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GNU is Not Unix

RMS: Putting an End to Word Attachments 1022

Posted by Hemos
from the stamping-out-the-impediments dept.
sombragris writes "I've spotted in NewsForge a very interesting editorial by none other than RMS himself on the subject of getting rid of those annoying MS Word attachment that people send. The essay is worth thinking and doubtless worth implementing." I've found that KWord and Abiword both did a fine job of reading Word files - it's the being able to Save As Word where things get messy.
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RMS: Putting an End to Word Attachments

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  • unfortunate ? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hogsback (548721) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:06PM (#2823846) Homepage
    Most computer users use Microsoft Word. That is unfortunate for them, because Word is proprietary software, denying its users the freedom to study, change, copy, and redistribute it

    Most Word users, I expect, want to write letters to their mothers, not recompile the application.
    • by clump (60191) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:13PM (#2823901)
      Most Word users, I expect, want to write letters to their mothers, not recompile the application.

      You don't need email with Word attachments. The problem is having such a format be so widespead that it interferes with normal communication, like email. I am a UNIX network engineer that has been bitten *many* times by the 'please send a resume as a Word doc'. That is difficult if you don't run Windows at all.

      Though I generally feel RMS isn't an effective speaker, he definitely has a point here. Honestly, do people really need Word for the majority of text documents? Is everyone sending emails with tabular, image-embedded documents? I think not.
      • by medcalf (68293) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:36PM (#2824117) Homepage
        I have this problem as well. I explain to the person that they can use Word's File->Open Web Page menu option, enter the URL for my resume, and it will be opened as a Word document. (I have my resume formatted completely into a table, which makes it look right on Word as well as the web.)

        If they are not willing to go that small distance for me, there is generally not going to be a good working relationship anyway.
    • Same with my car (Score:2, Redundant)

      by DrCode (95839)
      I just want to drive, not mess with the engine. That doesn't mean I'd accept a car with a locked hood that could only be opened by the dealer.
      • by igrek (127205)
        Nice argument, but it doesn't work here, because:

        1) Cars require regular maintenance. Word processors don't (or shouldn't).

        2) Cars cost hundred times more than word processors.

        3) Amortization and used car sale.

        More appropriate comparison would be with something like your coffee maker. Many of us use things every day, but we don't care what's inside.
        • by DebtAngel (83256) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:20PM (#2824465) Homepage
          1. Yes they do. That's why Word has patches and service packs applied to it. Word processors shouldn't have a programming language attached to them either, but Word has VBA.

          2. Then explain to me why SQL Server, which can cost $5000 per processor, is closed. Stick that on a four processor machine, and you could have bought a nice car instead.

          3. Not important to the argument.

          I expect that for CAN$100 to $200, I am able to open up a piece of hardware and do whatever I like to it. I can take, say, the aforementioned coffee maker, and replace the power cord if the cat chews on it.

          I can do the equivalent with OpenOffice or KWord, if I was sufficiently skilled. I cannot do so with Word, or any proprietary software. If there is a simple problem with the software, which I think I could fix given the source code and half an hour, I can't. I have to wait for Microsoft to do it, which they may never ever do.

          That, my friend, is the point.
          • Re:Same with my car (Score:3, Interesting)

            by igrek (127205)
            1. As I said, they shouldn't. But even id they do - you don't need hex editor to apply them, right? The installer will do that for you (think car mechanic)

            2. It's exactly my point. We're not discussing SQL server or some other server software here, but just word processors. For server software, the original RMS analogy with cars is valid.

            3. It is important, because car internals degrade with time and people need to be able to open the hood to see the actual condition for themselves. Not the case with Word Processors (or any other shrink-wrapped applications).

            About the coffee maker... If your cat chews the power cord or deletes one of the program DLLs, you can easily restore the original condition of the program by reinstalling. With software like word processor, you can easily return to the original condition if needed. Try this with cars.

            How many people are thinking: "Wish I had the MS Word source code, I would do this and that..."? Not many. That's the point.
            • Re:Same with my car (Score:3, Informative)

              by DebtAngel (83256)
              1. Nice screw up on the analogy on part one. I can take a car to a mechanic for scheduled maintenance (bug fixen), or I can do the oil change myself. I don't, personally, but I'm happy that I don't have to take my Chrysler to a Chrysler dealer in order to do that.

              2. A car is a car is a car, whether its a 2002 Viper or a 1985 Ford Tempo. A 1985 Ford Tempo, if you can find one, can probably be purchased for the same as Word. Software is software is software, no matter what the price point.

              3. I write Content Management software for a web development company. People need to get into that code all the time. People need to get into the code in Word, or Outlook, or other Office products to fix buffer overflows and other bugs. The fact that I can't but Joe at Redmond can is the point, and the problem.

              4. (the coffee maker argument) Point to you, *but* if I heavily modified my cars looks (a fair number of people heavily tweak the settings in Word, turning off things like AutoCorrect), and somebody broke a window, I'd rather not have to make my car look like it did when I first drove it off the lot. Similarly, I'd rather not have to download all my patches again because my mom accidentally deleted some obscure file I didn't know that Word needed.

              The point is that anybody who happens to think that "I wish I could change function X in Word, because it isn't powerful enough for me" is in no way allowed to do that. Just because you will never exercise a liberty does not mean that it's okay to take that liberty away. Slippery slope, and all that.
    • by Sloppy (14984) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:20PM (#2823960) Homepage Journal

      Most Word users, I expect, want to write letters to their mothers, not recompile the application.

      I would think that most Word users don't want their mother to catch a bunch of viruses. What kind of scumbag would train their mother to accept Word documents?!

