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

From: Mike Taylor
Subject: Re: [Fsfe-uk] E-envoy and Open file formats
Date: Mon, 04 Aug 2003 10:33:44 +0100

> Date: 03 Aug 2003 16:52:52 +0100
> From: ian <address@hidden>
> > 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 ;-)

Hey, you take that back!  :-)

In fact, I could scarecly be working _less_ for Redmond; however, I do
recognise that if we're going to defeat a huge goliath-style enemy,
we're going to need to recognise where its strengths are and avoid
wasting our relatively puny firepower in those areas.  We need to find
the weak spots and concentrate fire on them.

> 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.

But who will use them?

BTW., since we're all so aware of the marketing aspect of all this,
maybe the time is right to point out that "OO.o" is one of the worst
names I've ever heard for anything.  Even "Microsoft Bob" was better.
Can't we call this "OASIS format" or something similar?

> > 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?

I don't need to because _I_ can run OpenOffice.  No problem there
(although I can't get it to use anything remotely resembling
half-decent fonts but that's another story.)  The question is, how to
get _others_ to use it.  Non-hackers.

> 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.

As other have pointed out, this tactic is utterly doomed to abject,
humiliating, bitter failure.  Best not even think about it.

The place to push OpenOffice is with vendors.  By the time users get
their computers, they already have MS-Office on them; and so, by the
principle of Least Throwing Everything Up In The Air, they'll keep
using it.  But if PC-bundle vendors realise they can save themselves
£200 a time by pre-installing OpenOffice (even on Windows boxes)
instead of MS-Office, then they will surely bite.

> > 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.

Yes -- deliberately.

> Where did I or anyone suggest any of that?

You did, actually -- but I gues you didn't mean it.

> > 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?

I am very keen to.  However, before I trust my weight to it, I want to
be sure that the particular ladder is one that's going to lead
somewhere useful and not just collapse.  I remain to be convinced that
getting the UK government to put OASIS-format documents alongside
MS-Word versions is a useful ladder to climb; but this discussion does
seem to have unearthed at least two potential alternative routes to
the same destination: (1) build an OASIS-format plug-in for Word and
distribute it widely, for free; or (2) spend our precious PR budget --
time and money -- on persuading bundle-vendors to switch instead of
wasting our time on end-users.

> 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.

Whatever happened to RTF, by the way?

> > Sorry, but that's the world we live in.
> And will continue to live in unless people make the effort to change it.

The point here is not "That's the world we live in and we're stuck
with it"; it's "That's the world we live in, and if we want to get to
_there_ we need to make sure the strategy we adopt is one that works
from _here_."

> > 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.

On this I agree 100% (unsurprisingly).  Where we differ, I think, is
in our judgement of which battles we are least unlikely to win.

> 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.

For sure MS will not _want_ to open .doc format; and I don't believe
they can be realistically forced to do so by courts.  But I _can_
imagine a situation where the government says "Our documents _must_ be
in open formats; if MS do not open .doc, then we will have use OASIS
(or RTF or HTML or PDF or plain text)."

> 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.

This is indeed a promising line of thought.

> After all XML is one of their selling points for Office 2003 but its
> not actually free of undocumented proprietary garbage at present.

(Off-topic anti-MS rant: AAARARARRRGRHRHG!  What _on earth_ is the
point of making the use of XML a selling point if their use of XML is
proprietary and opquae?  Who _on earth_ would anyone care whether Word
uses XML if _they_ can't use that XML?)

 _/|_    _______________________________________________________________
/o ) \/  Mike Taylor  <address@hidden>  http://www.miketaylor.org.uk
)_v__/\  Women ...  They're less trouble than they're worth.

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