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