    • by edgarde (22267)
      The moderator of a Yahoo club to which I belong sent (as a standard new member greeting) some poetry as an MS-Word attachment. He was quite surprised when I replied with the name of the company he was working at when he typed it ( File | Properties | Summary ), and explained how to save as text.

      He quickly changed the greeting to a .TXT

      Later, on my advice, he made it an .RTF so he could font & format. This created sufficient confusion among other recipients that he had to change it back.

    • Red Herring (Score:5, Insightful)

      by elefantstn (195873) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:22PM (#2823984)
      This is a meaningless point. The fact that a specific subset of users, however large, cannot get at the source has no bearing on its importance. Even though I personally can look at and understand [some] source, I would never be able to look at it all. The value is that I know that there are multiple people looking at and improving the source that I'm not looking at, and doing it from an end-user perspective, not a software-producer perspective. I may not be a kernel hacker, but someone else with my hardware is, and I benefit from the improvements he or she makes to the kernel. "I don't recompile applications" is not a reason to not use open source software.
    • > Most Word users, I expect, want to write letters to their mothers, not recompile the application.

      And while we're at it. Stallman's solution is " All we have to do is ask each person who sends us a Word file to reconsider that way of doing things."

      Sure. Why don't we "ask" them to stop top-posting, sending HTML mail, and clicking on "snow_white.txt.vbs".

      (I've been saying "Sorry, I don't do Windows" to .DOC files for years. It hasn't stopped the lusers yet. The worst time was when someone sent me a list of names in .DOC, and then resent it as a column of cells in an Excel spreadsheet. No, they weren't being sarcastic, they were just. that. dumb. To this luser, Word and Excel were the only applications on their computer.)

  • Whatever you think of microsoft, .doc has become a de facto document standard, like .pdf. Pitting open source software against .doc risks marginalization. Maybe the effort should go into producing a good, free implementation of a document editor to produce .doc documents, thereby using .doc against microsoft?
    • by Buck2 (50253) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:14PM (#2823910) Homepage
      Open-source is already marginalized.

      Word documents, along with other proprietary formats, especially ones which may or may not be able to be opened with future software, are a bad idea for information transfer.

      It's a stupid, terrible, dumb standard which Microsoft revels in because it helps to ensure their position and sales.

      It behooves everyone who uses computers to compose documents and share information to break the current standard ... not just Open Source advocates.

      This, I believe, is RMS's point. The fact that he has Open Source advocates' ears is a fact of reality, not the ideal.
    • I don't know how many times I've heard this argument. I remember when Word Perfect was the standard. And there were others before that.
      No matter how much it may seem that .doc is the standard, (and it may very well be at this time), it will lose it's glory. And other formats will go on to replace it.
    • by Eimi Metamorphoumai (18738) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:17PM (#2823933) Homepage
      .doc isn't a single format, though. If .doc were what it were as of WinWord 2.0, we'd have no problems by now. But every version the .doc format changes, and everyone runs around trying to reverse engineer it YET AGAIN. And if you finish that, they'll do it again. I have nothing against de facto standards, but a "standard" that can be changed at any arbitrary point, by a single company (and frequently is) isn't much of a standard at all.
      • by drix (4602) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:46PM (#2824202) Homepage
        That is completely incorrect. The Microsoft Word document format has remained the same since the Office 97 suite. Word 97 can read files saved by Word XP or Word 2000. Their respective feature sets differ, so Word 97 isn't going to pick up on newfangled things like "table styles" that were introduced in later versions. But for plain old text and tables, they are all interoperable. In fact, in a specific attempt to make the different versions interoperate, Microsoft added a feature in Word XP entitled "Disable features not available in Word 97". It's under Tool->Options->Save if you're interested.

        And by the way, you shouldn't be so quick to underestimate Microsoft's morals/motives. They're monopolistic and nosy and untrustworthy, granted, but they do make good products that are easy to use and featureful. It's naive to believe that they are into just screwing the customer over with every successful revision. If they really were that stupid and antipathetic towards the people paying the bills, I doubt they'd be the largest software company in the entire world.

    • by Sloppy (14984) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:17PM (#2823938) Homepage Journal

      No.

      RMS' main problem with Word format is that it is non-standard, and most people probably don't care. But that isn't the only problem that format has. The other major problem it has is the same thing you'll find in most MS formats: it contains too much power. In order to support Word format in a Word-compatable way, you have to support the scripting language and virus capability too.

      And that is a Bad Thing, even if you don't give a damn about open vs closed formats. Getting people off Word format is a good idea for everyone except for anti-virus software vendors.

      So if RMS' goal seems unrealistic because it's too idealistic, by all means, just be pragmatic instead. And the pragmatic thing to do is say goodbye to MS Word's file format.

    • It may be a de facto standard, but it is a closed standard. Being closed makes it hard to be useful as a standard, don't you think? AFAIK, everyone else who uses the Word .doc format(s) in an application had to reverse-engineer the .doc format first. And no one has reverse-engineered it all yet.

      I don't much care if Word is closed-source or not. But I sure think it would be nice if the file format were an open format. If that were the case, other applications could easily be written to use it.

      Even better would be if Microsoft used an open format that was agreed upon by some standards-making body - instead of constantly changing its own "standard" to try and stay ahead of the competition.

      And as long as I'm dreaming, I'd like a million dollars.

    • by MikeTheYak (123496) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:20PM (#2823965)
      How can it be a standard when nobody knows what it is and it keeps changing? If it were a standard, then there would already be "good, free implementations." Instead, software developers, open source and otherwise, have to keep writing almost-good-enough filters to load and save the documents. While RMS' political arguments typically make my eyes glaze over, it's stupid to author a document without taking into consideration whether the recipient can read it.

      While the premise of your argument may be unfortunately true, the suggestion simply won't work because Microsoft won't let it work. That's why they keep changing the format and don't publish the spec in the first place.
    • At the risk of being accused of being a company shill...

