Saturday, May 15, 2010

Microsoft Word vs OpenOffice paragraph indentation!

The lovely Carol was having problems with Microsoft Word compatibility, and I was called in to help. She composed her paper in OpenOffice Writer. Her paragraphs were indented, like the image on the right, and she saved it in Mi¢ro$oft Word ".doc" format. But for some reason, when MS Office opens the document, there's no indentation at all; you can't tell where one paragraph leaves off and the next begins.

I thought this would be a pretty basic kind of function; it's not exactly advanced formatting. So I asked her to save a current version of her paper and went over to her laptop, which has Microsoft Word 2004 for Mac. I opened the file, and sure enough, no indentations. Good -- I reproduced the problem. Some googling later, I found out that MS-Word actually does have paragraph styles. Cool! I modified the custom style ("Composition"), requiring a half-inch indent or so, and saved that with a different filename.

Coming back to my Linux (ubuntu 9.04) desktop, I fired up and took a look at the version modified by MS Word. The indentation looked just right. So far so good. Then I looked at her original version -- no indentation. What??

I went back to her computer, selected an indented paragraph, and in the Styles and Formatting menu, right-clicked on "Composition" (the paragraph style), selected "Modify", and discovered... what you see at left.

Mystery solved: The issue was the "Automatic" first line indentation. Uncheck "Automatic", put a real value in for first line indent (0.39 inches maybe?), and Microsoft Word also thinks that you've got indentation.

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