LibreOffice Does WPS

This is a shout out to my Dad, who has been creating .wps documents with MS Works for years because that’s what Dell used to ship with their PCs.

The good news, Dad, is that LibreOffice, the free MS Office alternative (that forked off OpenOffice after Oracle acquired the latter and torqued off the open source community around it), supports .wps documents.

Here’s the drop down “File Open” menu from the copy of LibreOffice on our new Windows 7 laptop to prove it:

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After opening your .wps files, you’ll probably want to convert them into a more common format like .doc or .odt (the LibreOffice default). For that all you need to do is “Save As”.

There are programs that let you convert files from .wps to .odt in bulk. One that I’m in the process of checking out is a Linux utility called wps2odt. It depends on some libraries from the libwpd (Wordperfect conversion) project, and the sources include .spec files for compiling .rpm packages for Red Hat systems. Will report back when I’ve had a chance to explore that some more.

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Note on the “how did we get here” meta issue raised by all this:

How did we wind up with so many “abandonware” file formats like .wps for Works?

Well, back about a million years ago when desktop computers all ran the operating system God intended for them, DOS, there were more productivity software companies than there were oil companies. Some of you may recall: Micropro (WordStar), Softword (Multimate), Satellite Systems (WordPerfect), IBM (DisplayWrite), XyQuest (XyWrite) and, of course, Microsoft (Word). The word processor wars morphed into the “office productivity suite” wars after Microsoft bundled its product with a spreadsheet (Excel) and database (Access) in order to compete with the best-of-breed products in those categories, Lotus’s 123 and Ashton-Tate’s DBase.

Another Microsoft “innovation” that everyone latched on to was the use of binary file formats rather than marked-up ASCII text (both WordStar and XyWrite wrote plain text files that contained special formatting codes around ASCII characters, which made them easy to convert to another format when the user decided to switch products). To avoid being charged with infringement of anyone else’s patents or copyrights, each vendor chose their own special, entirely undocumented (at least to the public), format. Private corporations and government bowed to this state of affairs and didn’t even hint that they might prefer an open, universal, format that would prevent vendor lock-in. Most court systems, for example, adopted WordPerfect as their standard word processing system in the mid 1980’s, creating archival backwaters when they then switched to the more popular Microsoft Word in the late 90’s.

When certain information technology managers for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts responded to the very real danger than public documents in proprietary formats might become inaccessible over time by attempting to enforce open document standards at the turn of this century, they were promptly hounded out of office by an intensive lobbying campaign that was widely believed to have been instigated by Microsoft.

Lately places less beholden to Microsoft, like Europe, Japan, India, Brazil and elsewhere (e.g. NATO), have begun to adopt the common Open Document Format (ODF). In a rare concession to outside pressure, ODF has been more or less supported by Microsoft from Office 2007 forward.

And that, as they say, is the real story.

Update:

Two bits of news. (1) Dad installed LibreOffice and used it to open some .wps files, but apparently the formatting is all screwed up. Not surprising given how hard Microsoft has always worked at making files produced by even one of their own programs usable by later versions of the same program — I’m continuing to look at wps2odt as a possible solution ; (2) Oracle has in essence released OpenOffice back to the community — not sure exactly what that means, but the early buzz is that those who left for LibreOffice are in no mood to go back to OpenOffice and if there’s going to be a convergence at some point down the line it may very well be OpenOffice merging into LibreOffice as the main project.