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sábado, 30 de octubre de 2010

What the Pro-MS Office video does not say

Microsoft released a video attempting to persuade people to use their proprietary office suite. It starts like this:
"Considering Open Office.org? Consider this."

Not surprisingly, there has been a wide reaction to it and some people even claimed that Microsoft had finally revealed its true stance concerning open source software. Although I think that the Redmond company has the right to attack competitors, the information that they used for advertising their flagship product should not be fallacious, as this post proves when discussing the academic productivity issue brandished in the video. Basically, the video's core point is that MS Office (2007/2010) constitutes the best office solution in the market because of two features: its new interface and its interoperability and functionality.

Concerning the former, "Ribbon", as this new user interface is commonly called, has its lovers and haters. What is more significant is that Microsoft is trying to patent it and, hence, the company is becoming "a grave threat to the future of software development", as Mike Gunderloy, a former MS Contractor asserted.

In regards to interoperability and functionality, the issues are not normally visible to the common user. However, those technical flaws represent a major problem for companies that require specific features: 1, 2. What everyone knows is that, by pushing users to save documents in .docx instead of the standard de facto .doc format, Microsoft wanted to create a vendor lock in.

In addition, Microsoft is also slanting information to favor adoption of its office solution. I have heard several times that .docx is an ISO standard, just like .odt. That is simply not true. Basically, ISO approved .docx if certain changes were made to the format. This format version is called ISO/IEC 29500 "strict". The reality is that neither Office 2007 nor Office 2010 can generate the ISO standardized "strict" format and Microsoft has not committed to implement it.

The format that the company is using today is the version known as ISO/IEC 29500 "transitional", which ISO determined was not to be used for the creation of new documents. In other words, it can never be the default format for saving new documents as it does not have the status of an international standard and, therefore, it should not be used for electronic transmission or storage of documents.

This distinction is significant because official documents produced by government institutions, such as schools, have to be created following a principle of interoperability, which Microsoft has admitted not to follow with its default-save .docx.

Of course, the video omitted that detail. I wonder if Bailey Mitchell, who claims having "heard a collective sigh of relief" when the schools in Forsyth County returned to MS Office, and who is last quoted in the video, knows about this and saves new documents in .odt format instead of mindlessly pressing the save button in MS Office and generating a questionable .docx file...