Subject: Open Standards for Word Processing Documents are Very Important
From: "R. Brock Lynn" <brock@cyberdude.com>
Date: Fri, 02 Jul 1999 05:41:30 -0500

Here is a forwarded set of two emails, in which I discuss with a friend the
importance of openly developed document format standards and current
difficulties with closed, proprietary document format standards.

==============================================================================

I read an article about how MS is still managing to keep it's monopoly going.
Quite enlightening actually. It's not the browser stupid, is the file formats...
if everybody and his brother is using word, and word has a proprietary file
format, that changes every new release, and only one company knows how to write
apps that can deal with that standard, then the competition is shut out from the
market. bad bad for mr consumer. choice goes out the window. Theoretically mr
consumer could use some other file format that his favorite file "editors" or
manipulators can handle, but then he will still get reports and other stuff to
in MS Word7 format, and he'll be forced to use a platform and app capable of
dealing with that format in a superior way. He is trapped by the ubiquity of a
closed standard.

Everywhere there is a tale-tale sign of a roadblock to competition, we as
consumers need to evaluate the situation, and see if we can't improve the
situation, otherwise we are just sitting ducks waiting to be taken advantage of.

Perhaps flooding the market with a Freely Developed Office Suite would do the
job, and perhaps the Office Suite being developed for GNOME will do the job, or
perhaps even Abiword. I dunno, but right now the market is trapped and locked
into a proprietary file format system.

==============================================================================

>     Just got around to reading email.  You gave a good point on the email
> about file format standards.

Yup.

> How about RTF files (Rich Text Format)? Depending upon who you ask, some ppl
> will say RTF is dead, others live by it.

Is RTF an openly developed standard? Does an open committee where anyone can
participate based on merit and not wealth exist to develop it further? Is it
technically robust enough and have enough features to use it as a defacto
standard for all word processing document formats?

I personally don't see many things in RTF.

Basically what are it's technical and feature strengths and weaknesses and who
controls the further development of the standard.

> I personaly haven't yet done
> anything in MS Word .DOC format that I haven't been able to successfully do
> in RTF. I've experimented with RTF quite a lot b/c I had a program I was
> writing which made use of an editor and needed to save files in RTF format.
> I've successfully use RTF in WordPerfect, Word, and other little
> un-important programs, including my own. Granted, my own little program
> didn't use RTF to the extent of the format.

ok. But answer the above questions for yourself first.

Before becoming a skilled soldier for a cause, make sure the cause is worthy. :)

> Well, I do agree with you, file formats play a major role in all this
> standard stuff.

> But, I personally don't accept the file format argument too
> much. 

What is the argument as you see it, and why don't you think it's important?

> The reason is there's a lot of conversion software out there

But Microsoft Word file format is a closed standard, AFAIK, and just any old joe
blow who is technically savvy cannot write a conversion software program without
first knowing something about how the file format is laid out. And if he cannot
get any documentation or even worse poor documentation or even misleading
documentation about the format, then there will never be any GOOD competing
software that can fully utilize the Microsoft Word file format standard other
than Microsoft.

It's actually I crucial step for the consumer community to make to become
enlightened and choose another openly developed word processing document file
format, then EVERYONE, including microsoft would be able to write perfectly good
apps that can make full use of the format. But this can only happen if the
software consumer public wakes up and does something to fix the situation they
are in. Perhaps a project like "AbiWord" which is a GPL'd word processing system
in the works will also develop a very GOOD and openly developed file format
standard, and perhaps it will become the universal standard... or some other
free software project word processor will come about and bring forth it's file
format, that is developed by a large group of openly working developers, who can
all have input into the technical merits of various things that need to be
included to make a GOOD universal word processing file format. It can happen.
The IETF would be a likely place to entrust a file format standard's
development, and nurture.

> , some are
> conversion filters that get shipped with with WordPerfect and Word. You can
> also download macros that convert proprietary WordPerfect and Word formats
> to one or the other. If the proprietary standard for these formats were so
> locked, it would be twice as hard to find conversion programs.

