OOo Compare: Inadequate


OOo Compare: Inadequate

Update 4: see also my wdiff post and (update 5) my docdiff post and (update 6) my Real World Test post.

OpenOffice.org’s compare function has, historically, performed very poorly for me.  Being able to more or less accurately compare two documents for changes is an essential function for any law practice which does any sort of transactional work.   Without it, OpenOffice will never find a place in legal firms.  Moreover, this functionality is of use to anyone who wants to have changes between versions readily identifiable without the need to have track changes on all of the time.

OpenOffice’s compare performance is inadequate.  By way of a test I took two similar clauses and saved them to separate text files.  I then used OpenOffice’s compare function to show the changes.  This was the output:

Comparison of clause by OpenOffice.org showing markup

Comparison of clause by OpenOffice.org showing markup

Despite there being some commonality between the two clauses – eg “may invoice” are the second and third words of both clauses, OpenOffice simply marked the whole thing as a change.  The clauses are each less than 60 words – a markup should not be difficult.  The output is unhelpful and this sort of output from compare is not unusual for OpenOffice.  It should come as no surprise that things do not improve with longer documents.

By way of example, Word’s compare function gave this output:

Word's compare function of sample clauses

Word's compare function operating on the same two sample clauses

This markup shows pretty much an accurate record of the changes which were made.   Text which has not changed is shown as unchanged.   Changed text is shown as a change.  This is not to say that Word does not go markup haywire from time to time, but its track record is vastly superior to OOo’s in my experience.  That said, OOo’s mark up has been so poor for me that the number of times I have experienced it is not that great.

Exactly who uses OOo’s compare function?  What is its intended domain of application?

Update: Richard [thanks Richard] has posted a comment linking to an issue dating to 2005 in the OOo bug tracker.  If you think this should be improved please go vote for the issue.

Update 2: Oh, and based on my experience – any compare based on diff will also be inadequate.  Don’t even consider it.  FWIW I ran them through diff (the output is at least more reader friendly):

< 1.1[Vendor] may invoice Customer the Fees for each Service in accordance with the Payment Terms and, where no relevant time is set out in the Payment Terms, [Vendor] may invoice the Customer for ongoing fees quarterly in advance and other fees in arrears.  [Vendor] will provide Customer with a tax invoice in respect of all GST charged.
---
> 1.1Contractor may invoice [Customer] for ongoing fees quarterly in arrears and other fees monthly in arrears.  Contractor must provide [Customer] with a tax invoice in respect of all GST charged.  [Customer] is not liable to pay any amount in respect of GST except as set out in a valid tax invoice.

Update 3: One of the comments on a linking site points out this code (which I haven’t tried): http://www.plagiarism.phys.virginia.edu/copyfind.cpp

Update 4: Wdiff seems to be very promising.

Notes:

OOo compare results were the same for both versions of OOo I tried (2.3.something and 3.0.1).

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9 Responses to “OOo Compare: Inadequate”


  1. 1 Nexus 14 March 2009 at 6:49 am

    I agree it is sub par. Where are the bug trackers you have opened for this issue with the OOO folks?

  2. 2 Ken Jennings 14 March 2009 at 6:57 am

    Has a bug report (or feature improvement request) been filed on the OO.o site? I’d consider it a bug. Upload the jpegs with the report.

    OO.o has been good for me going back to the versions coded on clay tablets. I’ve only been irritated enough with a behavior of OO.o to file one bug report which concerned CSV output format, and it did end up getting fixed as a feature improvement.

  3. 3 Alexi Helligar 14 March 2009 at 7:48 am

    Which version of OOo did you test?

    I have found that OO.o 3.01 has serious bugs that which when reported do not get addressed. In addition to poor performance when comparing documents, I have also noticed that OO.o 3.01 is very slow when opening and saving files over Windows shares. When working with documents, Microsoft Office’s performance is quite fast, but OO.o 3.01 can take anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute to open or save the same document. This same behavior is experienced by other office suites based on OO.o such as Lotus Symphony.

    I would like to standardize my office on OO.o and promote it with my clients, but bugs like these coupled with poor support is a deal killer.

  4. 4 Alexi Helligar 14 March 2009 at 8:01 am

    I see that you tested both version 2.3.x and 3.0.1. Thanks.

  5. 5 Richard 14 March 2009 at 9:02 am

    Add your comments to:

    http://www.openoffice.org/issues/show_bug.cgi?id=54195

    That will help more than this article.


  1. 1 OpenOffice.org tricks, OpenOffice.org Pervasiveness, OOo Compare, OpenOffice.org License Extension: OpenOffice.org links, 13-03-2009 Trackback on 14 March 2009 at 9:23 pm
  2. 2 Wdiff compare - Good! « Brendan Scott’s Weblog Trackback on 20 March 2009 at 11:51 am
  3. 3 Docdiff compare - Good! + Roundup « Brendan Scott’s Weblog Trackback on 24 March 2009 at 10:23 pm
  4. 4 Real World Test – Wdiff Best « Brendan Scott’s Weblog Trackback on 15 July 2009 at 4:03 pm

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