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GNU is Not Unix

RMS: Putting an End to Word Attachments 1022

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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  • 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.
  • To reply to Hemos (Score:1, Informative)

    by Limburgher ( 523006 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:15PM (#2823913) Homepage Journal
    I use Abiword to save to Word format all the time, and have never had a problem. Since Version 0.95 came out, that is. Also has lots of other niphty features. My wife and my godmother both stick to Word like postage stamps, but I use of AbiWord has never hampered my communicating with them.
  • by SoftwareJuggler ( 184815 ) <jim AT lesterfamily DOT org> on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:21PM (#2823971) Homepage
    At the risk of being accused of being a company shill...

    Adobe has a little advertised web service [] 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.

  • by cvd6262 ( 180823 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:22PM (#2823979)
    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 Ranger Rick ( 197 ) <<slashdot> <at> <>> on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:23PM (#2823989) Homepage

    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...

  • by LeftHanded ( 160472 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:23PM (#2823990) Homepage Journal
    The letters in the article asked for alternative formats, which can be created with MS-Word: text, HTML [], and PDF []. The third can be created within MS-Word if you have Adobe's Acrobat [] software. (not just the reader; the distiller).
  • Re:PDF? (Score:4, Informative)

    by BacOs ( 33082 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:24PM (#2824002) Homepage
    No - there're several specification documents freely available from Adobe: []

    Scroll down to the File Format Specification section.
  • 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.
  • International? (Score:3, Informative)

    by jfedor ( 27894 ) <> 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.)

  • 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.
  • by crath ( 80215 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:38PM (#2824135) Homepage
    Richard's wrath is misdirected: if the MS Email clients emitted proper RFC compliant MIME email---where each message had a plain text part and a rich text (i.e., MS Word) part---then there wouldn't be the same issue. MS's very poor record complying to RFCs and other industry standards is the real problem, not the use of MS Word.

    None of MS's email clients emit RFC compliant email. MS Outlook combined with an MS Exchange server running in Enterprise Mode can be coerced into sending almost compliant email messages, but it is tough to do and the messages are still problematic enough that some email systems cannot deal with the resultant messages (e.g., Exchange to Notes email is very troublesome).
  • 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...
  • Re:We first need ... (Score:2, Informative)

    by bockman ( 104837 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:07PM (#2824359)
    For personal use, (mostly) yes.

    For business, definively not. My company generates docs of hundreds of pages. It would takes days to reformat one of them (I had to, a couple of times :-( ).
    And it is not only the good-looking. For large docs, things like cross-reference and automatic indexes are a god blessing.

  • by MeerCat ( 5914 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:13PM (#2824410) Homepage
    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 [] 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.

  • 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:


    my $fn=shift;
    my $or=$fn;
    $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 Carik ( 205890 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:23PM (#2824493)
    "Most computers come with Microsoft Windows pre-installed. Getting the MS Office suite isn't that difficult (either legally or illegally).

    The only reason you would NOT use MS Office is ideology. "

    True. And by my ideology, stealing is wrong. Since I can't afford to buy a copy of MS Office (and really wouldn't wish to spend that much money simply to read email attachments, even if I could), I don't have MS Office. There's also the little fact that I run linux on my home system, and Office isn't known for it's compatibility with linux. And no, I don't run linux for political or ideological reasons; I run linux because I believe it's a better system. My computer doesn't crash, I don't have to upgrade my system every time a new version is released, and I have massive amounts of free (as in beer) software to play with. The fact that I agree with much of the ideology is a bonus, but wasn't enough to get me over to linux until I found that it suited my needs much better than Windows did.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:38PM (#2824615)
    I just opened up Word '97 and typed two letters ("Hi") into a new document and saved the file. This file is 19,456 bytes. What was a simple email has now become large and complex. Not good.
  • Gui for TeX (Score:3, Informative)

    by Eric Green ( 627 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:08PM (#2824808) Homepage
    See LyX [] or kLyX, that will fill many of your needs. I usually start files as LyX files then, when they get too big to easily handle in a WYSWIG editor, export to LaTeX and break the document up into multiple files and continue on in "raw" LaTeX from that point (it is quite easy to cut and paste out of an existing LaTeX doc, somewhat troublesome to create a LaTeX doc from scratch w/o a template).
  • 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 simm_s ( 11519 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:24PM (#2824934) Homepage
    If someone wants a resume in word format, just send it to them in html format. They will most likely be too ignorant to know the difference.

    Now it could be a problem, when they send you stuff back in word format.
  • Re:Same with my car (Score:3, Informative)

    by DebtAngel ( 83256 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:29PM (#2824984) Homepage
    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 Jeremi ( 14640 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:33PM (#2825025) Homepage
    The reason we're often dependent on the name to determine the type of a file is that so far, it seems to be the only thing that really makes sense.

    BeOS has an excellent method that makes much more sense:

    1. On filesystems that support file attributes (e.g. BFS), each file is given a string attribute containing the appropriate MIME type. (If a file doesn't have a MIME type, perhaps because it has just been copied in from a foreign file system, a MIME type is generated for it on demand)
    2. On filesystems that don't support file attributes (e.g. FAT), the MIME type is always generated on the fly

    Doing it this way is much better, since the user can then name their files any way they like without worrying about confusing the OS. Since other OS's are now beginning to support file attributes, perhaps the time has come for them to start using this technique as well.

  • by jerw134 ( 409531 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @05:55PM (#2826059)
    Actually, Works does not include Word. It has an editor that supports many formats, including older word formats, but not the newest. That's why Works is so cheap. And frankly, for most people, it seems to have more than enough power and features.

    Works has included the most recent version of Word for a while now. I bought a computer a year ago and it came with Works preloaded, and Word 2000 was right there with it. I don't know how long it has been a part of it, but it IS a part of it now.
  • Re:RMS is incorrect (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2002 @07:54PM (#2826762)
    The differences between 97 and 2000 are especially small...

    My co-worker had a laptop with Word 2000 and a desktop PC with Word 97. Working on the same documents on both computers every day really messed up the documents in a few months. The documents were so long that this was not noticed for a few weeks. We quit using Word 2000 immediately! We simply cannot take such risks with our work.
  • My version (Score:3, Informative)

    by one-egg ( 67570 ) <> 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
    * ^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 ml []. Word attachments may also contain information that you may not have intended to send (see []).

    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).

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard