Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Document Freedom Day

Googleblog notes that today is Document Freedom Day. This reminds me that I should stop locking up my work and other information in Microsoft's .doc format, and instead use the standardized open document formats (.odt), which are universal rather than vendor-specific.

Imagine if we all wrote in invisible ink that could only be read by wearing special Microsoft-designed glasses. That would seem unwise, at least if there were better alternatives available (i.e. 'open inks' that anyone's glasses could read). What if not everyone has the special glasses? (Do you really want to make being a Microsoft customer a precondition for communicating with you?) Further: how can we be sure that these special glasses will continue to be made in future? We would be needlessly exposing ourselves to the risk of being unable to read our own words a few decades down the line.

Do yourself and your non-Microsoft-using friends a favour, and download an open document application today. (I personally recommend Open Office, a free and high-powered alternative to Microsoft's entire office suite.)


  1. I've been Microsoft-free for a year and a half now. It was easier than I thought it would be, and turned out to have some unforeseen benefits along the way (viz., forcing me to learn how to use LaTeX) =)

  2. Oh god, Andrew, I don't even want to think about learning latex. I've been putting that off for so long, and my work is getting more and more formal, and it's turning out more and more necessary...

  3. I'd echo the sentiment, particularly in favor of a shift toward more use of LaTeX... and Paul, don't fret: it is only painful during a brief adjustment period.

  4. Office 2007 files are in an open XML format by default, and there are freely available translators to convert these to OpenDoc format as well.

    Hate Microsoft if you like, but this is no longer a good excuse.

  5. They do mention that: "MS-OOXML is the format that comes closest to ODF in function, but it fails the test for an Open Standard in various ways, including an unclear legal status as well as inclusion of and reference to proprietary technologies. It has all signs of a vendor-specific format that only Microsoft will be able to implement completely." So it still leaves something to be desired. (And being translatable into an open format is not as useful as simply being in an open format to begin with.)

  6. Well, I'm never using OOXML now. That list of objections is so mind-bogglingly awful, it makes me think Microsoft must be trying to undermine open standards, by floating one guaranteed to fail and going back to closed formats. Ugh.

  7. Why speculate about the intentions of Microsoft when its chairman and co-founder stated them very clearly himself?

    From: Bill Gates

    Sent: Saturday, December 5 1998

    To: Bob Muglia, Jon DeVann, Steven Sinofsky

    Subject : Office rendering

    One thing we have got to change in our strategy - allowing Office documents to be rendered very well by other peoples browsers is one of
    the most destructive things we could do to the company.

    We have to stop putting any effort into this and make sure that Office documents very well depends on PROPRIETARY IE capabilities.

    Anything else is suicide for our platform. This is a case where Office has to avoid doing something to destroy Windows.

    I would be glad to explain at a greater length.

    Likewise this love of DAV in Office/Exchange is a huge problem. I would also like to make sure people understand this as well.

    And Gil, this is not, at least primarily, about anyone "hating" Microsoft; it's about favoring a standard that is much better for everyone.

  8. I think a lot has changed in this area since 1998.

  9. And, I know that it's not necessarily primarily about hating Microsoft (although I see plenty of that around).

    I just meant to challenge Richard's characterization of creating MS docs as risking becoming "unable to read our own words".

    Microsoft has been moving steadily toward the adoption of open standards, but I agree that continuing pressure on them to move further is good for everyone.

    I just think it's currently a bit unfair to speak as if they're not improving, or if there's substantial risk of losing access to your own text if you use their software. That's just not true.

    And, it's easy to understand their reluctance (being #1) to commit to a standard beyond their control, if they think it may inhibit them from including valuable features that the standard can't handle.


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