Yes, but AFAIK, there is only one 'true' app that knows how to fully utilize the
Microsoft Word Format, and that's Microsoft. I've never seen a perfect
conversion utility. They all lack utility, as they are incomplete, and do not
seem to have a full set of conversions. It never comes out right, and after
conversion massive corrections are in order. It's costly in terms of time, and
head ache. It'd be better to have a universal file format that everybody agreed
upon, and that no one company or entity controlled, but rather the standard was
entrusted to the care and feeding of many Open Standards Development liaisons
from various parts of the "tech sector".

> I don't mean
> to fully disagree with you either, b/c I also see your argument and I agree
> with it too.

You better, or I'll have to come and bop you upside the head with a wet noodle.
:P

> What I think is the root cause of it all is ignorance.

My gosh. You have hit upon a major truth to the universe! And KNOWLEDGE is
POWER. An educated public makes better decisions than a less educated public.
Now just how do we most effectively educate the public? reform the damn public
schools! Perhaps making them private, but with government controls for standards
in education? I dunno. And perhaps allow for continuing adult education, as the
more educated the public is, the better it's economy can be, and the better the
economy is the happier the people are who are living in it.

> Not fully ignorance
> in the part of the cunsomer, but of the software designers.

cosource.com just went beta with their system. So a new style of software
development will be tested and underway shortly. Perhaps as early as july or
august. Imagine that! getting PAID to write FREE SOFTWARE! WHOOP!

> Trying to stay
> with their own proprietary standard through thick and thin, no matter what,
> not moving for anyone.

Sad isn't it. They jump willingly into the quicksand, and then tread water
(sand?) until they can no longer stand it and go under. Just stay out of the
proprietary software development model quicksand and you will do ok. Sure,
Microsoft has been very ingenious at treading the quicksand, but they can't hold
out forever. They either need to try to jump out of the hole, or sink in
desperation eventually. Paul Allen is smart, he's been investing in hardware
companies, like Charter Communications. (which does our cable here in Bog.)

> For instance, instead of WordPerfect adopting a
> better format for their .WPD files, they failed to fix errors in their own
> standard.

Why not let a board of the BEST AND BRIGHTEST in the field work out what the
'best' standard should be, and then let developers, especially free software
developers implement the standards.

> I am witness to many, many engineers at work who complain time and
> time again about how WordPerfect fails to keep their documents formated the
> way they saved it. I hear much less complaints (only from 1 person) about
> Word failing to save their documents in the state they left it as. Because
> LTRC is half LSU and half DOTD, the common word processing program was
> WordPerfect. But because of so many formating problems with the .WPD format,
> they had all, including the DOTD side (government side) switched to Word's
> .DOC format.

They are both proprietary file format standards. Thus are you just arguing over
which is the less of the two evils.

> In things like this, WordPerfect has written their own file filter for .DOC
> files. You can save their .WPD files into .DOC files. I personally think
> they should adopt the .DOC as their default--since they already written .DOC
> filters.

I personally think they should try to some how extend beyond themselves and help
create an international openly developed word processing document format
standard, and then have a liaison from WP/Corel on the steering committee.

> So, I think it's ignorance to resist change. File formats, I think, are a
> minor issue.

When standards are concerned, it's everybody's business, and it's of grave and
serious importance.

> There's a larger issue involved, their own greed to adhere to
> their own standard and disregard what's better elsewhere.

Well, greed just goes back to ignorance. I argue that 'greed' is actually bad
for the individual who is greedy:

Chief Seattle: (don't really know anything more than that he's some Native
American wise man who is quoted a lot.)

All things are connected
Life is like a web.
Each man is but a strand of it.
Whatever he does to the web
He does to himself.

Or, "What goes around comes around."

Looking after the whole and not only just yourself is actually better for you
than just looking after yourself.

Taking from the greater whole to it's detriment, will ultimately work to one's
detriment as well.

--Brock

---------------------  PGP key ID: FED76A3D <brock@cyberdude.com> 4 / 5 / 1999

   __ _    Debian GNU       R. Brock Lynn             (bytopian on irc #debian)
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