      Adobe has a little advertised web service [adobe.com] that will convert a variety of documents formats, including MS Office, to PDF files. Cost is 9.95 a month, but the 5 conversion freebie trial which is controlled by email address.

    • The problem with that is that there IS no .doc standard; they change it over and over, thereby forcing it's users to continuously buy new versions of an incredibly expensive product that only runs on incredibly expensive platforms. It also keeps any other players away from the market and that abridges our freedom to choose our own software to an unacceptable extent; I don't want to spend more than 1000 EURO on software so I can read/write an occasional document. And I only see these prices go up so if we don't take action now, in a few years we may well be spending a lot more money every year just to type a few lousy documents in a word-processor that has 10 times more features than the average user will ever use but which every user has to pay for over and over and over and....
    • The difference is, PDF is perfectly readable with a number of tools, free and Free and not, without issues.

      Unless things have changed, nothing reads word docs correctly all of the time...

  • Wow...! (Score:2, Redundant)

    by Ranger Rick (197)

    ...an editorial from RMS that I not only agree with, but also one in which he doesn't sound like a raving madman. =)

    While often I agree with him, half the time I can't stand the way he browbeats you with how wrong you are. I think this article was well-written and reasonable...

    Scary. =)

    • Wow indeed (Score:3, Troll)

      by UberOogie (464002)
      You're kidding, right?

      I mean, I'm with you if you mean "reasonable for RMS," but did you read the "polite" responses he had?

      Can you imagine how anyone in the mainstream corporate world would react to any of them?

      At best, they'd think you're a paranoid loon. At worst, they'd get furious at you and spread their opinions to others.

      Tons of people following this advice would be the single biggest setback that free software would have in the corporate world.

      That said, an actual polite response would probably get some effect. Something explaining that you do not use Word, what formats you'd accept, and how to do so in Word.

  • Education (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RedOregon (161027) <redoregon@@@satx...rr...com> on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:10PM (#2823873) Homepage Journal
    Hopefully we can show enough people that the complexity of Word is very rarely used. Maybe mass installations of the windows version of vim will help :)

    I think what is required is mass education... every time some nitnoid sends you an Email with a Word document attached, and nothing in the Word document but text, respond! Don't just shake your head, think "what an idiot", and read it... respond to the Email!
  • by CrazyClimber (469251) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:10PM (#2823877)
    How can we get rid of Word attachments without incurring the wrath or Bernie Shifman? If he can't send out his resume, he'll probably sue...
  • Wishful Thinking (Score:2, Redundant)

    by rute_1 (190676)
    I just read the article. Now that is out right wishful thinking. Let's see, if I was to reply with his examples to messages containing Word attachments my boss would tell me to find another company to work for:)

    A couple of points:

    1. There are plenty of Office Suites out there that understand the Word Format. (StarOffice and Koffice to name two.)

    2. Microsoft has already stated they are switching to the non-proprietary XML format for their standard document format.

    3. While I do like GPL and Freeware I also believe that we need to have comercialware. Let's see, if all software was free then why would anyone in their right mind want to spend money to study programming at a an instituion? Why get a degree in software engineering?
    • by elefantstn (195873) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:26PM (#2824024)
      Why study software engineering? Because 90+% of software work is done in custom applications anyways. There are far more jobs available writing order tracking systems and machine control systems than there are writing commercial software, especially now that there are only four or five companies actually doing that.
  • by eddy the lip (20794) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:12PM (#2823890)
    We may be able to give "don't send Word format" the status of netiquette, if we start systematically raising the issue with everyone who sends us Word files.

    What, you mean completely ignored?

  • Save a HTML (Score:4, Informative)

    by Godeke (32895) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:13PM (#2823891)
    When I heard that Word would support saving to HTML I was very happy. Then I saw the HTML that was output and was depressed again. Dreamweaver does have a neat feature - "clean up Word HTML" which makes them a little more acceptable, but it is a nightmare to edit in HTML anything that was generated in Word.

    It's a shame, as XHTML and CSS allows for very clean separation of content from presentation... maybe someday they will hit critical mass and it will be the accepted form of "rich" content presentation. But for now I have to slog through RTF, Word, Powerpoint (ugh) and Excel documents that are not converted cleanly to the office suites on Linux.
    • I don't know how well it copes with the latest abomination code that Word pumps out as HTML, but I used to use Demoroniser [fourmilab.ch] to clean up HTML that people would save from Word...

      The demoroniser keeps you from looking dumber than a bag of dirt when your Web page is viewed by a user on a non-Microsoft platform.


      T
  • PDF? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HaeMaker (221642) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:13PM (#2823892) Homepage
    Isn't PDF a secret format too, eventhough there are readers for linux?
  • It may be easy (as he says) to convert doc to html, but you can lose formatting. Auto-numbered lists, especially, seem to get munged in the conversion.
    • So, if I send you a Word97 doc and you have Word2002 (is that what it's called?) do you think it will look the same? If I send you my Standard A4 formatted document and you print it on your Standard Letter printer do you think it will look the same (or even appear the same on screen) even IF you have the same version of word? Within a corporate network Word docs are fine as you are going to be able to sort it out simply, once it leaves your own network you are trying to force your software choices on another and in the process generating more revenue for MS (how many unopenable Word2002 docs will it take before your Word2000 gets upgraded?). Using Word as a data exchange fprmat is INSANE! Use pdf/ps/jpeg if formating matters, use html or text if it doesn't.
  • by beth_linker (210498) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:14PM (#2823911)
    I don't think that calling Word "a secret proprietary format" (true as it may be) will make much sense to the average Windows user.

    A more general issue is that all of the examples provided are political in nature.

