-align” dates on the job.  This I felt was a safer “universal approach” and this version became my “default” resume version for better performance on as many platforms as possible.

I put the dates on their own line and right-aligned that line. But again, I was trying to get this done in short time to aid in job-hunting.  What works for you may be something altogether different.  Good Luck

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2 Responses to “Linux and MS Word Documents”

  1. Howard Rogers says on :

    Heard of PDFs??!

    I don’t know of anyone that can’t read them. And I don’t know of a single job agency/headhunter that won’t accept them instead of .doc formats. And OOo outputs them in as nice a PDF format as you could wish.

    Just a suggestion. Hope the job hunting went well, anyway!

  2. adamlinuxhelp says on :

    Hello Howard. Yes, I have heard of PDFs. When providing word documents, I was doing so at the Agency’s request. I suppose they could have asked for PDFs, or I could have insisted they accept them. But as mentioned, the Agencies and Recruiters are there to help me, so I figured the least I could do was to send them the doc type that they requested. Thanks for your reply and have a great day. At the very least, others may learn about that feature (The PDF export) and benefit from it, which is why I put this blog up in the first place. 🙂

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