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OpenOffice bug/feature stirs 'horde of angry chimps'

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Update: This story has been updated to clarify when the described bug/feature occurs

Seven and a half years after some poor soul first complained it was vaporizing his data, OpenOffice is still plagued by a Calc bug/feature that overwrites fields hidden using the spreadsheet's Autofilter tool.

"There are only two things preventing my organization from ditching MS Office for OOo, and the biggest one is the screwed up autofilter," one user wrote back in January 2002. "Since I use a spreadsheet all day for stuff like this, the screwed up filter behaviour is completely unacceptable."

If you, say, hide several rows via Autofilter and then "drag-fill" data into cells that are still visible, hidden cells are overwritten as well. With Excel, those hidden fields are left untouched. You can see the bug/feature in action here:

But despite countless complaints from OpenOffice users - and former OpenOffice users - the "screwed up autofilter" is still alive and well. Though the issue has turned up in three separate reports - here, here, and here - developers have fixed some hidden overwrites but not the drag-fill overwrite. For instance, overwrites no longer happens with cut and paste.

Just two days ago, another user popped up with another cry for help.

"[The issue] was first reported in January 2002 (yes that's right over 7 and half years ago!) as a defect but the developers obviously believe that destroying data is quite acceptable as they changed it to an enhancement request and refused to change it back," he wrote. "It has dragged on over 2 further issues which is quite unbelievable if it [weren't] so true. From the issue comments it is obviously causing major grief especially amongst those who championed the installation of it in companies and organisations."

Ed Hawley, a British-based IT type, tells The Reg he first encountered the bug in 2003 - and hasn't gone back to OpenOffice since. "No one seems to accept that it's a major problem. Developers say it works as specified," Hawley says. "But it's like if you had an iPod and it deleted tracks when you shuffle tunes."

An OpenOffice press contact declined to speak with us about the bug/feature. He's a Sun employee, and thanks to the Oracle acquisition - which was just approved - he feared that chatting with us would put his life in danger. Others have yet to respond for requests for comment.

One user doesn't quite see the bug/feature as a serious problem. But he does feel that the ongoing seven-and-a-half-year saga points to serious flaws in the way OpenOffice is developed. "It shows that OOo has something like an audience, but no community at all," he writes. "You can not discuss, specify, and resolve things within a horde of angry chimps. The developers did the one and only possible thing. They kept cool and quiet...

"We all know that OOo, like any other software, is not good enough for most users who are in need a free clone of some other software (free as in beer, the rest of our freedom does not matter anyway). But this is an illusion. There will never be any clone of your favourite software, let alone a free one." ®

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