Open Source Means Choice
Go Microsoft and all you are doing is contributing to a monopoly. Reject any closed garden mentality or you will find the walls covered in razor wire one day.
Even if Microsoft bosses collectively whistled Always Look on the Bright Side of Life they'd still struggle to drown out people backing Cabinet Office proposals to adopt the Open Document Format as the official standard for UK.gov missives. The good folk of Blighty have until 26 February to make their position known as part of …
I'd rather have a format that works because there's a financial reason for it to succeed, than one that was being pulled from all directions from the "include my feature too!" crowd. I use word because it works, and I can export it to just about any other format that the 5% who don't use word need.
Not that it's going to matter soon anyway, who's going to bother creating a static document when all people want to consume it from their <insert name of favourite mobile device here>? A web/mobile delivery format will trump document standard formats before long.
You are entitled to your opinion, and to use word - just be sure to use its ODF capability in dealing with your government. For myself, I had an approximately 20 year battle with various Word versions due to their propensity to corrupt my document with formatting information from copy-and-paste snippets. The results - font changes, sections of light yellow text on white background, and the like - proved impossible to suppress and quite annoying to fix.
I don't understand at all the mention of "a financial reason for [Microsoft's document formats] to succeed". They have more than once orphaned their own document formats and don't seem to have been laggards about installing new features that break old formats and software versions. One might almost think this resulted from an incentive of a different type.
The corruption issues were probably primarily caused by text being pasted retaining it's original formatting on top of the document formatting. Doing a rt/click paste, rather than a CtrlV, gives you the ability to preview & choose how the paste will be applied.
As for orphaning formats, even today Word will open & save as formats as old as Works & Word Perfect.
MS isn't perfect, but their document formats are the most widely used in the world and that should count for something when the government adopts an "official" format; otherwise why not just mandate .txt and no one will ever have to worry about compatability or licensing issues.
From what I have seen of the various Word and Excel formats, they are the ones which are the "include my feature too" crowd, presumably pulled in different directions by different groups in Microsoft. That's why the OOXML documentation is so vast and filled with corner cases.
The printer industry says you are wrong about web/mobile formats replacing document formats before long.
"I'd rather have a format that works because there's a financial reason for it to succeed, than one that was being pulled from all directions from the "include my feature too!" crowd."
What value does your proprietary format have if I can't afford your proprietary software in the first place? Also: name the features that I actually care about that your proprietary software has which the open source stuff doesn't. Actual features. "Must have" stuff that will pull me away from LibreOffice.
...if Office 2013 is so amazing then tell me right here and right now exactly why it's worth my money. No vague fluffyness. No studies. Detailed specifics that will make it worth the pence paid for me.
A lot of flawed attacks here. Microsoft's OOXML is also open to anyone to implement and in addition to copy right restrictions, MS have committed to not asserting any patent rights on parties for implementation of it. A lot of people are still repeating things that were true of the first rushed attempt at OOXML which contained binary blobs and was poorly documented. The current OOXML is free to use, free to implement and protected against lawsuits.
Certainly governments should use a standard implementable by anyone and MS are not stupid and didn't know things were moving that way. That's why MS created a format that fulfils those criteria. The debate between using ODF and OOXML should be based on technical merits and expectations of the format's long-term development, not hate.
A lot of flawed attacks here. Microsoft's OOXML is also open to anyone to implement
Which version? MicroSoft themselves don't support the standard they managed to railroad through the ISO process. It's also the worst standards document I've ever had to read, and that's saying something since I've worked on a number of systems using ISO or BSI standard formats that are rather awkward (a tape format that only seems to have been used by the EU for example, and even persisted after they moved from actual tape for the storage medium).
Sure, OOXML is possible for others to implement, except:
1. The document is 6000 pages long!
2. Office 2007 does not conform to the OOXML standard.
3. The standard contains things like "useWord97LineBreaks", but does not specify what this means and even fails to describe others (e.g. suppressRef mentioned in the numFmt definition is not defined [http://www.robweir.com/blog/2008/03/how-many-defects-remain-in-ooxml.html#comment-1687] -- not sure if they addressed this during the review process).
4. It references and describes other formats (e.g. VML) that were rejected as standard formats on their own.
5. It uses inconsistent and incoherent naming (e.g. bkPtFixedVal, basedOn, next, val).
6. There were many defects raised against the OOXML specification (upward of 1 defect every 6 pages), it is not clear how many of these were addressed.
