FSpaceRPG article

Status: Official

Many gamers would be looking to use Microsoft Word or similar products as a platform to undertake their desktop publishing for ebook projects.

The average user will be quite content using them and generally the product behaves well. However with the advent of Office 2007, Microsoft adopted a new file format that has caused quite a stir as far as backwards compatibility is concerned. Fortunately Microsoft gave Word 2007 the ability to save as the older 97-2003 format. It opens such files in a compatibility mode which looks fine to the average user.

What Microsoft don’t tell you is that this compatibility mode uses a different graphics engine to render the page view, and it’s support for displaying objects is somewhat flawed. What is even more troubling is that the new Office 2008 for Macs which uses the same kind of file formats and legacy rendering engine has some major troubles.

Under certain conditions page sizes can be incorrectly sized, graphic elements move as a result, and even the engine will not display some graphics at all (a fault shared with it’s PC cousin).

Don’t even mention VBA and Macro support between platforms where 2008 lacks it and Mac 2004 and older doesn’t have a 100% PC compliant VBA engine. Given conditional statements and the like can be used to display content and give documents a powerful interactive method of displaying information, MS files aren’t the best. PCs support Windows Media compliant media in their documents, while on Macs, MS supported quicktime. Windows Meta files are only supported on Mac 2008 properly, while EPS files are supported on Macs but turn to custard on PCs. Macs support applescript and relationships to Filemaker, while on PCs it’s Access. With Access and Publisher being PC centric they aren’t good alternative mechanisms either.

Word is by it’s very nature a bad choice for delivery with the complication of crossplatform issues and this rendering problem between the old and new document formats.

If a game publisher can format a document on their own machine and it stays they way they set it up without display problems, or graphics moving on them the next time they open the file, then that’s great. To share these successfully with the rest of the world, turning them into a PDF file is their best hope of a more uniform experience. Third party PDF creator software can create PDFs that are bound to cause some trouble. But if you can get the official Adobe Acrobat, then you can make a file that will be compatible with newer versions of Acrobat, as well as targeting older ones in the settings if you really want to.

Like everything in the world of software vendors, even opensource ones retire old document formats, or render old ones using newer engines that cause trouble. It’s just a shame we see such glaring problems from such a dominant commercial vendor as Microsoft who own the formats and all the rendering engine code in question.

I can fully appreciate why some publishers will only accept submissions in RTF format, something that has remained relatively unchanged for a while.

At FSpace Publications we’ve encountered many of the the same sorts of troubles. Work I do for the commercial sector hits these compatibility problems with Office all the time, one of the main reasons we know about them. The other of retired formats has struck us many times as we revisit older project files in our own archives or developers who call for help because their modern copies of Word or Powerpoint can’t open that legacy file they created in the 1990s or earlier.

Like many people, we are caught in the consumerised push for new computers, new software and gadgets. But in the process we are loosing information because we often fail to retain the technology needed to read those old files.

Our own firm was about to retire it’s PowerPC Mac Mini, not a terribly old machine, but it’s ability to run Mac OS 9 and consequently a host of old software has been stopped after finding out how useful it is to convert old files.

Our advice is to not shed your legacy computers and software until you have migrated everything you want to the new file format standards in use. If you can’t afford the commercial versions of software, opt for mainstream opensource software that does support widely used standard file formats.

Still it;’s hard to stare into a crystal ball and know what formats will survive into the future, and which options to take in preserving your information.

We are still debating those options ourselves. Good luck and hopefully you find the sustainable software you need to keep your efforts alive for decades to come.

Categories: Development

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