Microsoft and Sun: Clash of the Titans?

Cross-posted from the Singularity Watch:
So I’m going along, minding my own business, refusing to upgrade my software whenever the engineers feel it’s time to extract a vig, when what drops into my inbox but a docx file. Uh oh. A new version of Word is out and it’s not backward compatible.

Did I mention how much I hate software companies? Not just Microsoft but Adobe, Quark, Filemaker, everybody. Except maybe Bare Bones. They’re cool so far. If they get universal on us, though, forget it. Once they have a large market share, it won’t be long before they start to piss me off too.

So anyway, this big turd, this docx file plops into my life. I click on it and obviously my pre-Cambrian version of Word (2004) doesn’t even acknowledge the file’s presence. It just ambles on, munching grass and waiting for the asteroid to hit. Some weird mammalian thing bundled with OS 10.4 called Pages steps up to volunteer as a 30-day demo after which if I don’t buy the full app, it promises to explode, taking my hard drive and the entire post-Cambrian software evolution with it. I don’t like to be held hostage by multinationals like Microsoft nor do I like to be held hostage by baby upstarts like Pages either, so I amble over to the Internet to search for an alternative.

I google the words “What software will open a docx file and not have a lot of capabilities like annotating, macro-building, and version tracking that I will never use, and is at the same time Apple scriptable?”

As usual google finds exactly what I’m looking for in the first page of results. What exactly was I looking for? Open Office. To be fair I don’t know if Open Office is Apple scriptable and in fact I’m quite sure it has all the annotating, macro-building, version-tracking capability that other office product has. Doesn’t matter. I was dumbfounded by this product. Dumbfounded because I had never heard of it. Apparently the world of Open Office is thriving, progressive, and socialistically anarchic. It’s something that would have had Ayn Rand painfully shitting brick houses. I love this kind of thing. How could nobody have told me about it?

Open Office is an open source software that, as far as I can tell, is looking to replace Microsoft Office, the heretofore hostage taker that I and my company are being held by. The rest of the world, civilized or otherwise as well. Is there anybody that doesn’t use Office products?

There’s something rakish and revolutionary about giving Office the boot for an open source application. First off you don’t have to pay for upgrades. You don’t have to pay for the app in the first place. Second you’re entering into the comradeship of open sourceware proponents, experts, and junkies. These are the people that proselytize about the software. They have cleared the way for you to use the product freely and promiscuously. They will hold your hand as you download the software and listen to your whining when it doesn’t work. Ultimately they will solve all your problems. They are a cool group of addicts and they don’t mind your Microsoft DTs tics. There is no service department in open source world. There is only SA: software anonymous. You go to the forums and stand in front, babbling on about how you’re a user and at the end of your rope. They will respond with open arms. They will say just the right thing to get you back on track. They will tell you how to get that pdf creator to embed the fonts. Your troubles will soon be over.

Having no service department could be a bad thing if you’re like me and are fond of venting on service techs (see a previous post on this subject). It’s also bad if you’re the co-dependent type that can’t imagine life without a phone number to the software company. But a phone number is not always a guarantee that a paid employee will solve your inadequacies as a software purchaser. The last time I had an Acrobat 8 problem, as I was being passed from one baffled rep to the next, Adobe upgraded to Acrobat 9. By the end of the phone call they were no longer supporting 8. I was so pissed I upgraded on the spot just so I could go off on the tech because the software still didn’t work. Wouldn’t you just know it, the problem I had with 8 was miraculously fixed in 9. What a surprise, eh?

Anyway, intuition would tell you that with no profit motive there would be no way to get problems fixed, no way to get software upgraded, no way to even find a website from where you can download the product. Intuition would tell you that, but the facts would tell you something different. There is, in fact, an entire LaTex community that will tell you otherwise. As far as I know LaTex has always been open source (It’s been around for what? over 20 years now.) and having had numerous problems solved by the LaTex community, I can tell you that this sort of thing does work. You can run a respectable outfit using open source software. You can meet your deadlines. You can be professional without having to pay the entrance fee.

How long will Open Office be free, open, and supported by supportive people? Dunno. I don’t know where this is going. I do know that Sun provided most of the code for the app. Sun is a for profit company. What is their motive? Are they trying to out Microsoft Microsoft? Are they going to offer free software just to get us hooked onto something that will later require a Sun and only a Sun platform to work? Or something?

Dunno but I’ve always loved The Clash of the Titans. The flying horse. The snaky hair. The cheesy FX. Nice to know it’s not just mythology.

So what will happen? Is this the future? The end of Microsoft Office? Is this good? Or is this type of anarchy dangerous? Will the floundering U.S. economy flounder further if Bill Gates is no longer man #1 on the list of millionaires? I think not, but there may come a time when our software comes with commercials. I’ll end up going back to Microsoft if that happens. I hate Eudora in sponsored mode.

Sue Lange

The Textile Planet

P.S. Note: Qualcomm is beta testing Eudora as an open source app.

“Anarchy is great, as long as you follow the rules.”
–Verdant Scusteister Schwamp




Microsoft and Sun: Clash of the Titans? — 8 Comments

  1. Personally, I blame this constant update problem on the fact that there are too many people — including, but not limited to, those who write software — who are more interested in the design of the software itself and not in what it does. Me, I just want to use it with the fewest problems possible, and I’m quite willing to live with simple workarounds if it means I don’t have to deal with updates that change 47 other things on the computer — some of them badly — and require calls to tech support.

