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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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  • 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 s20451 ( 410424 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:06PM (#2823847) Journal
    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 FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:09PM (#2823867) Homepage Journal
    What does RMS have against MS Word? (sarcasm, people)

    Honestly, the people that attach word docs are usually the people that give you a blank stare when you say words like 'linux' and 'unix'. They're the people that work in accounting and marketing that only know how to use Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Exchange.
    If you write a polite reply, asking them (usually putting in instructions) to cut-and-paste the word doc into exchange, and send it in normal text, and an explanation why, they usually comply.

    Honestly, what does RMS expect to accomplish with this editorial?
    The people that read it don't send word attachments anyway.

    Going in and telling people to "Stop sending documents in Word!" Is not giving people the 'choice' on what wordprocessor to use. Isn't he supposed to support the 'choice', or just his idea??
  • 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?
  • 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 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.
  • 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 hyphen_holt ( 415384 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:15PM (#2823917)
    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.
  • Truly amazing (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:15PM (#2823918)
    Perhaps the most impressive of RMS's talents is his ability to find ever new and larger giants (as opposed to windmills) to tilt at. Does he really think that his editorial will do any good? It strikes me as the free software equivalent of saying, "if we would all just be nice to each other, there would be no war and no crime." That's undeniably true, but it just ain't gonna happen.

    Instead of getting on your soapbox about Word files, a much more productive approach would be to support the development and extensive testing of import filters for Word files. I have a lot of experience in this area, and I can tell you without hesitation that correctly importing Word files of arbitrary complexity is a far more difficult task than even most programmers know. The Word format has got to be one of the most Byzantine file formats ever created, especially when you start adding embedded or linked graphics.

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


    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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • by foo fighter ( 151863 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:23PM (#2823994) Homepage
    It's obvious you didn't read the article.

    RMS is suggesting that supporters of free software, when they receive an attachment in Microsoft Word format, request the attachment be sent again in a non-proprietary format such as HTML or ASCII text. He provides three boilerplate replies, mostly polite and one includes instuctions.

    No where in the article does he ask people to stop using Word, nor does his suggestion limit their choice of wordprocessors.

    In his suggested reply text, their is only a passing mention of GNU/Linux in the first and no mentions of Linux/UNIX in the other two.

    Please take your ignorant posts elsewhere.
  • Simple. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by clump ( 60191 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:23PM (#2823995)
    So how exactly is it different for someone to ask you to send them an email as a word document and you asking someone to send you an email as text?

    Its really two situations. Both parties can read text while both parties may not be able to read .DOC files. Think of it as appealing to a lower common denominator, when the 'greater denominator' offers no way for you to join.
  • Re:PDF? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Beetjebrak ( 545819 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:23PM (#2823996) Homepage
    As far as I know pdf isn't secret, but only adobe may change it since they invented pdf. I like PDF a lot because it allow me to send a digital file to just about any print shop to be reproduced on paper and it won't be different from what I see on screen. I work as a graphics designer and have sent hundreds of PDF's off to dozens of printing companies, and never once had a single problem with it. MS Word's DOC format is a sure-fire way to instant hell!
  • 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.

  • by naasking ( 94116 ) <naasking.gmail@com> on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:25PM (#2824016) Homepage
    Oh, you mean besides the fact that EVERYONE can read and write text?

  • by adlam.bor ( 547789 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:26PM (#2824021)
    You know, I understand that RMS is trying to get at the root cause of the problem, but if he spent just a little more time promoting open source applications that can handle the Word docs instead of trashing the Word docs themselves, he'd be doing a lot more good than he'd realize. Face it: Word's "Save" icon saves documents as Word documents. Going from "Save" to "Save As..." and chosing a file type ("what's a file type?!") is a pain in the ass for many people. We should be trying to make life easier for others, not complicating their lives in order to make ours easier, particularly when it's a question of one extra step that needs to be applied on either end. Abiword, KWord, and a bunch of other applications are out there busting their ass trying to handle things like doc importing. Maybe RMS should spend a little more time applauding these groups instead of constantly being a naysayer. Or, he can keep doing as he likes, and realize that he's only serving to marginalize himself more and more...
  • 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 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 mactari ( 220786 ) <rufwork AT gmail DOT com> on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:29PM (#2824057) Homepage
    Another good idea ruined by Stallman's egocentric GNU rantings. Should .doc's be the de facto standard they seemed to be today? Absolutely not, and everyone who uses them should realize the inherent bias .doc's create.