    Could one accomplish something similar with a message like "I'm sorry but I'm unable to read documents in Microsoft Word format because I use Linux. Please send your document in a format that I can read, such as ASCII Text or PDF."

    Educating people about the political issues surrounding proprietary document formats isn't always appropriate in a business situation. If I need to ask a customer to use a format other than Word, I also need to be able to do it in a non-alienating way. I think that Stallman offers some good suggestions, but the specific examples he provides wouldn't work well in some social contexts.
    • by Buck2 (50253) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:26PM (#2824022) Homepage
      Could one accomplish something similar with a message like "I'm sorry but I'm unable to read documents in Microsoft Word format because I use Linux. Please send your document in a format that I can read, such as ASCII Text or PDF."

      No. The general response (from my experience) has been, "Then you suck and there's nothing I can do about it. You should use Windows."

      You _must_ explain why Word attachments themselves are the problem and how to get around them.

      I've found the "size of the attachment" argument to be the most effective (and that's relative ... it's a massive uphill battle). Next is inconvenience to me, but that presumes that the sender really cares, and last is the "for the good of computing".

      Actually, recently, many users have been bitten enough times with transferring documents up through old versions of Word that they pay attention to, "Do you really want to be using a program which saves information in a form which may be unusable or, most probably, improperly read in a year or two?"

      Finally, sometimes I just outright lie and say, "Oh, man, I'm sorry I don't have Word XP (or whatever), could you maybe save it in Word 95 format ... or better yet, save it in text since that's all I really need." Just about everyone gets that.
    • by Darth Maul (19860) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:56PM (#2824277) Homepage
      No, I don't think your example would work because an average Windows user would just think that Linux is pathetic if it cannot view files. I think your example is poorly worded.

      Perhaps just turn it around, like "I'm sorry but I cannot access the file you sent me, because you sent it in a format that is only usable in Windows. Please use a format that is more accessible to all computer users, such as plain text or PDF".

      Maybe?
      • by curunir (98273) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:49PM (#2824692) Homepage Journal
        Hmmm...Word docs are only usable in Windows, huh? What about Macs? You might try,

        "I'm sorry, but I cannot view the attachment that you sent to me because it is a Microsoft Word document (.doc extension). Microsoft Word documents are only accessible to people using software that is approved by Microsoft. Please consider using a format that is freely accessible such as HTML, PDF or plain text. This will ensure that files that you send are readable by anyone who receives them."
    • RMS is a Free Software advocate. Free Software is political because it's about rights and freedom.

      And the whole thrust of this article was not "Let's convince people to send us documents we can read" it was "Let's use the issue of not being able to read these documents to promote the wider issue of Free Software".

      I happen to disagree with RMS but what he's saying is totally consistent with his beliefs. I would no more expect him to use 'non-political' examples than I would for him to call GNU software Open Source.
  • by crotherm (160925) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:15PM (#2823920) Journal
    I just cut and pasted the email reply suggestions into MSWord. Now how do I send it out?
  • We first need ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bockman (104837) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:17PM (#2823929)
    ... a commonly accepted free standard for _editable_ documents.

    That is, it should be possible to read and edit the same document with different open-source tools [since there is no chance that we all use the same] without loosing neither text, nor formatting or meta information (like indexes, cross-references, review marks etc...).

    • by zerocool^ (112121)

      We first need... ...a commonly accepted free standard for editable documents


      Welcome to .txt! Usable with vi, vim, joe, pico, emacs, MSNotepad, MSWordpad, TeachText for mac (i believe), MS Word, HTTP Browsers, etc.

      Now, the above post was meant in jest, I understand there are sometimes where a nice looking document will go a long way (price-quotes, resumes, etc), but, really, how many people need something other than .txt for the majority of things that they just pass around? If i get a txt file, it takes me 30 sec to post it into a word doc and make it pretty if i deem it necessacary.

      ~z
  • by issachar (170323) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:17PM (#2823937) Homepage
    There's a very simple way of changing MS-Word's default format to something other than .doc format. I use Word a fair bit, and my copy is set to automatically save everything in rich text format. I have yet to encounter ANY formatting that can't be saved in that format. (Maybe because I don't write Macro viruses).

    Explain to people that if they do this, their documents can be read by MANY more people, and that it doesn't affect them at all because MS-Word can read .rtf documents seamlessly. (It just treats them like regular .doc files). Don't forget to explain that occaisionally the system will complain that "some formatting might be lost", but that's not really true. It's only the very strange formatting that no one ever uses that would be lost. This has been good enough for all the non-technical people I've explained this to.

    .
    • by mbrubeck (73587) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:34PM (#2824100) Homepage
      In fact, I believe that if you rename an RTF file so that it has the .DOC extension, it will appear to Windows users to be a normal Word document. Opening it will launch Word, which handles the file without complaining. This can be a useful trick for sending to recipients who require .doc files. You shouldn't abuse it too much, because it will inconvenience non-Word users who can deal better with RTF than DOC.
    • If you check MS RTF documentation, you will see that .doc is actually just the binary format of RTF.
    • by alispguru (72689) <bane@g[ ]com ['st.' in gap]> on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:14PM (#2824420) Journal
      How hard would it be to write an MS Word virus that would change this preference when a document was opened?
  • Most of our secretarial force now has only an HTML based Word Processor.

    Biggest problem: there's no good way to handle tabbing (tables are fine but inconvenient, anything more fancy like auto-resizing spans screw up). Secretaries like being able to quickly due dot-lead tabs and such to make quick columns. HTML as implemented in IE (which we have to support so clients can view documents), doesn't have good enough tabs.