7. Several properties are binary bitmasks or similar.
OOXML currently has one implementation (Office >= 2012/2013) and several buggy implementations (Office 2007, LibreOffice, etc.), whereas ODF has several implementations. If OOXML was a good standard then there would be more conforming implementations.
@Trevor: You're right in what you say but there is a difference between the casual/home user and the business user. The business user sticks with Office as other businesses steadfastly use it and therefore it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. For some there is a deep and pervasive investment in macros whether for better or worse. That businesses use it so extensively effectively forces it onto the citizen. This is exactly why it is up to Governments to enforce open standards and break the cycle. The added benefit is that, hopefully, it should save taxpayer shekels - not that we'll ever get a rebate - and promote greater data freedom as open standards gain greater adoption. It also means you constantly have an advantageous licensing negotiation position.
I'm a writer by trade. I own a business that provides content for money. I rely on my office package for my livelihood. I rely on interoperability with what others are providing.
I fail to understand how the fact that corporate inertia exists in other corporations should affect my decision making process. If you have a business need for Office 2013 because you are imbedded in a bunch of VBscript macros, then you that is a definable business need and off you go.
What I am asking - and nobody is able to answer - is why I, Trevor Pott, a writer by trade who also does a reasonable amount of Excel mathhackery and Powerpoint work should buy Microsoft Office 2013. What are the killer features that make it worth the money and time to migrate my Office 2003 and Libreoffice systems to this software?
This is a very simple question with a defined set of parameters. It isn't a broad question about the entire industry. It isn't a question about other companies or other people. It is a question about me, my circumstances and the advantages - or not - to me and my company.
At the end of the day, that's what this always comes down to. Person by person, company by company. Individual needs analysis.
I don't know how you buy your stuff, but I don't buy based on popularity. I create a list of products that meet the needs posted (i.e. they are fit for purpose) and then I select the one that gives me the biggest bang for my buck. This is frequently the cheapest, but not always. If there is a strong argument to be made for convenience, scalability concerns or future upgradability.compatibility I am willing to pay more for a product on the fit for purpose list than simply choosing the cheapest option.
If, however, all products on the fit for purpose list do what is required of them and there are no compelling strategic concerns regarding the product why would I choose any product excepting the cheapest?
I am asking for the logic and rationale behind purchasing Office 2013 for my circumstances. I am entirely open to being convinced, if the argument can be made. I'm waiting patiently for rationale.
@Trevor:"This is a very simple question with a defined set of parameters. It isn't a broad question about the entire industry. It isn't a question about other companies or other people. It is a question about me, my circumstances and the advantages - or not - to me and my company."
Oh, but it is. I would like to use whatever office package I like matching such criteria but if every other bastard is using Office and I need my documents to come out formatted exactly as intended (some formatting I've seen is just ridiculous) then I am effectively forced into this realm. This affects a person and it affects a company likewise. If compatibility is not 100% from a WYSIWYG perspective as the original author intended then it's not good enough for me and I don't care whose fault it is, my time is too precious to spend reformatting documents/workbooks/whatever. That is why I reiterate that it is important that the Government leads by example and breaks this cycle.
I don't disagree with your standpoint, just that it's more ideal-World than real-World at the current time. You can make your choice and your stand but it takes a shift in momentum, that something like Government can provide, to turn this ship around. For the monopoly to be broken there has to be a viable alternative (check) and a move by major users to shift momentum (almost check).
I also don't buy on popularity (I got it courtesy of an employer provided MSDN subscription) but I do want that compatibility and Government mandated standards will force that to happen.
"but if every other bastard is using Office and I need my documents to come out formatted exactly as intended (some formatting I've seen is just ridiculous)"
Then you have a defined business requirement. One that - quite frankly - will never be met. I have cranked stuff out of Office 2013 that isn't properly read by Office 2013 on the computer sitting right beside the originator. Office and Libreoffice do indeed have rendering errors between them...but so do Office and Office as well as Libreoffice and Libreoffice.
Quite frankly, I think you are using a completely impossible requirement to justify purchasing software. If formatting matters use HTML. That's what it's there for. Your content is independent of your styles and it's easier to beat into shape when a render engine does something stupid.
Or just output to PDF. Really, bitmapping your output is the only way to be sure.
But, that aside, assuming that the planets align and for your specific use cases Office will render Office-created files accurate enough, but for some reason won't render Libreoffice-created files, then you have identified a requirement for you. I acknowledge that this may well be the case and I sincerely hope that you can resolve this business case with the purchase of Office 2013.
This is not, however, a requirement of mine, nor of my clients. Thus this is not a requirement that addresses the question "why should I hand over money for Office 2013?"
