What's the word on ditching Word?
September 3, 2007 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Help me ditch Word, yet still deliver a document that uses Word templates.

When I switched from PC to Mac, I decided not to buy MS Office. I don't miss it, I don't want it, and I've fallen in love with simple text editors like Writeroom and Textmate. But my publisher wants me to use a specific Word template (which he provides).

I'm hoping there's a way I can write in a plain text editor and mark text that ultimately needs to be set to a specific style in the template. E.g. [1]Chapter One[/1] might mean that this text should be changed to Heading 1 style.

Then, later on -- in some other app -- I'd search for [1] ... [/1] and apply the style.

What's that other app? I know I could do it IN Word, but then I have to buy and install Word, which is what I'm trying to avoid. Is there an alternative? Some freeware, shareware or open-source app (Open Office?) that can use a Word templates (and can spit out a Word doc using that template)?

Extra points if it also can interpret Word's track-changes feature, so that my publisher and I can still use it.

Is there a good text-editor-to-doc workflow or do I need to breakdown and buy Word?
posted by grumblebee to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
I am pretty sure that OpenOffice can do most, if not all, of what you want to do. You can also look into Apple's new iWork.
posted by mjger at 9:37 AM on September 3, 2007

Have you checked out OpenOffice? I haven't used it myself, but it's supposed to be able to replicate/open all the major editing program's templates/formats.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:38 AM on September 3, 2007

NeoOffice is a more Mac-like version of OpenOffice. Give that a try before you spring for iWork or Word.
posted by marionnette en chaussette at 9:45 AM on September 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yes, but can OpenOffice (or NeoOffice) import and use Word templates?
posted by grumblebee at 9:53 AM on September 3, 2007

and if for some reason you don't like openoffice, there is abiword...
posted by Baud at 10:08 AM on September 3, 2007

According to this, yes, you can use MS office Word templates with OpenOffice, but they need to be converted first. You will need to develop some kind of process or methodology for moving the content between your boss' official Word template and your OpenOffice file, but it sounds like you're up for that, considering your ideas about marking up, etc.
posted by disclaimer at 10:12 AM on September 3, 2007

You should be able to import and use Word templates in NeoOffice. I've done some work for publishers that use Word templates in NeoOffice with no problem.
posted by jzb at 10:12 AM on September 3, 2007

Does it have to be a plain text editor? Because it looks like TextEdit, which ships with OS X, can edit Word template-based files (I only tried one, but it worked!).
posted by kimota at 10:18 AM on September 3, 2007

Unfortunately, Open Office's search and replace function is not as flexible as that of Word. It supports searching with regular expressions, but you can't put regex values in the "replace" box -- it will only use literal characters in the replace dialog or the "&", which will replace with the entire search string.

A workaround would be to use "&" and apply the formatting, then do a second search/replace to eliminate the markup characters.

However, while you can format the "replace with" text, you can't apply paragraph styles to it.

I'm not using a Mac so I can't offer any specific suggestions, but I certainly hope that there is a solution that would work more simply than OO for this.
posted by camcgee at 10:29 AM on September 3, 2007

You could try using Pages '08, which is a) pretty and b) mostly supports track changes. There's a free trial download on Apple's website.

An entirely different route would be to use something like Multimarkdown, which lets you write in plain text with some basic formatting (like you might do when writing an email.) There are scripts included which can take this text and transform it into various formats: html, rtf (which Word can read), Latex. If you want to get down and dirty, you could modify those scripts so that they'd apply the correct formatting that your boss wants. That's probably way overkill for your needs, though.
posted by wyzewoman at 11:28 AM on September 3, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the help. I should be clearer:

It's not a matter of just applying the correct formatting. The final doc must actually use the provided Word template. In other words, it's not important that the text has a certain look. It's important that the paragraphs, heading, etc. are tagged with the correct Word styles. My publisher will then take everything that's -- say -- tagged with the Chapter-heading style and make it look however he wants.

The workflow I'm after is this:

1. write in a plain text editor. I DO care which one. I want to use Textmate or Writeroom. These are plain (ascii) editors.

2. while writing, mark text in some simple way to show that it should be styled later (e.g. [1]Chater One[/1].

3. import into an app that can use Word Templates.

4. convert my marks into the Template's styles, using Find/Replace or some sort of macro/script.

Note: normal find/replace won't work. I must be able to find custom marks and replace them with the appropriate styles. It's not enough to replace them with, say, bold or italic or red. I must be able to replace them with styles from the template.