    Vonda points out that upgrades are a barrier against the spammers and the evil virus writers, and she’s probably right, but that doesn’t make me any happier with the weekly upgrade system — and I swear there are weekly upgrades on my work computer, where tech support makes the rules.

    Anyway, here is the solution to a docx file or any other Word, WP, or other word processing file that you can’t open: You shoot an email back to the sender and say “Send that as an RTF file.” Everything reads RTF. I think the people who came up with RTF are the real heroes of software design.

  2. There are end users that are driving the update nightmare as well. Seriously heavy users of some software like Word push to get more functionality built into the software. As if Word wasn’t already a swiss army knife. They hang on the edge of their seats for the next upgrade. They wait breathlessly for it and assure the programmers that they are out there and waiting to snap it up. These are the people that give feedback and beta test whenever possible. Their wants and desires are vocalized. They are listened to. Many of us don’t care about the bells and whistles so we don’t give feedback and we don’t participate along with the salivating ones in the forums any more than we absolutely have to. Our needs and desires are not ever mentioned. Why? Because we don’t have any.

  3. I tried Open Office but the very first time I used it I tried out the editing facility. When I reopened the document all the comments had disappeared. As a free lance editor, I use comments a lot, so, much as I admire the principles of Open Source, I went back to Word.

    It is possible to have your Word 2007 use Compatibility Mode, which means you can run it just as if it were Office 2003 but have all the advantages of the new version. People with earlier versions of Word will be able to read your files but you will still be able to read the dreaded .docxes. However, Nancy has the right idea – .rtf is universal and AFAIK it can’t carry viruses.

  4. I meant for Internet applications, where the threat of spammers and malware is ever evolving.

    As far as word processing software is concerned, I’d still be using WordStar 6 if I had a machine it would run on and if Word (which is the format editors always want) did a decent job of converting the files. WordStar did everything a fiction writer needs and its commands still live in my fingertips even after all these years.

    Open Office has its points but it’s just as complex as Word, and don’t get me started on either program’s help files. (Or software help files in general.) They’re both trying to be publishing programs, among other things, and in my opinion lead people into inevitable bad design.


  5. I haven’t used Open Office — I gather it’s for PCs and not Macs — but I have used the word processing program for NeoOffice, which is a Mac program built on Open Office. It only had one annoying flaw for writers, one that may be fixed by the multiple updates I have ignored: the header and footer command is completely screwy. It took me forever to find it and it doesn’t work right.

    On the other hand, it was free and saving to RTF made it possible to use it for everything. And I find it works much better for writing blog posts than Word, because it doesn’t do all those automatic things Word does (like making dashes) that cause glitches when posted online. I still use it.

    Vonda is right about help files; I so rarely find the answer to my question there. And she’s also right about all the programs looking to be publishing programs. Really, publishing programs should be separate from writing programs — compatible, so you can quickly incorporate your documents, but separate.

    Despite all this bitching, I don’t want to go back to typewriters! Typewriters beat writing by hand, and correcting typewriters beat regular ones, but I love writing on a computer. I’m sure I’d have been a writer if I’d lived back in the days of quill pens, but it would have been more difficult for me, since I’m one of those people who writes things down fast and then goes back and changes them. A lot. I shudder to think how many drafts I’d go through if I wrote stories by hand.

  6. I recently had a killah’ trojan (I suspect it’s the same one that’s been in the news lately) infect my PC. While getting it fixed, I bought a Mac. After looking at spending $150 for MS Office for a Mac, I decided to download Open Office instead. (They have a version for Mac. It’s called Aqua.) So far, so good. To be honest I haven’t had as many problems as I had with Word (keep in mind that I haven’t used it that long), but I don’t do all that much with it either. Plus (as you said), when I do have a problem I just go on the forum and someone usually has a solution for my problem. I’m also a DIY fan, and when there’s an opportunity to fix something myself, I jump right in.

    I’ve also decided that I’m only going to use open source on this computer. I figure if nothing else it’ll be an interesting experiment..

  7. Nancy, you’re sure right about typewriters v. computers. The difference is amazing. I loved my correcting Selectric and I still sometimes write longhand, but I dove into computers with great joy. (The last time I fired up the four-digit-serial-number tan-case Osborne I, it still worked. It was the first “portable” — “luggable” is more accurate. It was the size of a portable sewing machine, and almost as heavy.)

    When writers first started getting into personal computers, they dithered over what kind to buy. What if they made — a mistake!? It was hard to persuade them that whichever decision they made (the first big decision was Apple or CPM), the difference between typewriter and computer, whatever kind they chose, was orders of magnitude different from the difference between one machine or operating system and the other.


  8. I am dreading the WORD change — I am using MS Office 2000 Premium, and know I can’t go on forever. I am finally ready to get serious about Dragon Recognition, so it may not matter what I rollover into. Can anyone tell me, does OFFICE read older WORD files? Have they created an update that will translate or read newer WORD files?

    If so, I see migration in my future….