[Melbourne-pm] real world business issues: file formats

john thornton jdthornton at ozemail.com.au
Tue Dec 28 02:15:26 PST 2010

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           I want to raise some nitty gritty issues of day to day
business life. This is practical stuff. It's not some academic theory.

          I have some massive issues with file formats. OK. Backing up a
minute, what business am I in? Well, to be insured there is client
paperwork that must be followed. The insurance company [Rapid Solutions]
issues the paperwork online and you download it for your business. Only
people who are insured have access to the paperwork for download. It
only comes in a Windows format. [more about that later]

          Now, the crux of the problem is that every year Rapid changes
their insurance template. They do this to stop shysters using the
template to write illegal reports. So, every year I have to spend days
of valuable time tweaking the report's format because off the bat it is
never quite what I want. In all this I have to not modify the format too
much; it's broad intent is to stop a lawyer saying "aha, you only have a
rough copy/draft of the report, your honour that is not admissible in
court". Then there are invoices, other documents for clients and so on
that have to be changed to reflect the new format as well. Since when
this occurs every year Rapid Solutions changes the insurance numbers.

          OK. About a week ago the Rapid emailed us that they had
changed their template again. There are 4 separate documents that they
change. Each one has a different Australian Standard number. Each one
uses a different file format!! Because they have been done by different
people with different software. Yeah I know. This is beginning to sound
more like 1980 than 2010. So I opened up the one with a .docx format. I
have msoft word 2010 which opened it. But my business partner who needs
it still uses msoft word 2003. Thus the .docx opened as total
gobbledegook: a sea of blank squares. So, I put openoffice on his
computer and the .docx file opened up OK, BUT, and it's a big BUT, drop
down menus were no longer there. I mean things like "the house is
good/bad/stinky/don't know/ as drop down choices to be put in with a
mouse click. He can't use my computer; he has to write these reports on
his own. But one positive to the Openoffice .odf format is that he can
add in anything he wants; msoft word was limited in that way.

       So, what he's going to do is to go with Openoffice. He's going to
add in each drop down box as an either/or choice to be crossed out; each
box had 6 choices but most are not relevant to what he does. Openoffice
also messes up some formatting when saved as a .odf, having been opened
up in openoffice as a .docx, so he'll fix that. All this is a heck of a
lot of slogwork, probably a day's worth. At least. Then there are other
documents to modify as well. These reports are emailed and posted snail
mail. [only the snail mail is insured officially but the email gives a
heads up to the client who often needs to know stuff that night at a
12:00 midnight deadline.] One issue with email is that the person will
be opening it up in msoft word. So what we've decided is to convert the
.odf files to a pdf. This isn't without its issues. Such conversions are
not always 100% accurate. Thus I would really, really like to find some
windows file comparison software.

      .odf = pdf ???? [at least I should know if any text is missing] I
have tried winmerge. I hate it. To me it would only be useful to the
engineer from the film "First Contact". I went to wikipedia. It seems
that most file comparison software is designed for coders to compare
source file to source file. That's not what I need. I need to go "click"
and know that my .odf has converted as I want it to for the pdf.

      That almost sounds like a job for some perl person ? :) Write a
perl program for file comparison!

      In any case a lot of reformatting slogwork is ahead with the
template. There's a lot of dark ages computing about. About 2 weeks ago
I read on zdnet that the public service in Canberra is going to upgrade
their computers...to Vista Service Pack 1. [yeah, that's not a joke.]
That's not even adequate for Microsoft exchange server [needs Vista
service pack 2 at least.] Yes, I know about Linux. I agree that Linux is
a lot better than Windows. But I can't teach someone who was born in the
1940's Linux. Getting him to use Windows was in itself a feat of
Hercules. He can't email. I have to send his emails.

     So if someone could write me a file comparison program in perl? :)
Or just tell me a good one to get.

     Thank you

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