"I'd rather have a format that works because there's a financial reason for it to succeed,"
So ODF it is then.
You do understand that the "financial reason" for using a MS format is going to be all Microsoft's, and not yours. So financial reasons like a new file format that needs a new word processor to do exactly the same stuff with, but saves by default in the new ultrashiny file format..
"than one that was being pulled from all directions from the "include my feature too!" crowd."
Ahh.. you are familiar with Microsoft’s internal politics problem then.
"I use word because it works, and I can export it to just about any other format that the 5% who don't use word need."
But we are talking about a file format, not a word processor. Do try to keep on topic.
"Not that it's going to matter soon anyway, who's going to bother creating a static document when all people want to consume it from their <insert name of favourite mobile device here>? A web/mobile delivery format will trump document standard formats before long."
Ohh.. People who sell <insert name of favourite mobile device> for example.
Banks, Mail/internet sellers. Supermarkets, schools, government departments, engineering firms, double glazing companies.. In other words, the same people as care today.
People will still be using computers for work in ten years from now. Because really, people do not just use computers for facebook and Youtube cat videos. They also do stuff that they get paid to do.
They create or organise information. And that sucks on a tablet.
Sorry mate.. Perhaps next year will be the year of Windows 8.1
Thank you Paul and the reg for reporting on this important issue.
Microsoft doesn't want choice, it wants everyone to be reliant on its file formats so it can force vendor lock-in. For years MS has had a monopoly over governments, businesses and individuals for this very reason. If non-proprietary and patent free formats like ODF become the standard, users can interact with government using free software like LibreOffice; thus going a long way to dismantling Microsoft's iron grip on productivity software.
blah blah Microsoft is evil blah.
Tell me what document formats you read or save to in Word? Open document, open xml etc etc are all there today.
If what we're worried about is commercial success of a product, then perhaps we need to abolish capitalism once and for all. Doesn't the market decide which format should survive?
No, and again No. First, the market in document editors did not determine the success of Word. That largely was determined by the market in desktop operating systems, in which Microsoft had, and exploited, a near monopoly. Second, a government has, or is supposed to have, non-economic interests such as very long term support and transparency that may be as important or more so than any economic ones. The Magna Carta, or the U. S. Declaration of Independence/Constitution are readable now by people skilled in the language and writing of the time they were written, as we might wish for legal documents prepared now in machine readable form to be accessible 50 or 100 years in the future. There is more reason to be confident that that will be true if they are prepared in a format based on a transparent standard such as ODF than on one like OOXML that is translucent at best. My personal preference is UTF-8 done with a plain text editor for most official documents.
+1 for UTF-8
There are reasons to use both types of document though. Anything for long-term record should be in the simplest format, text. It should probably be printed too. I'd get really antsy if my title-deeds didn't have some physical reality. ODF seems fine if you are currently required to print and return the document.
If the aim is presentation with limited life-spans, then ODF with extractable text, if the aim is storage, then UTF-8 and paper.
"If a company provided no benefit to anyone, it would go out of business rapidly."
Unless it is operating in a monopoly position. There it can pretty much do what it likes, including crushing all possible competition. This is sound policy for the company, but not good for the market, progress or society.
I don't think anyone is saying that Microsoft is entirely evil. But in regards to file formats it is clearly intent on protecting its position by restricting people's ability to migrate away from Microsoft products. Making this easy (as adoption of open standards do) will damage its monopoly position. Microsoft's reaction to the proposed official adoption of ODF is as predictable as the sun rising. It's what monopolies do.
"If a company provided no benefit to anyone, it would go out of business rapidly."
Governments are supposed to do what is in the best interest of the people they represent.* Microsoft may provide 'benefit' to certain people but that doen't necessarily mean they are providing as much benefit as other options could. There's also an important question in this scenario: are the people receiving the 'benefit' from Microsoft the people that the governement represents or simply the people running the government?
*Reality may differ.
A corporation is just a collection of people run by a dictator, or a cabal, called "shareholders", who elect their own dictator to represent their interests in the corporation.
A community is... just a collection of people run by either a charismatic leader (i.e. a dictator in all but name) – or a baying mob whose intelligence is on a par with its dumbest member.
In both cases, you can have a benevolent dictatorship, or your bog standard tyranny, but the nature of the entity itself makes little difference: either way, it's a bunch of people working together towards a common cause. So I've never cared about the distinction. A community-driven project is no less "proprietary" as a commercial one: either way, if support for a format is dropped, I'm screwed. (No, I'm not going to wade through hundreds of pages of ISO documentation and code up my own conversion software. Life's too bloody short.)
