In my professional life I spend a lot of time creating learning materials, manuals, workbooks, presentations, quick reference guides and videos.

One of the tools I use frequently is ScreenSteps Pro from Blue Mango Learning Systems.

I’ve used ScreenSteps Pro since version 1 was in Alpha and really appreciate it’s flexibility in terms of the wide variety of output types it is able to create. Having a single source from which I can create PDF files, HTML, blog posts and editable files in Microsoft Word format is a great time saver.

Over the years I have used ScreenSteps Pro , I have created several customized templates for output via HTML, WordPress blog posts, PDF and Word format. To export Word files ScreenSteps Pro uses a DOCX format file with specific codes used to place the information where required. I created the templates I required using Office 2007 running in a Fusion Virtual Machine several years ago.

The templates I use have not required me to make any changes so the question of what I could use on the Mac platform to create and edit DOCX files had never arisen. In fact without the need to demonstrate the template creation process for a recent presentation on the use of ScreenSteps Pro the issue may well have remained moot for much longer.

However, my presentation required that I demonstrate the creation of a new template and the editing of an existing template. While the process is incredibly simple my stumbling block as a Mac user, who doesn’t use Microsoft Office, was finding an application that could create and edit DOCX files.

I know what you’re thinking: Pages in iWork can read DOCX files, OpenOffice can read DOCX files and indeed they can, the problem was that neither of them allowed me to save a file as a DOCX.

File formats supported by OpenOffice.org

It is not uncommon for each iteration of Microsoft Office to introduce a new file format and while the 2003 version used an XML format starting with 2007 the default format for Word documents is DOCX. So what I needed was an application that could not only read Word 2007/2010 DOCX files but also write them.

Salvation came in the form of LibreOffice. If you have never heard of it don’t worry, it’s a brand new application born from the OpenOffice.org project which is now part of Oracle Corporation. It was the purchase of Sun Microsystems and it’s intellectual property by Oracle in early 2010 that led to members of the OpenOffice development community forming The Document Foundation. The raison d’ĂȘtre for the formation of The Document Foundation is stated to be to manage and develop a fork of the OpenOffice.org codebase provisionally to be called LibreOffice.

Always up for a challenge I downloaded and installed the first Beta of LibreOffice more in hope than expectation that it might just be able to create DOCX files and save me the ritual humiliation of attempting to effectively use Microsoft Office running on the only PC I have, an 8 year old laptop that lives behind the office bin!

You can imagine my unmitigated joy when I discovered that LibreOffice does support the creation of the illusive DOCX format. Within minutes I had created the required ScreenSteps Pro templates and was singing it’s praises to all within earshot.

File formats supported by LibreOffice

I can’t see myself discarding iWork but until Pages can write DOCX files as well as reading them, LibreOffice is a perfect cross platform, cost effective way to be able to work with files that require more compatibility than available applications provide.