Problems with the Symbol font, Greek text, or bullets in Word documents

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Users often have complaints about the handling of the Symbol font, Greek text, or bullets from imported Microsoft Office documents. A number of "problems" are simply misunderstandings of the way that modern Unicode-compliant Mac applications input text, while in other cases the problems are Microsoft or bugs.


Inputting Greek text

To enter Greek text in Mac OS X (including in NeoOffice), either switch to the Greek keyboard layout or use the system Character Palette. Both can be accessible under the "Flag" menu in your menu bar, which in turn is enabled in the Input Menu tab of the International Pane of the Mac OS X System Preferences. Simply check the boxes next to the keyboard layouts or input methods you wish to enable, and check "Show input menu in menu bar" to enable the "Flag" menu for easy switching between layouts.

If you only wish to enter a few characters, either the Character Palette or NeoOffice's built-in equivalent, the "Insert Special Characters" dialogue (select "Special Characters" from the "Insert" menu; then click on the "Subset" list box and select "Basic Greek", and then click on the Greek characters) are probably the easiest way to do so.

Can't I just type using the Symbol font?

Under the classic Mac OS and on Windows, "Greek text" is often entered by simply selecting the Symbol font and typing; entering a would produce α, g would produce γ, and so forth, and if you typed some text, you could later select it, choose the Symbol font, and "make it Greek". While this might have been simple, it also meant that the meaning of your text was dependant on you and any recipients all sharing the same exact fonts. If you were to look at the "raw" form of a document entered in this manner, the data would consist of Roman letters only.

Because Mac OS X is based on Unicode, an international standard designed improve the interoperability of data which gives each character in each of the world's languages a distinct "code point", g and γ are treated as two different characters (as they rightly are). Simply entering one character and changing the font does not transform it into the other.

There is a way to type g and have an actual Unicode γ entered in your documents; if you have access to Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X 10.1, you can use the "Symbol" keyboard layout shipped with those OS versions, which maps Roman letters to the Greek Unicode code points. Install the layout in your user's ~/Library/Keyboard Layouts folder; after logging out and back in again, you can enable the layout as described above. These layouts can be found on your Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X 10.1 CDs, and they may also be available online.

Greek characters and bullets in Word (or for Windows) documents don't display correctly

This is because these characters were entered with non-Unicode values in Word, and the import filters do not convert the characters to Unicode ones. This seems to be Mac-only OOo bug (or a bug that is only manifest on the Mac, since OOo on Windows has access to Microsoft fonts and Windows methods of mapping characters). Unfortunately, since this bug appears to be Mac-only and Mac OS X is not a "tier 1" platform for Sun and, the developers who could fix the bug seem to have ignored it.

There is a very hacky work-around available in NeoBugzilla Bug 912 that will allow you to force the characters to display properly, but it will break proper handling of Greek, symbols, and bullets in the rest of your Mac applications and it will not actually "fix" the characters—only make them display as they did in Word or on Windows so you can, eg., produce a hard copy with the correct appearance.


  • Trinity threads: [1], [2], [3], [4]
    Note some of these threads are older and contain information that is no longer accurate for versions of NeoOffice greater than 1.1.
  • issue on import of Word documents on the Mac
  • NeoBugzilla bug 912 and bug 747 on import of for Windows and Word documents
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