    The other problem (no good concept of page, which makes documents for printing hard to edit), we've been able to solve (well enough for us) in our custom editor.
  • by Pac (9516) <paulo...candido@@@gmail...com> on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:19PM (#2823947)
    I've read the title too quick, and for a moment I thought Good Old Rick had decided to go all way and become a desert hermit, as in "RMS: Putting an End to World Attachments"
  • by Snowfox (34467) <snowfox@snowfox. n e t> on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:21PM (#2823973) Homepage
    I like responding to Word documents by picking another esoteric file format. Even EPS is as good as opaque to most users.

    When they reply with a "huh?" then I share some of my views on proprietary and non-standard text formats and suggest RTF when sharing docs with others. With simpler users, I'll just simplify, explaining that "RTF is the form you use when emailing documents, DOC is mostly meant for local editing before you 'publish' by printing or saving in a public format."

    Until they experience the annoyance of unavailable or cyrptic data first hand, most folks will write you off as a quack for complaining. They just can't imagine a world where e-mail attachments don't open nicely so long as you know how to double-click.

  • I've found that KWord and Abiword both did a fine job of reading Word files - it's the being able to Save As Word where things get messy.

    That's just the opposite of my experience with StarOffice. I've opened .doc files from the network, with "track changes" enabled, edited them in StarOffice Writer, and then saved them. None of my coworkers were ever the wiser.

    I also print a lot of homework at work. I've saved my files as Word 2000 files, opened them on Word 2000, and printed without a problem.

  • by Otter (3800) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:24PM (#2824004) Journal
    First, Hemos and everyone else saying the same thing, the question isn't whether one can open Word files -- RMS's point is that we should discourage the use of .doc, or free software developers will be perpetually chasing Microsoft's newest version.

    That said, Stallman is proposing a particularly counterproductive way to go about it. When I receive a file I can't open, I send a polite message to the effect of, "I can't read that file format. Please save the file in RTF format (Select "Save As.." from the File menu, and then choose Rich Text) and resend it. In the future, please send me files that way, so I'll be able to open them right away."

    That has the advantages of a) not confusing the secretary or supplier who doesn't even know that there are different file formats with some political rant about Kenya, the Microsoft monopoly, bytes and freedom, b) doesn't convince a more knowledgeable recipient that Linux users are rabid, socially dysfunctional loons and c) is the way a decent human being behaves.

    Richard Stallman probably doesn't realize that when the rest of us receive a Word attachment, it's not from a reporter seeking our views on Free Software and appreciating his tantrums as a little added color for his article, it's from a coworker just doing what any normal computer user does.

    • Before you flame me for that subject line let me explain.

      Browse Slashdot at -1. How many of those trolls would you not need to beat with a clue-by-four within an inch of their lives to get them to post on-topic? (I don't mean just once or sometimes, I mean forever and always.)
      My sister is like this. Every six months I get another chain letter from her ("Re: New Virus Warning" or maybe "Re:Great Internet Snowball Fight 2005"). I do not like chain letters. They are spam; I filter them as such. Each time she sends me a chain letter, I send a very polite "don't do this again; chain letters go to my trashcan"-style response.

      Maybe I ought to take a clue from RMS; tell her that I believe chain letters consumes network resources, that massive numbers can become counter productive-- in short all the standard anti-spam arguments. If I present myself calmly and rationally I expect (from experience) that she will stop. If I do a really good job, maybe she'll change her opinion. Take this example from letter 2: "Receiving Word attachments is bad for you because they can carry viruses" is calm, well spoken, and provides a reason that the sender may never want to see another Word file themselves. Spoken in this manner they might see your "opinion" against Word .DOCs not as just a unreasoned preference but as an intelligent decision.
      Something tells me that's the reason my sister keeps sending me spam: I've never really told her why I want her to stop (just been a prick and threatened to trash her emails to me, if in a polite manner).
  • International? (Score:3, Informative)

    by jfedor (27894) <jfedor@jfedor.org> on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:35PM (#2824111) Homepage
    RMS says:
    You sent me five files in the non-standard, bloated .doc format that is Microsoft's secret, rather than in the international, public, and more efficient format of plain text.
    Microsoft Word format, love it or hate it (OK, hate it), is more "international" than plain text. I mean it's more probable I'm gonna get someone's bizzare alphabet right (like my own - Polish) if he sends it in Word format rather than plain text.

    (Assuming I have Word of course.)

    -jfedor
  • by sterno (16320) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:39PM (#2824142) Homepage
    In the commentary RMS says:
    Most computer users use Microsoft Word. That is unfortunate for them, because Word is proprietary software, denying its users the freedom to study, change, copy, and redistribute it.
    Most users of Microsoft Word don't actually care about having the freedom to study or change it. Most don't even care about the right to copy or redistribute it except in making some limited copies for friends or to install on other computers. For most people Word works well and the issue of it being proprietary never effects them in any way they are likely to be aware of.

    Until free software advocates can make it clear to the average use what the benefits of that freedom are, it will be very difficult to wipe out things like Word attachments. We have lots of people preaching to the geek choir and people convincing businesses of the value of open source (not free software, and it's an important distinction). But nobody is really convincing the average computer user of the value of free software (aside from possibly the "free as in beer" sense).

    Simply responding to Word attachments with a political tirade isn't going to do anything except make the people who sent them to you think you're some commie wacko. The people who are likely to be receptive to such communiques are those who probably wouldn't send you the word attachment in the first place.
  • by Toddarooski (12363) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:44PM (#2824188)
    At my old job, our engineering department successfully lobbied for people to stop sending documents as Word attachments.

    Their explanation was a little simpler, which was basically, "Hi. Those of us with Unix machines don't have Word installed, so it's a major pain in the ass for us to read that document you just attached. Can you send it in a different format?" Personally, I wouldn't recommend using any of the examples in the article, as they all sound pretty self-righteous and would probably make an average recipient more likely to walk over and give the writer a massive wedgie than to change their email attachment behavior.

