January 31, 2006

StarOffice Enterprise Tools are flawed but helpful

Author: David Strom

If you're investigating Sun's StarOffice as a replacement for Microsoft Office, you'll need to address the conversion question. While StarOffice can read Microsoft Office documents pretty well, the two products' macro languages are incompatible. Sun's StarOffice Enterprise Tools aim to help. The Professional Analysis Wizard and the Macro Migration Wizard are bundled at no extra charge as part of an enterprise license of SO (though you can't download them from the Web). Whether they can help you depends on how many Microsoft Office documents, spreadsheets, and presentations you need to convert -- and don't expect miracles.

If you just have hundreds of files that you'll need going forward, then the two migration tools from Sun will be moderately, but not completely, helpful. If you have fewer files, then probably you want to skip using these utilities. And if your document collection is in the thousands across many different users, then you will want to use the tools for sure, but it still won't be easy to do the conversion.

You need to run the Analysis Wizard on a Windows machine that also has Microsoft Office 2000 or higher installed. This is somewhat counter-intuitive, but required because the wizard uses the Microsoft Office APIs to do its analysis. Product managers from Sun say they are working on a tool that doesn't have this requirement for their next release. Besides a working copy of Office, you'll need Service Pack 6 for Visual Basic 6.0, and an adjustment to your macros security settings for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

To get going, you specify the directory where your files are stored, and the wizard runs through each file, checking for macros, fonts, formats, and other tricky content. The end result of this step is to see if there are any conversion errors. This first wizard gives you a report summarizing what it found and how much effort it will take to do the conversion.

Click to enlarge

The report is produced with two identical files: an Excel file (see the screenshot) and an XML file. Both are very detailed, and contain the same information. In my case, it said my 300 files would take less than half a day's work to convert. One of the more useful results is examining the aging history of your files: you'll be surprised at how many of them are older than six months and haven't been touched. You can view the details of the migration issues page here.

After reviewing the report, you click another button to prepare the documents for migration. This puts them in a separate folder so you can maintain your original files.

Once you are done, you use the second tool to actually convert the macros. It goes through a similar process, with a report in Excel, and actually does the conversion to SO macro formats.

As you can imagine, the Macro Migration Wizard is far from perfect. It couldn't open a dozen or so of my files, some of which it claimed were password-protected when they weren't. It couldn't open other files because they hadn't been saved properly on my Macintosh. When I ran the Macro converter, I got a series of warning messages that scrolled off a screen in a command-line window: clearly, this is the less solid of the two tools.

While Sun's StarOffice Enterprise Tools can be helpful, they're no panacea. If you have very complex macros, you'll probably want to stay with Microsoft Office, or be prepared for some manual recoding. But if you have relatively simple documents with simple macros, you should be able to convert most of them with StarOffice's tools.

David Strom is a freelance journalist who has run numerous Web and print publications and written two computer-related books.

Click Here!