    But to "politely" call those who use .docs ignorant and to use scare tactics about how these files are in some witchy "secret" file format that can contain hidden personal information isn't educating people either. It's playing on the same naivety that made them succumb to using .docs at the outset! Furthermore, Stallman refuses to even use open source software (like the excellent aforementioned AbiWord) to read the file's content, which is hardly the way to begin a dialog.

    Stallman's not worried about secret file formats (which he should drop from those silly email replies about .doc attachments), he's worried about closed standards. This is a good point. But instead of preaching that pdf is the answer (a paradigm shift for Word users), offer good alternatives.

    * Write a vba script for Word that turns .docs into .rtf when .docs are opened and creates new .rtf files, not .docs, when a user creates a new file.
    * Suggest that they use AbiWord, something that can read .docs and save to formats Word users still understand.

    Stallman is, imo, no better than Microsoft in that he has great ideas wrung through a strange, self-serving translator that mangles the original, useful message. In MS's case, it's a profit maximization machine. In Stallman's, it's GNU. Both biases serve to dilute what could have been a well-received and useful technology or lesson, and this Word scare is another one.
  • "a polite reply"? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:32PM (#2824089)
    I love Stallman's " polite reply" suggestions. #1 was blunt; #2 was preachy, and #3 was downright sarcastic/annoying.

    Oh, wait, all three(four?) describe RMS :-)

    Seriously, half the problem is that we've got this guy, who has NO tact or social skills, as one of the most visible "lobbyists"...when asking people to do something aside from their set routine, you MUST be VERY tactful and polite...
  • RMS - Typical. (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:39PM (#2824141)
    Why do you listen to this Communist?

    Some people use word because it supports documents
    that are not typed in US-ASCII. Chinese, Japanese
    you get the point? 300 million Americans do not
    represent the whole of humanity.

    At least Microsoft has made their latest OS's
    totally UNICODE. I would like you to show me
    a UNIX derivative OS that can say the same.

    Yeah, keep looking for things to complain about.

    - Penguin Kicka
  • 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 xonker ( 29382 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:48PM (#2824221) Homepage Journal
    How hard can it be to find a computer with Word installed? Is buying the de facto standard word processor that much to be asked?

    In a word, yes.

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

    Oh, and ideology is such a horrible thing. Ideology is what prompted colonists to buck taxation without representation too. I guess you think that's horrible as well.

    Pragmatism is not such a wonderful thing. You can thank pragmatism for corporations who would rather pay MS license fees than save jobs.

    Then I got a job and learnt that tolerance instead of shitty elitism is the way to go. Too bad RMS never learnt that.

    Asking people to send plain-text or HTML is not "shitty elitism" -- it's asking people to recognize that they are non-proprietary formats that anyone can view on any platform. How is that bad? Maybe you don't like RMS' phrasing, which is understandable because he tends to devolve into hippy-ish terminology, but the ideas are valid.

    Asking people not to send MS attachments, politely, is not fanaticism. It's an attempt to change people's minds. You don't like it? Fine, but don't call it fanaticism, because it's not. It's simply a viewpoint that's different than yours. He has a right to express it. If you think differently, (that he shouldn't express it, not that you don't agree) perhaps RMS isn't the fanatic here.

    You didn't learn tolerance, you conformed. There's a difference. Tolerance would be understanding that the world is not fully comprised of Microsoft Word users, and that there are people who do not want to be forced to use Word to correspond with the people who choose to -- or who simply don't think about it at all.
  • by 2Bits ( 167227 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:49PM (#2824232)
    Obviously, you haven't worked in a company where engineers only have Unix machines to develop softwares (obvious), and the marketroids all Windows laptops. And under disguise that marketing/sales and engineering should have more communication, you receive all kinds of emails, all in .doc attachment. And 99% of the time, the contents of the mail is a 5-line text.