    The drawback, of course, is that the people who were sending Word attachments in the first place were still composing them in MS Word. And so you've either got to deal with the huge mess that is Word's "Save as HTML" or you lose all the pretty formatting (which does sometimes include important diagrams or tables) when it's saved as text. But I suppose it's a moral victory, if nothing else...
  • by TheMCP (121589) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:14PM (#2824417) Homepage
    Look, I'm a consultant. Staying employed requires that I make my clients happy, and part of doing that is making them feel that doing business with me is an effortless task.

    Clients, unconsciously, have a scale in their head that weighs how much they've put into me versus how much they've received back from me. Every little thing I ask them to give me or do for me reduces their perception of the benefit/cost ratio, and reduces the likelyhood they'll use my services again. Really, clients generally want me to come in and pull a completed job out of thin air with no assets from them, and much as they technically understand that they have to give me stuff to work with they don't actually like it.

    So, I make a point to bend over backward for the client on the little stuff so that when I do have to ask the client for something, it's always something that's really important to the project. Convincing them to support free software does not constitute "important to the project".

    I can just imagine telling a client I can't read their Word file. They'll think I'm incompetent for being improperly equipped and replace me.

    Like it or not I'm stuck with Word unless a court breaks up the Microsoft monopolies and businesses start using more of a variety of software. I can give my clients PDFs, but that isn't going to change their file habits anytime soon.
    • Use it as an opportunity to explain the business hazards of .doc virii and sell them services to set all their office PC's to use RTF as a default format. Then sell them an email gateway that detects inbound .docs and reformats them into .rtf files for the protection of their assets.

      Even if you don't actually sell them the service, you've given them valuable advice and underscored the fact that this type of knowledge is why they pay you.

  • by Mr_Perl (142164) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:22PM (#2824481) Homepage
    Here's a perl kludge I use to convert doc on the fly into PDF and open in acrobat from kmail:

    #!/usr/bin/perl

    my $fn=shift;
    my $or=$fn;
    $fn=~s/.*\/(.*)\.doc$/$1/o;
    $fn=~s/ /_/g;
    $or =~ s/ /\\ /g;
    `antiword -p letter $or | ps2pdf - > $HOME/tmp/$fn.pdf `;

    exec("/usr/bin/acroread $HOME/tmp/$fn.pdf");

    It does require antiword which you can obtain from freshmeat.
  • by Srin Tuar (147269) <zeroday26@yahoo.com> on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:34PM (#2824578)

    If you really dont want to recieve or promulgate any word documents, set up your mailserver to filter out all .doc attachments and replace them with a small ascii note:

    <<< Word.doc 900k -- file removed by VirusScanner 7.0 >>>


    Then anyone who uses the server can honestly reply- "I want to get that document from you, but my virus scanner keeps deleting it, if you could send it as plain text or rtf... "

    This directive will fit nicely next to the ones for *.exe, *.vbs, etc.

  • by MoNsTeR (4403) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:35PM (#2824586)
    The only people that send me Word attachments are co-workers. More specifically, supervisors. If I were to send them even a polite mail (as opposed to RMS' suggested "secret, proprietary format" diatribe) I would just a get reply saying, "You don't have Word? Call the Help Desk so your machine can be re-imaged," or "You can't read it because you're running Linux? Clyde will be right over to confiscate your computer."

    It's against college policy to possess a Linux computer (I'm not kidding), and to a lesser zeal of enforcement, against policy to have a computer with MS Office installed. I imagine there are hundreds of other large institutions out there with similar policies.

    Unless I can convince the President of the college to talk to the VP of IT about appointing a committee to consider instituting a policy restricting the use of Word attachments, they're not going away, no matter how many nice e-mails I send out.

    (It's also interesting that the worst case of cross-platform non-interoperability I've encountered is a Windows user who received an .hqx attachment from a Mac user. Trying to explain the concept of file formats to this man was, as they say, like teaching a pig to sing.)
  • by 3am (314579) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:54PM (#2824715) Homepage
    Okay, I don't necessarily agree with Stallman's point, and I definitely don't agree with his proposed responses to the problem.

    But I did run into this ad [msads.net] while checking my hotmail account, and I thought it was pretty funny in light of the current discussion
  • by istartedi (132515) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:00PM (#2824754) Journal

    I swear, RMS could tell people not to stick their fingers in a light socket, and they would actually have a desire to do so when he was done.

    Now, I dislike Word just as much as the next guy, but for different reasons. First, there is the macrovirus issue. I don't like closed formats either, but that's a technical issue that a lot of people don't understand. Refer to Word as a "secret format" and people will think you are smoking crack. For Joe Blow, Word is not a secret format, "it's Word format. What's the secret?".

    Instead, if I get this stuff, I say:

    I don't use Word. Could you please send plain text or HTML.

    That's it. No diatribe. No technical jargon. If this becomes the socially acceptable way to transmit documents, people will learn it because they are inconvenienced having to send the message twice, not because they want to join the Glorius People's Revolution, which most us would actually like to avoid. I wouldn't subject myself to PDF or any print-oriented format unless they said it was the only alternative. That's for a little ideological reason of my own: These formats are a PITA to read on the screen, and printing them out is bad for the environment. I have nothing personal against Adobe. If Reader were more screen friendly I wouldn't hesitate to suggest PDF.

  • RMS is incorrect (Score:5, Informative)

    by rabtech (223758) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:15PM (#2824856) Homepage
    "And because Microsoft changes the Word file format with each release, its users are locked into a system that compels them to buy each upgrade whether they want a change or not. "

    This statement is incorrect... Microsoft redefined the file format with Word 97 to make it extensible. SO the basic text, formatting, images, etc are all compatible between Word 97, 2000, and XP. I can save a Word file in WordXP and open it in Word 97 without any sort of conversion or downgrading... its just that the "extensions" not supported by Word 97 won't be displayed or might be displayed incorrectly.

