Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Open Document

Scott McNealy had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today about the value of having an open document standard in software. The most amazing thing about the whole piece is that he manages to write close to a thousand words on the topic without saying "Microsoft Office".

What's even more amazing is, he doesn't have to. Anybody who has used a computer in school or business in the last ten years knows that Microsoft owns the word processing and spreadsheet markets, and that when one of its direct competitors is griping about the document format not being open, it's because they can't compete with the overpowering dominance Microsoft has in this area.

McNealy bases his argument entirely on "barriers to exit" -- that is, if someone wanted to use a different word processing program, they would not be able to take their documents with them, because the other program wouldn't support their data format. That's the monopolistic view of Microsoft -- "darn them, I'm held captive." What he doesn't talk about is the power of the standard -- that is, everyone is using Microsoft because everyone else is using Microsoft, and it's so much easier to train people and share information when a common standard prevails.

What's more interesting about this article is that he is calling for software vendors to adopt the OpenDocument format -- which Sun's StarOffice supports. What he doesn't say is that Microsoft's next version of Office will save all documents in XML -- which is the most open standard you could possibly have for a document. If the only value in Microsoft Office was in the monopoly and the standard, they would not part with the proprietary standard. What Microsoft bashers consistently and blatently ignore is Microsoft makes the absolute best productivity software in the whole freaking world. Anybody who has ever attempted to use any other product, proprietary or open source, will know that Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel are simply the best packages on the market. Many will argue the same for Outlook, though I think there is room for argument there. For years, the dirty little secret at Red Hat software was that executives were sneaking around Windows laptops because they couldn't stand to use what passed for office productivity software in the Linux world. (The techies there wouldn't be caught dead with a Microsoft product, but executives brought in from the outside, who had not drunk Linux Kool-Aid, and who had no patience for learning new software, were still using what they knew and liked.)

Nice try, Scott, but no dice. Microsoft will open their document standard and still eat your lunch.


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