    When you send them polite reply that they should send normal email in text format, attach only pre-written documents if there's no way to convert into another format that engineers can read. The next thing you know, you get a review of having a bad attitude and you don't want to cooperate. And you know where that comments come from, right?

    It's a royal pain in the butt when you have one Windows machine shared between 20 engineers all working on Unix.

  • by ruvreve ( 216004 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:50PM (#2824234) Journal
    People need Word for the majority of text documents like they need Internet Explorer for most of their web browsing. Most computers that consumers purchase come with Microsoft Word and Internet Explorer already installed. Now if this is the first time you used a computer what would you use? You would use what is already there because you don't know any better. Now when you come back to your computer the second time what are you going to use? Your going to use Microsoft Word and/or Internet Explorer because thats what you already know how to use. This battle has already been lost. Why would any new or current Microsoft Word user change products when everybody around them is using Microsoft word?
  • by zerocool^ ( 112121 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:52PM (#2824253) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • Staroffice 6.0 (Score:2, Insightful)

    by almightynayr ( 529054 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:53PM (#2824256) Homepage
    A couple months ago someone gave a presentation at the local LUG (www.aclug.org) on staroffice.. The guy who gave the presentation claimed that He has been using Staroffice for many months in a large M$ Office oriented employer.. After months of composing and sharing documents made in staroffice with microsoft office and vice versa he never encountered a compability problem. In fact, no one has noticed that he has NOT been using Microsoft Office. After the meeting I installed staroffice on my teen sisters debian box I made for her.. She has been tickled pink over the fact that she can now work on power-point presentations and word documents at both home and school.. As for my self I do have staroffice 6 installed but I rarely use it for my line of work, but it seems to have way better compability (did i mention Office XP compatible?) than any other office software I have used for linux..
  • 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".

  • by xonker ( 29382 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:57PM (#2824283) Homepage Journal
    His point was that, because Word is a proprietary program, it's [sic] users can't modify it for their own uses.

    I think he was trying to make two points. This is one of them, the other is that sending Word attachments complicates life for people who don't use Word -- and unintentionally or intentionally continues the idea that Word is the de facto standard so everyone should just go ahead and buy Windows and Office and conform already.

    If you're happy using proprietary MS products, cool. That's okay, I don't agree with it, but whatever. Just don't force your choice on my by choosing to send a proprietary bloated attachment instead of a nice neat plain-text message that I could read in my mail client.

    It's one thing if you're sending a QuarkXPress attachment to a printer so they can do a job for you. That justifies a proprietary format, rather than sending plain-text. But many PR people and business folks just write something in Word and attach it, when it's a press release or something that could be plain-text with no loss in information.

    It's not just a viewing thing either, RMS travels a lot and probably collects email via modem. It's annoying to spend an hour downloading your email because two jerks decided to send Word attachments rather than a simple email. I've been there, done that, hated it.

    I'm a writer for several tech pubs, and I refuse to open Word attachments sent by PR flacks. Send it in plain text, or forget about being covered. I'd do the same thing even if I used Windows. Why? Because sending attachments that can carry viruses is also rude.

    There are a lot of good reasons NOT to send Word attachments, and no good reasons to send them.

    I only wish someone else other than RMS had spoken up about this. People automatically dismiss RMS because they percieve him as being too rigid, which he is, but he has good points as well.
  • by igrek ( 127205 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:59PM (#2824294)
    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 Catiline ( 186878 ) <akrumbach@gmail.com> on Friday January 11, 2002 @01:59PM (#2824298) Homepage Journal
    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).
  • by ChaoticCoyote ( 195677 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:00PM (#2824304) Homepage

    ...if you have the means to exploit that freedom.

    RMS sometimes lives in a fantasy world, as evidenced by this quote from the article:

    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.