    The differences between 97 and 2000 are especially small... we have about 85% of our users on Office 97 and they exchange documents both ways with our other users of Office 2000. Of course they don't do anything special with fileformats (remember: these users think their keyboard can 'get a virus') -- the Word 97 users can open the Word 2000 files without conversion.
  • by Bowie J. Poag (16898) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:40PM (#2825084) Homepage


    ( I've been critical, very critical of RMS in the past. My motivation for writing this post isn't to put him through the meat-grinder..I'm merely addressing some points that weren't addressed in his article.)

    " Don't you just hate receiving Word documents in email messages? Word attachments are annoying, but worse than that, they impede people from switching to free software. Maybe we can stop this practice with a simple collective effort. All we have to do is ask each person who sends us a Word file to reconsider that way of doing things."

    If these people happen to be your friends, sure. But any sysadmin who's worked more than an hour in any professional capacity can tell you that people simply don't understand email. Yes, to you and I, we know about RFCs, the fact that the email infrastructure of the net was never meant to handle anything but raw ASCII.. They don't know these things, nor do they care to learn why sending binaries via email is a bad idea. They just want to send 80MB .avi files of them waving at a camera to Grandma.

    IMHO, what needs to happen is a revamping of the email infrastructure to the net, to turn it into a binary-friendly medium. Its a kludge to do anything short of that. Providing HTML links to binaries stored at the originator's machine, MIME, UUEncode/UUDecode are are simply methods of sidestepping the issue and putting a band-aid on a garden hose. As a side note, the same "effort" you speak of could be directed at revising badly out of date protocols like FTP as well. FTP is a NAT-ignorant protocol.. Good luck trying to move data in anything but an Active mode.

    " Most computer users use Microsoft Word. That is unfortunate for them, because Word is proprietary software, denying its users the freedom to study, change, copy, and redistribute it. And because Microsoft changes the Word file format with each release, its users are locked into a system that compels them to buy each upgrade whether they want a change or not. They may even find, several years from now, that the Word documents they are writing this year can no longer be read with the version of Word they use then."

    Lame as it is, this is Microsoft's right. If they want to, they can make Word pop up an evil clown covered with blood that randomly insults you every 18 seconds if they feel like it. Its their product. If you don't like the design of their product, you are welcome to come up with something better, as the folks behind AbiWord, KWord, StarOffice and others have done. In my opinion, Microsoft has done an exemplary job in allowing users to import legacy documents. Infact, you'll still have the ability to import documents from MS Works, a cheapo text-based version of MS Office that ran on DOS systems more than a decade ago. I've personally never encountered the sort of situation you're describing. Besides, if they opened up the standard and described how Word documents are formed, any number of parties (ourselves included) would ultimately pervert the standard, intentionally or not. I'm glad they keep that door shut. Theres only one version of Microsoft Word 2002 documents--Not 18 different ones, all slightly different from one another.

    "Someone I know was unable to apply for a job because resumes had to be Word files. Even governments sometimes impose Word format on the public, which is truly outrageous."

    The government also requires us to ride on/in motor vehicles when we use the highways, regardless of the fact your bike will get you from Point A to Point B. Infact, if you tried to ride a bike on an expressway, you'de be pulled over within minutes, fined, and/or carted off to jail. Whether we like it or not, Word is the standard when it comes to the exchange of formatted electronic documents. That may change. It has in the past, and will likely continue to do so in the future. Even today, we're already moving away from statically formatted Word-like documents and into more sophisticated markup-based documents like HTML/XML. Don't whine about not being to ride your bike on the expressway. Its illegal because nobody wants the disruption and inconvenience... The same reasons rest behind why Word is the current standard format for electronic business documents. It prevents disruption and inconvenience for everyone to agree upon the best standard available at the time the decision is made.

    "Example No. 1: You sent the attachment in Microsoft Word format, a secret proprietary format, so I cannot read it. If you send me the plain text, HTML, or PDF, then I could read it."

    If you say this to anyone in a business environment, two things will happen. They'll think youre friggin crackpot, and they'll be less inclined to conduct any further business with you. Get serious..The way to get to your goal, Richard, is not to retroactively repeal the existing standard in favor of ye olden days of document exchange. Develop a BETTER standard than Word, make it available to all so that they'de be crazy not to implement it, and in so doing force Microsoft to conform to it. After all, they had to do so with HTML, did they not? And JPEG? And GIF? And DivX, and MPEG, and Java...the list goes on and on.. None of these formats were created by Microsoft, yet, Microsoft was forced into adopting support for them simply due to their popularity and pervasiveness. BMP didn't win out over JPEG. PCX didn't win out over GIF. Get the picture? The best way to get where you wanna go is to put one foot infront of the other and enjoy the slow march of progress and adaptation, not to turn around and do backwards somersaults of disruption till you get there.

    This argument was terribly misguided. It identifies a problem that doesn't exist, and suggests and equally pointless and disruptive method of fixing it. I didn't buy a CueCat then, and I'm sure as hell not gonna buy a CueCat now.

    Cheers,
    • The government also requires us to ride on/in motor vehicles when we use the highways, regardless of the fact your bike will get you from Point A to Point B.
      Expecting one to use Microsoft Word files in email is more akin to expecting one to drive a specific brand of motor vehicle, and guess what the government doest do that. You think its acceptable for certain government agencies to require communications in MSWord format? Would you therefore think it would be okay for the DOT to require you to buy a Ford next time you want to use their highways?
  • by cworley (96911) on Friday January 11, 2002 @04:03PM (#2825282)
    At the end of the article, Stallman's #3 reply says:

    "Microsoft can (and did recently in Kenya and Brazil) have local police enforce laws that prohibit students from studying the code, prohibit entrepreneurs starting new companies, and prohibit professionals offering their services."