And, as I've said, I would LOVE to be able to use track changes.

I'm thinking maybe I'm asking for too much and should just break down and buy Word. I'm surprised though. Apps like TextMate are really popular.
posted by grumblebee at 11:41 AM on September 3, 2007

To make this work you'd need a specific Word markup language, or a Word-template-capable-app that can has a markup language. I don't think such a thing exists.

However, depending on how good Pages' AppleScript support is, it might not be too difficult to take your tagged output and generate a styled-up Pages document with it. But I've not looked at Pages' dictionary, so I've no idea how that will turn out.

It would be way easier if your publisher wasn't a douche. Maybe talk to them about not being a douche letting you skip a level of production. Because there's no way it stays in word for more than 10 minutes after it hits them.

(And for track changes, just use a good ol' unix revision control system. Hell, rcs is better than Track Changes)
posted by bonaldi at 12:38 PM on September 3, 2007

If you really want to write in tagged plain text, perhaps you could write in HTML.

I know that Word can import HTML. I'm less sure about CSS. But it seems that you should be able to create a CSS mimic of Word's stylesheet.

And you probably don't even need to do that. If your publisher can remap the HTML styles to his template's styles, it should be possible to take a bone-simple HTML document and flow it into his template with some replace-styles magic. Maybe a macro.

This would require some experimentation and cooperation from the publisher. You might need to hire someone to write a macro (though I'm guessing it would be a simple one). I'm pretty sure it could be done.
posted by adamrice at 1:03 PM on September 3, 2007

Best answer: I'm going to say that you should just shell out for Word. The search-and-replace mojo you're talking about doing is pretty trivial in Word, because Word can search and replace with styles and is also scriptable, and it is going to be, at best, a multi-step error-prone pain-in-the-ass process without it. Even if you have to pay full retail price for Office ($400), it will probably save you that much in frustration.

If you are going to write for publication, you need Word. Just grit your teeth and get it. If you can in any way claim yourself to be a student or teacher, Microsoft has a $25 rebate on the educational edition of Mac Office through the sixth, making it just $125.
posted by kindall at 1:21 PM on September 3, 2007

Response by poster: I think you're right, kindall. I've been writing for years and everyone in the industry uses Word. I was hoping I could escape its clutches, but I think I just need to face reality.

Thanks for the answers, folks.
posted by grumblebee at 1:59 PM on September 3, 2007

The final doc must actually use the provided Word template. In other words, it's not important that the text has a certain look. It's important that the paragraphs, heading, etc. are tagged with the correct Word styles.

This is exactly how LaTeX works (and, as others have pointed out, HTML). Of course, this doesn't help if they don't accept LaTeX, or if you don't have the language, but it's pretty straightforward to learn the constructs that you mention, and if they're going to insist on that way of working then they should accept markup (style) languages (in my opinion). Academic publishers will, in my experience, accept LaTeX without question; with one piece of work I had to use LaTeX2html, and then cut-and-paste into Word format. I was anticipating trouble, but it was surprisingly straightforward (but this approach would not help you in this case).
posted by gene_machine at 2:16 PM on September 3, 2007

Best answer: I'm hoping there's a way I can write in a plain text editor and mark text that ultimately needs to be set to a specific style in the template. E.g. [1]Chapter One[/1] might mean that this text should be changed to Heading 1 style.

There's a very convoluted way you can do this and it's probably too much for what you want, but I'll mention it anyway. You could write your text in marked up in XML and then use XSL to transform it to WordML (ie the XML opens in Word and looks like a Word file styled in your publisher's template). I haven't used track-changes with it, but I know that WordML supports them.

The problems: 1) This assumes that your documents would have a standard structure. 2) You'd have to be comfortable with XSL and WordML to get this set up properly. While both are fairly easy to understand, there's a bit of steep learning curve. 3) Your publisher could change the template without you knowing which would render your transform redundant.

[aside: I've recently been using this method for some 40-odd service documents (the idea is that the bulk of the text in each document is the same, and only service-specific information changes (the XML). It means that any changes to the bulk text can be taken into the XSL and then all of the XML documents quickly updated with a batch file, instead of manually updating each document in Word with the changes which would, frankly, bore me to tears and be a waste of my internet-surfing time.]

It'll take me too long to explain it here, so if you would like to know more drop me a line and I'll be happy to run through the (PC not Mac) process I use and send you some examples.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 6:13 PM on September 3, 2007

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