    I hate to break it to you, Robert, but the vast majority of computer users couldn't program their way out of an "if" statement. And they don't want to program. You and I may have a grand time exploring code and writing software; most people just want to sit down, write a note to Aunt Emma, read the joke their kid sent them from college, or check the latest football score. They want to play Quake, not write it.

    The freedom to examine a program's source code is meaningless to 99% of computer users. They'd rather spend a hundred (or two) bucks on an upgrade than learn C...

    Now, as for getting rid of Word attachments, I totally agree. I also despise HTML e-mail. I'd love for them to go away -- but even some programmers I know can't send an e-mail unless it contains a dozen fonts and background images. And don't forget its easy to be on a religious crusade when you don't live in the real world. You may be able to tell people to stop sending Word attachments; I say such a thing to a potential client, and I guarantee they'll hire someone else.

    I note that O'Reilly, supposed scion of Open Source, uses Word for all of its book publishing. I spent more time fiddling with their damned Word templates than I did writing a book (not yet printed)... but was I going to refuse a book contract because they kept mailing Word docs around? I think not...

  • by gpinzone ( 531794 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:01PM (#2824320) Homepage Journal
    Unicode? Not every e-mail program (or even text editor for that matter) can handle Unicode. It's a two-byte format that is NOT ASCII compatible.
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:03PM (#2824333) Homepage
    But it's true that the vast majority of Word's users wouldn't modify it even if they could. Hell, back when I used StarOffice on a regular basis I never changed any of the code, mostly because I didn't have the time to sort through thousands of lines of code to tweak one variable.

    It's about having the freedom to do this, not necessarily using it.

    To take an analogy from another post, I wouldn't buy a car with the hood locked so only the dealer could open it. But let me be frank -- there is really nothing productive I could do by opening the hood, except check the oil. I'm useless with cars. But being -able- to is good. Plus, I know that if I had a friend who did know cars, they could modify it.

    Similarly, I am very glad that I have rights under the Freedom of Information Act, even though I've never used them and may never feel the need to.

    Just because you, personally may never hack a line of code in an app doesn't mean that you don't benefit from having the right to. Remember, you have the right to and so does everyone else, and "everyone else" includes a lot of programmers.
  • by RatFink100 ( 189508 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:05PM (#2824345)
    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 daviskw ( 32827 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:06PM (#2824352)
    Once again, RMS has turned something mundaine, such as reading your email, into a political statement. For 99.9999% of all people who use the computer the whole point of using the computer is so that they can do their job better. They don't make the decision about which software packages to buy. They don't make the decision about what format to use to save file. They don't know the difference between RTF and DOC formats. They couldn't read HTML if it reached out and bit them in the butt.

    All they want to do is read their email and use their documents. If they have to forward it on to someone else then they just want to take the document and drop it in a letter and send it on. They don't want to have to deal with the complete and total hassle of opening the document and saving it off as some sort of Stallman approved attachment and then dropping that into an email attachment.

    The whole point behind the computer age is that these machines are supposed to make our lives easier. I for one could care less who owns the format for Microsoft .DOC documents and, believe it or not, I'm not concerned about my older documents becoming unreadable. What Stallman forgets is that the format is as much a straight jacket for Microsoft as for anybody else. Sure you may or may not be able to read a ten year old document but I would bet that twenty years from now I will still be able to read documents I write this year. It's entirely possible that this will be true a hundred or even a thousand years from now.

    The other possibility is that Microsoft obsoletes documents written more than seven or some years ago. This is, of course, nutty because Microsoft's customers would sue them into the poor house, or worse, just stop buying upgrades.

    Think I'm wrong, take a look at how long it took for them to get ride of the 8086 stuff, and that was an idea everybody agreed on.

    I understand Stallman's political point but what he is doing is guaranteeing that he never sees another email from someone who uses Word. His proposed solution is little more than taking a tiny sharp stick and digging it around in an open wound. Or worse, its just another rock in the shoe of life.

