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Re: [Fsfe-uk] E-envoy and Open file formats

From: ian
Subject: Re: [Fsfe-uk] E-envoy and Open file formats
Date: 03 Aug 2003 16:52:52 +0100

On Sun, 2003-08-03 at 15:38, Mike Taylor wrote:
> > Date: 03 Aug 2003 15:04:57 +0100
> > From: ian <address@hidden>
> > 
> > > I'm complaining that OO file format instead of Word's doc file
> > > format is an improvement, but not a great one.
> > 
> > I think its a massive one because you have the option to use that
> > format freely in any software you choose subject to the usual
> > constraints of free software. If you want it, you might have to
> > implement it. The file format is the issue and I can't see any
> > reason why apps running on RISC OS or any other platform can't
> > import OO.org files with all the attributes if people want them and
> > are prepared to do some work.
> I'm sorry, I can't see this as a remotely practical stance.  The world
> breaks into three camps.  A small minority who run free software and
> have OpenOffice;

16 million downloads last year seems to me to be an indication that
while its a small minority compared to MS Office users its not a small
minority compared to say GNU/Linux desktop users, and the important
thing is growth rate with anything new.

>  another minority, probably somewhat larger, who run
> free software but don't have OO; 

Agreed if you count every Windows user that has a free software
application such as GIMP running, a bit misleading if you mean only
desktop GNU/Linux users. Most distros include OO.o and those aren't in
the download figures.

> and the other 95% who do all their
> work on machines provided by their employers, which have MS-Office on
> them.  For that 95% of people, OO files are USELESS.

Sounds like you are working for Redmond ;-) The point is that OASIS is
trying to establish an open standard and there is always going to be a
chicken and egg aspect to that. That is why I'm not suggesting that they
replace Word with OO.o files but provide OO.o as well as Word. Now I can
understand that if your pet document processor is Ovation Pro on RISC OS
that that might not help you personally, but in terms of getting open
standards accepted its important.

> I run into problems all the time with people in my church sending me
> MS-Word files.  If I gave any of these Real People an OO file, they
> would be completely nonplussed. 

So don't give them one! I'm not asking you to.

>  If I told them it was this great open
> format which they could read if they were prepared to fetch and
> install a 40Mb tarball over their dial-up lines (and learn the subtle
> but real differences between it and the office suite they've grown to
> know and tolerate over the last few years) they would look at me as
> though I'd grown an extra leg and turned bright orange.  "But I
> already have a perfectly good office suite!", they'd say.

So why don't you just use MS Office and receive their MS Office
documents? Seems pretty straight forward. Unless of course you believe
its worth making an effort to get people to use free software. In that
position, I'd download it for them and cut some CDs and give it to them
that way. In fact I give CDs like that out all the time so that 1 of 16
million downloads turns into scores of installations.

> And let's not even _think_ about how they'd react if I told them it
> was a well-defined XML format that they could easily parse themselves
> if they'd just take the trouble to learn some programming skills and
> download one of the free XML parser toolkits.

ROFL. You are off into the realms of fantasy here. Where did I or anyone
suggest any of that? Do you explain to them the details of .doc formats?
So why do they need to know about XML and programming? Just get yourself
a copy of MS Office and receive their docs if that's what you think best
serves their interest, or cut them some OO.o discs and give them some
support to install it - the strength of OO.o is that it allows exactly
the type of people you are talking about to get a toe in the water with
free software without drowning.

> > They can also export to the format to the degree that the
> > programmers want to support. If MS patent parts of the .doc format
> > you are simply stuffed.
> I absolutely agree that the .doc format (or, I should say, family of
> subtly different and mutually incompatible formats) is a hell-spawn
> pool of evil incarnate, and must be banished into outer darkness.

Er, then why not step on to the first rung of a ladder that can lead to
that goal?

> However, the OO format is not going to be able to do that.  .doc will
> only be supplanted by another format that everyone _already_ has the
> necessary tools to read.  That means PDF or HTML.  (Disclaimer: I'm
> not sure how completely open PDF is.)

With respect, that's daft. HTML is not designed to be able to handle
complex data formats of this type - that is why XML has been developed
and why OASIS are keen to use the OO.o file format. Its the first
comprehensive implementation of an open XML format for office
applications. PDF is an output specification for printing which is read
only. Its no use for document exchange where the two exchangers need to
edit the files. That is the whole issue.

> Sorry, but that's the world we live in.

And will continue to live in unless people make the effort to change it.

> > I have no problem with pdf. I would like to see gov docs posted as
> > pdf and OO.o (Word will be there anyway at least for some time to
> > come) Since you can export pdf direct from any OO.o app [...]
> (Off-topic: how do you do this?  I couldn't find PDF in my OO
> word-processor's "Save As" dialogue box.)

You need version 1.1. Its downloadable now release candidate 2 from
www.openoffice.org. I'll send it you on a CD if you have problems
downloading large files. In the best spirit of free software OO.org is
continually under development and new versions and updates are released
regularly. 1.1 can also export flash and the plan is for support for SVG
so that we can have an open web based standard for vector graphics too.
Its faster, has support for macro recording and has better MS
filters.Ok, its still to an extent bloatware but if you want a free
software replacement for MS Office, its the nearest you are going to get
and it gets nearer and in some aspects better with each release.

> > My main reason for doing this is to provide high profile for an open
> > format and to start challenging the idea that the only data format
> > that matters is MS Word.
> It occurs to me to wonder whether a more fruitful strategy might be to
> persuade the government to require MS to open up the .doc format with
> proper, full documentation.  "It's a million to one chance, but it
> might just work."

Try it then. My judgement is my time is best spent fighting battles I
believe I have some chance of winning. Its my time after all. The more
people that try different strategies the better if they are all designed
to loosen the grip. You pull off one finger, I'll pull off another. I
think there are two difficulties in getting MS to open up .doc. First,
they might just patent it so demand royalties from any filters, second,
if they fight such action through the courts it will take years by which
time there will probably be an alternative way to tie people in. But you
never know so go for it.

Another way of looking at it is that if OO.o becomes accepted by OASIS
and several governments, MS will probably be forced to at least provide
document transfer filters. After all XML is one of their selling points
for Office 2003 but its not actually free of undocumented proprietary
garbage at present. If they do this it will be a lot easier for other
minority platform office suites to import and export MS files

ian <address@hidden>

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