My interests may be met by one, other, or both of these two kinds of entities. I will pick whichever solution best fits my needs.
Whatever you may think about Microsoft, I don't consider them any more "evil" than Samsung, and they're a bloody sight less "evil" than Google. But I also have no time for the constant bickering and squabbling of GNU radicals and extremist FOSS nutters either.
"Whatever you may think about Microsoft, I don't consider them any more "evil" than Samsung"
"and they're a bloody sight less "evil" than Google."
"But I also have no time for the constant bickering and squabbling of GNU radicals and extremist FOSS nutters either."
Look: you make your decisions about what's best for you, and so do I. In my experience this Dilbert is an entirely accurate representation of IT product design. Based on this, I don't trust any of these companies more than the other. That means the following decisions making process is optimal for me:
1) Determine a list of products which will do what I need them to do.
2) Select the product which offers the best value for dollar amongst that list.
In some cases you need to make a choice whether or not to support entire ecosystems. Here it becomes about the company as a whole. There are very few companies I avoid on general principle. Making these kinds of decisions becomes a game of cutting through FUD. Microsoft versus Google is a fantastic example.
Microsoft has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in trashing Google's name. To obvious effect. Despite this, nobody has been able to prove to me Microsoft aren't guilty of the very same things they accuse Google of doing. Instead, they simply sidestep the issues by talking about how you have the choice not to use their products if you don't want to, or to use their on-premise solutions.
So Microsoft have waged an effective campaign of disinformation against Google, but not actually set themselves apart in any meaningful fashion. As far as I can tell both are entirely too cavalier with my personal information and I trust neither particularly far.
So what then is to be the measure of my selection? Well, Microsoft has proven to give zero bent fucks about it's own partners, mainly by cutting our margins, raising SPLA pricing and refusing to make the clusterfuck that is VDI and multitennancy licensing into something sane. That's a whole bunch of me disliking Microsoft right there.
As a customer, Microsoft has told me to go fuck myself with the Ribbon bar, then again with Windows 8, then doubled down on it with Windows 8.1. They have told me that they view my 6-to-10-year refresh cycles as taking the crusts of bread from the mouths of their starving children and are putting every resource available into getting me to pay a subscription fee that isn't cost effective unless you are on 2 or 3 year refresh cycles for software with interfaces I abhor. That's the other part of me disliking Microsoft.
Microsoft also have put literally billions of dollars into making the punishment for copyright infringement as harsh as possible whilst simultaneously making their licensing so convoluted and open to interpretation that it is almost impossible not to be in violation of some aspect of it. They have put a great deal of time and effort into making sure that only can you not pirate their software, but any systems administrator, hobbyist, student or tech journalist trying to teach themselves Microsoft's suite of products cannot afford to do so. (AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN, MICROSOFT. AND THE HORSE YOU FUCKING RODE IN ON, YOU TECHNET MURDERING BASTARDS!)
Google make products I actually want to buy. Google invest massive amounts of money into lobbying for internet regulation that - for the most part - would seem to benefit me as an individual as well as a small business owner. Google make sure that individuals, developers, systems administrators, hobbyests and small businesses can get access to the full suite of Google offerings for free. Google's pricing is simple, sensible and cheap.
Google spies on everything I do in a horrifically creepy fashion in order to advertise at me. I have zero believable evidence that Microsoft does not do the same. Google offers a difficult to use opt-out mechanism that doesn't quite cover everything. Microsoft does the same. Google's spying can be blocked with the most basic use of browser sheilding. So can Microsoft.
Google build out city-wide WiFi and 10-gigabit fibre projects. Microsoft give free software to schools so long as those schools agree not to buy/install competing products. Google are building a robotic car and a robot butler. Microsoft makes a video games console.
No matter which of these companies I pick, I will get screwed in one way or another. The difference is that I feel I get a lot less screwed with Google than Microsoft. Same with choosing RedHat over Microsoft, or Open Document Foundation over Microsoft.
I was once one of Microsoft's greatest champions. Today I am one of their most bitter detractors. I championed Microsoft because Microsoft had - and still have - some of the most amazing technologies on the market. I became a bitter detractor because of the barriers Microsoft erects to any attempt I have to make use of those technologies.
I believe wholeheartedly that Microsoft has some of the best technology on the planet. They have many of the smartest minds mankind has ever birthed. Microsoft is a company of influence and power that will be around for a long time and is a very safe bet if you are a well capitalized large enterprise of government wanting to make conservative decisions about what to do with your IT.