    Want to make a political statement? Then ask why .NET adds a whole bunch of new key words to C++. You could also refuse to use a compiler built and sold by Microsoft. Write code that only works on Linux. Work on things that make computing better, not just more difficult.
  • by simetra ( 155655 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:09PM (#2824372) Homepage Journal
    Get real.

    If you email someone saying not to send Word documents (and I know this from experience), they are baffled. They don't know what file formats are. They don't know what ascii text is. They don't even know how to copy-n-paste for Pete's sake!!!

    Asking actual end-users to use a different format, or copy-n-paste text, is like asking a monkey to set the table.

    Plus, you come across as an elitist geek snob. Joe Jackass end-user couldn't care less about proprietary formats, open source, operating systems, etc. Until this elementary fact is well understood, open-source will continue to get the cold shoulder from the 90% of people out there who qualify as "end-users".
  • 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.
  • Low Hurdle (Score:2, Insightful)

    by cthlptlk ( 210435 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:27PM (#2824521)
    Stallman: 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.

    It's a stupid requirement, sure, but would you hire someone who can't (or won't) problem-solve? Apart from the obvious technical solutions, you could go to Kinko's, or ask a friend, or whatever. If this is a showstopper for a job applicant, they're either an idiot or a prima donna.Neither one makes a very good employee.
  • by sheldon ( 2322 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:33PM (#2824571)
    "Oh, and ideology is such a horrible thing. Ideology is what prompted colonists to buck taxation without representation too. I guess you think that's horrible as well. "

    It's always so funny to see people with such simple problems trying to compare them to matters of great import.

    That is the very definition of a fanatic.
  • by danheskett ( 178529 ) <danheskettNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:35PM (#2824587)
    The Open Soruce community should set the good example. Instead, we have a dozen open source word processors that do the same thing as Microsoft - create non-standard unique and incompatible formats.

    Your argument would be better received and more valid if there was a consensus within the rest of the industry. What is actually happening, and what it looks like to the government and the average person is that the losers of the competitive marketplace are complaining that its MS's proprietary format and not their own proprietary format that is dominant. Why should we trade one tyrant for another?

    The best thing that could happen would be for the government to stay-the-hell out of the mess and for concerned people to lobby Lotus, Corel, AbiWord people, StarOffice people, OpenOffice People and KOffice people. Tell them to standardize on a file format.

    When an industry consensus is achieved, and on a file-format that makes sense, I think MS would jump on the boat, or at least, create good filters for it. And thats all we really want - interoperability. The last thing we want is for a government imposed file-format that must be certified or validated or approved.

    And thats why your analogy is bad. Power and electricity distribution is heavily regulated. Power generation plants must be inspected, re-inspected, tested, proven to conform, monitored and regulated. If the government got into regulating this "Public Utility" then they essentially lock the whole world into a single nasty file format - and thats just as bad as MS doing it.
  • by Spankophile ( 78098 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:37PM (#2824605) Homepage
    There are a lot of good reasons NOT to send Word attachments, and no good reasons to send them.

    Hmmm, no good reasons to send Word attachments? How about formatting, tables, graphics, password-protection, spelling/grammar checking, highlighting, correction/collaboration. All supported by the fact that (as RMS admits) most computer users can read Word documents - even if it's a scaled down Wordpad reader.
  • by jarnot ( 192253 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:40PM (#2824633) Homepage
    Hang on a sec. There are two different types of "standards":
    1. Standards composed by standards bodies (e.g. HTML).
    2. Standards which become standards due to their wide acceptance (e.g. PDF).
    MS's DOC format is the latter type of standard. Many many MANY people use this format daily, and it's not going away any time soon.

    As much as I'd rather have the world distribute formatted docs in HTML (or better yet XML + XSL), it's not going to happen. Trying to get people to distribute formatted docs as PDF files (which can be read on almost all graphical interfaces) is also a non-starter, as Acrobat is an add-on, and you can't simply save to PDF format. It's too much work for "normal" computer users to save to PDF (or RTF or even ASCII).

    As much as we all hate to admit it, the problem being addressed in this forum is only a problem to a small percentage of email users. Most email users are running MS Office on Windows 98 or 2000, and they're not having any problems with the attachments.

