Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Displaying Tables within NBS

Most of the blog posts I have done so far have been about exciting new developments. However, I think it only fair that I address items that cause a level of dissatisfaction too.

The way NBS displays tables within a specification has been drawn to my attention a couple of times recently by users of NBS Building. This blog post explains (1) why tables within NBS do not always align correctly, (2) what we’re doing about it and (3) what workarounds are possible in the short term.

1. Why do tables do not always align correctly?

The technology we use for the work section editor in NBS Building is the Microsoft RichText control. This is the main editing component that is included in the Microsoft Development Environment which the NBS products are written.

Unfortunately, this control does not support tables other than allowing tabbed content. An example of this can be seen in Microsoft WordPad. This screenshot shows the alignment going wrong when the font size is changed.

This is the exact problem that users see within NBS Building.

2. What are NBS doing about tables?

Firstly, in the short term, most of the tables that are in the NBS work section libraries have been removed and re-authored into bullet point format. I appreciate a few still exist and cause frustrations (F22 for example), but I understand that they will be re-authored later this year.

Secondly, in the medium term, we are looking at technology that will allow robust tabulated content to be included in an NBS specification. We recognise that our users want to be able to include tables in their specification and this is definitely on our “to-do list”.

3. What current workarounds are available?

Until we re-write the editor component within NBS Building, I can suggest two workarounds.

3.1 Use bulleted output

Instead of the table above the same content could be displayed as follows:

Person 1:
- Title: Mr
- First name: Adam
- Second name: Andrews
Person 2:
- Title: Mrs
- First name: Betty
- Second name: Black

3.2 Copy and paste an image of a table into the specification

Step 1 - Write the table using a word processing package.

Step 2 - Take a screenshot of the table and crop the image using a photo package like IrfanView or Paintshop Pro.

Step 3 - Save this screenshot as a GIF to keep file size down and then copy and paste this into your specification.

Note that this will print out and retain the format of the table.

Unfortunately if the table needs editing at a later date, the process has to be repeated – this is the negative with this second work around.

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