    I've not seen this in the news.

    Can anybody provide a link to specifics concerning what MS did in Kenya and Brazil to stop acedemic study of their .doc format?

    ----
  • True Story (Score:4, Funny)

    by Global-Lightning (166494) on Friday January 11, 2002 @06:17PM (#2826201)
    I once received a email with an attachment.
    The attachment was a ZIP file;
    The ZIP file contained a powerpoint presentation;
    The presentation had a single slide;
    The only thing on the slide was a BMP picture;
    The picture consisted of a scanned image
    Of...
    a printed email message!
  • by Kris_J (10111) on Friday January 11, 2002 @07:07PM (#2826472) Journal
    I don't like using Word as the format to share documents because;
    • I like to use a font called Book Antiqua that hasn't been installed by default with Office since version 95.
    • Printer information, including print margins, paper size, tray number, all screw things up just enough to risk major visual changes (or annoying problems like the document printing from the letterhead tray) at the other end. It's quite easy for an increase in printable area (or a change in font, see above) to result in two free-floating boxes printing on top of each other on the first page, rather than one on the first page and one on the second.
    • Word attachments can contain viruses. I'm always aware of this whenever I'm forced to send one, even though I keep my anti virus software up to date on a daily basis. I'm particularly careful when I receive one, typically only opening it in "Wordpad".
    Meanwhile, my main email address runs through Spamcop which I have setup to strip any and all attachments (there's a warning in my email .sig). Quite frankly I don't need a 300+k Word attachment with embedded graphics to tell me 500bytes worth of "We have received your CV and won't ever bother getting back to you". If anyone sends an unsolicited attachment that could have been important, I ask for a plain-text copy as the body of an email message (I also kill HTML with Spamcop, which has returned the joy to reading emails).

    I typically send out my CV as an Acrobat file. About 20% of the time I'm asked for a Word version. That's fine, I've got Word 97 installed and it's what I actually used to write the CV in the first place. I downgraded from 2000 recently and I'm much happier.

  • by Kris_J (10111) on Friday January 11, 2002 @07:16PM (#2826523) Journal
    I received a "receipt" email telling me that Company X had received my CV. It was in the form of a Word document with embedded graphics (letterhead/logo). It was over 300k encoded. I informed them that at A$0.17/MB (typical traffic costs after your monthly free limit is exceeded) it would have cost the company I used to work at 5 cents to receive and that it probably cost them something like that to send. Since I know that many IT/tech jobs advertised on local job sites attract several hundred applications, often within hours, I told them that the practice of sending Word attachments probably meant that each year one person at the company didn't get their PC upgraded (Nominal $A1,000-$A3,000 cost). It got their attention, but their HTML solution was so crappy that I think they're still sending Word attachments.

    What do clueless managers have against plain text?

  • My version (Score:3, Informative)

    by one-egg (67570) <geoff@cs.hmc.edu> on Saturday January 12, 2002 @12:08AM (#2827532) Homepage
    Here's the message I use, which is a combination of RMS's second version (without the polemics) and the version I was using until now. First, though, here's my procmail recipe. I have it inside a group that causes it to reply only to messages sent to college-wide mailing lists, which are the worst offenders in my case. The file "wordattach" contains the message; the file "wordok" is a list of people who are allowed to send me word attachments without complaint (such as a colleague who likes to write papers in Word). The message still comes to me in any case, but I'm saved composing a complaint. Any particular sender gets only one complaint (almost).

    Many modifications are possible, of course. (P.S. The indentation is nicer in my file, but the lameness filter won't allow it. Sorry.)

    # Autoreply to anything that has an MS-Word attachment
    :0
    * ^Content-Type:
    {
    :0 c
    * ? $FORMAIL -x From | fgrep -i -f $MAILDIR/wordok
    {
    }

    :0 E
    {
    :0 c
    * HB ?? ^Content-Type: application/msword
    | ($FORMAIL -rt -A"X-Loop: ${NOLOOP}" -A"Precedence: junk" ; \
    cat $MAILDIR/wordattach; \
    echo --; cat $HOME/.signature \
    ) | $SENDMAIL -oi -t

    # Mark that the message has gotten an auto-response
    :0 f
    | ${FORMAIL} -A"X-Autoresponse: MS-Word attachment"
    }
    }

    Now, my message:

    This message was automatically generated by my mail filter.

    You have sent a message containing an MS-Word attachment. You may be unaware that Word attachments are not readable by all of your recipients. In addition, Word-formatted mail attachments are often vehicles for viruses, worms, and other malicious software (see http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/venc/data/acro.ht ml [symantec.com]. Word attachments may also contain information that you may not have intended to send (see http://www.microsystems.com/Shares_Well.htm [microsystems.com]).

    I have found that most documents sent in Word format could have been sent as plain text without losing any of their contents or meaning. If that is the case, please re-send your document in plain text.

    One way to send a Word document in plain text is to select all of the text in the document (Edit->Select All), copy it to the clipboard (Edit->Copy) and then paste it into your e-mail message (Edit->Paste).

    An alternative is to save the file as text: open the document, choose File->Save as, and in the "Save As Type" strip box at the bottom of the dialog, choose "Plain text" or "Plain text with line breaks." Then click "Save". You can then attach the new text document in a safe format that is readable by everyone.

    If your formatting is important, you can chose "HTML Document or Web Page" instead of "Plain text" (but again, you will find that some of your recipients have difficulty reading your message).

"A mind is a terrible thing to have leaking out your ears." -- The League of Sadistic Telepaths

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