Who benefits when challengers give into the establishment?

Gervase Markham’s blog has a post about OpenOffice.org and OpenDocument format which I found interesting.

A few of the respondants make points I tried to rebut, but my response (below) doesn’t appear in the list of followups there.

“My least favourite feature is that you can’t open a word document without it bugging you to save it when you close it, even when you never made any edits!”

I can’t reproduce this. I had a friend of mine with access to Microsoft Word 2003 make me a .doc file. I opened it in OpenOffice.org (OOo) 2.1 and then I closed that document; I made no edits. OOo didn’t prompt me at all, it just closed.

“Also, every time you try to save a file in word format it bugs you that your ‘losing some formatting’… why don’t they just give it up and make .doc the default format?? (Okay maybe thats taking it a bit too far)”

I wouldn’t want to use the latest .doc format (there are more than one of them and not even Microsoft’s software does the right thing with all of them) instead of ODF. I can edit ODF outside of an ODF program (such as a text editor) and that’s a big benefit to me because OOo’s find/replace needs some enhancement (finding paragraph breaks within a specific style and replacing them with line breaks, for example). I recently had to do this for a large ODF document. Large documents in Microsoft Word don’t work well. For whatever reason, Microsoft Word exhibits odd behavior in large documents.

But if you want to use .doc all the time by default, and if you don’t want to be warned, OOo has two preferences you can set to make this so. See Tools -> Options… and then go to the Load/Save section and pick “General”. There you can turn off the warning about not using OpenDocument format (ODF) and you can set the file type you want as the default for various document types. I think it would be going too far to make these settings the default, as well as being remarkably one-sided: nobody says Microsoft Word should make ODF the default filetype, even though ODF predated Office Open XML (OOXML) by months (or was it years?) and is more accessible for both implementors and users. It simply isn’t wise to let corporate fealty or wishful popularity push us into a non-standard that hasn’t stood the test of time (let alone cleared the hurdles of those who have read some of the OOXML spec).

“Is that “there is” or “there was”? People are already moving to the new MS Word […]”

Most people I know are not using the new Microsoft Office (nor are they using Microsoft Windows Vista). But more importantly, asking if “‘there is’ or ‘there was'” puts aside recent history. Microsoft Word .doc formats predate OOo by many years and OOo still manages to get a wide audience. So even if OOXML support doesn’t appear in OOo or some other free software programs for a while, there remains a big opportunity for free software. We know we can get people to switch; it’s not easy, but it can be done. And we have a format that is more widely deployable—ODF, so that’s one thing we can currently help propagate by use.

Footnote: By “wishful popularity” I mean the popularity others say will be the case someday but hasn’t been the case up to now and isn’t the case now. Since OOXML isn’t popular now, now is a good time to work for increased use of ODF instead. Considering this more now, it’s clearer to me that the best reason to avoid .doc isn’t properly technical—as .doc reverse engineering has proven, one could use this file format and accept the difficulties with document interchange. The best reason for avoiding .doc centers on working against anti-social mechanisms (like secret proprietary formats) that deny us our freedom and (as this poignant essay says) “buttress the Microsoft monopoly”.