But to me, as an individual, as a small business owner, as an managed service provider, as a small cloud service provider, as a systems administrator, a developer and as a journalist Microsoft has been for the past five years - and remains today - far more of an impediment to getting what I want to do done than it is an enabler.
When what I can do technically with the products on offer from a vendor are not allowed legally or financially then they are of no use to me. They are the disease, not the cure.
TL;DR: I'm not on Microsoft's side because they aren't on my side. Changing that dynamic is entirely up to Microsoft.
> blah blah Microsoft is evil blah.
( snip )
> Doesn't the market decide which format should survive?
Get a professional economist to analyze company structure for you, comparing and contrasting them to macroeconomics and microeconomics. I think you'll find any economist worth his salt will conclude that companies internally are command economies; and a monopoly is a private command economy in and over a specified segment of the market.
Microsoft has had nearly 95% of the "market" in office productivity software, which qualifies it as a monopoly. As such it is a command economy, and talk of the "market" is absurd.
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"Microsoft doesn't want choice, it wants everyone to be reliant on its file formats so it can force vendor lock-in."
Microsoft give you the choice. When you open word for the first time (2013) you are asked if you want ODF or the MSXML format as default, I have a feeling they were doing this in the 2010 version as well. So not like they aren't giving the choice, people just choose not to change.
By effectively forcing people to change you are just doing what people are claiming Microsoft are trying to do (but actually aren't). Forcing your idea of the "best solution" on people who already have the choice...but their choice is against your own personal one so you have to argue and throw unfounded arguments around.
I am an open source user with no Microsoft in the house for 8 years now. However, perhaps we need to be careful what we wish for, and the degree of zealotry on display here is unsettling. Of course it is bad, very bad, for MS to control and imprison customers the way it does. But if it collapsed, what then ? It is likely Google or another giant would look for a coup, and replace MS with an even stricter and more aggressive regime. Certainly the megacorps are not going to sit there for years watching everybody get free lunches.
And maybe the open source contributors, once they rule the roost, might start to think they should get paid a bit more than zero.
All I am saying is calm down, dears. Maybe a case of better the devil you know.
I rather object to the repeated use of the word "zealots" in the article, which seems to suggest the author has a bias.
IMHO, choosing proper open formats has got ZERO to do with religion or beliefs, but everything with realistic value assessment.
At the simplest level, it's a single source monopoly versus a diversified market - which option has the best impact on costs? At a political level, there is the question if handing off money to a foreign entity instead of fostering local spend is not worth reconsidering. At a standards level, do you really trust a standard which is not even that well controlled by the people who WROTE it, or do you use one which has been a well evaluated standard at EU level, one that was arrived at through proper consensus (instead of bribing the voting system) and which incorporates the needs of all, not just a prescribed set of features dreamt up by an entity that's not even paying tax here?
And finally, the ILoveYou virus already showed the danger of a monoculture, and there is really only one standard that works reliably and renders relatively true on ALL platforms instead of the selected few. Hint: it's NOT OOXML. Heck, I can't think of anything LESS deserving the moniker "Open" - it's a travesty.
It is not really about open source, it's about a making a choice of standard. ODF can be implemented perfectly well in both open source and proprietary - a defining characteristic of an open standard. Indeed MS document their support for ODF, http://office.microsoft.com/en-gb/word-help/differences-between-the-opendocument-text-odt-format-and-the-word-docx-format-HA010355788.aspx .
Training and document conversion is a bit of a red herring. Whatever they standardise on they will have some transformation costs and support for any key exceptions - equally the would have to train to make the average user understand the different file types , associations and extensions if they did not choose. Document conversion is probably overstated, most documents are ephemeral or new versions of old and that can be handled relatively easily.
Rather more of an issue is the weaning off of management by spreadsheet and other uses of extended (standardised and non standardised) functionality - both to improve fidelity and interoperability but also to make mobile solutions easier.
There's nothing to stop the government using MS Office to generate the documents, assuming it's capable of producing ODF files that conform to the spec (i.e. MS wrote their plug-in correctly).
All that is being consulted on here is the format to use, not the applications.
In practice, however, once they've specified the open file format, it's not that great a leap to shift to the cheapest (including support costs) option for generating those files, and I guess this is what MS is afraid of. There are costs involved with using Libre/Open/Star Office, but there's likely to be competition for providing that support which should help control costs. If a large user such as the UK government shifts over, expect others to also take the plunge, providing a bigger market for support organisations.
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