    We'll just need to bite the bullet and either read the Word docs with Open Source applications like AbiWord, or do as I do, which is to either run Windows (and MS Office) on a second machine or in VMWare.

    Trying to get the vast majority of email users to change their habits because of a few people is most likely a waste of time.

    Then again, how many of us actually do receive Word docs as attachments on a regular basis? Outside of a work environment (where Windows is the standard platform), I'd bet very few.

  • by sammy baby ( 14909 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:44PM (#2824653) Journal
    Why don't we have a standard that says that the "header block" of a file determines its type.

    This question ranks up there with, "Well, if the problem is that it takes a long time to download stuff over the Internet, why doesn't everybody just get DS-3 lines to their house? Duh."

    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. Requiring that an OS read the beginning of a file to determine its type isn't practical: consider the case when you open up a directory full of files, and every one has to be read in order to determine its type. Plus, any files you have that don't conform to your header standard - basically, anything that adheres to any other standard - won't show up correctly. And what do you do when the "file" is actually a block device on a *NIX system?

    Using file extensions to determine the type of a file is a good idea in general, that was made into a requirement on the Windows platform. Maybe MS could have gone about it better, but I'm not going to fault them for the decision.

    Oh, by the way: if you're really intent on escaping that "legacy" of DOS/Windows, just use Linux (or whatever). You can name executable files whatever you want. (although you may fuck up your terminal when you try to read it using "more". Been there, done that.)

  • 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."
  • by Ereth ( 194013 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @02:54PM (#2824716) Homepage
    So, my father, who's computer did not come with Office but came with MS Works, should go out and spend another $400 on Office so he can open one email attachment (yes, he can use a viewer, but in this case he was asked to make corrections to the attachment and send it back).

    Or, he should steal it?

    Isn't politely asking the user to send it in another format, one that they have in common, a better answer?
  • by Da Schmiz ( 300867 ) <slashdot@pryden. n e t> on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:05PM (#2824782) Homepage
    Thank you.

    I use Word attachments every day. I couldn't do my job without them.

    Is Word the best thing since sliced bread? No.

    Is Word worth using? Yes.

    The main thing I use Word for, besides all the fancy formatting stuff which is not even strictly necessary, is collaboration/reviewing. I write professionally, and I need to be able to track changes through several review cycles (editors, client, legal, publication). To my knowledge, no other widely-available word processing solution supports these features, at least not the extent the .doc format does.

    But it's still not enough to make me use MSWord for all my editing (although I keep a copy in my VMware Win98 just in case). I use StarOffice 6 and love it. I really only have two qualms about it:

    1. SO's "notes" aren't quite as useful as MSWord's "comments", since you can't highlight the text you're discussing. But it works well enough.
    2. And then there's this bug [openoffice.org] which thankfully has a fairly simple workaround and looks like it will be fixed in the next version.

    When I first switched to using Linux full-time for work, nobody at the office noticed. (I telecommute, so no one could actually see my desktop.) At the time, I was using Mandrake + KMail + StarOffice 5.2 -- the only one who knew about it was the editor directly above me, and he's cool with Linux. (Even he wouldn't have known if I hadn't told him.)

    What I mean to say is: the Word .doc format has a number of very useful features I couldn't live without. But that doesn't mean I have to use Word. In Evolution, I can open Word attachments in StarOffice seamlessly -- and since StarOffice doesn't quite support VB, I've yet to find a document which could cause damage to my system.

    I do agree, however, that you shouldn't use .doc files when something simpler or lighter (like plain text) would do the job as well. I'm involved with PR, and I've seen embarrassing things happen to clients when someone stupid converts a Word doc to HTML and posts it on their site. One page had internal tracking info in the title which actually referred to a different project which had been used as source material. On the website, this information was paraded across the title bar.

    Tangent: why does Word include a "title" field in the document properties which it never displays to the user? Word's titlebar just shows the filename without path -- for me, a completely useless piece of informaiton, since I often have identically-named but very different files in separate sections of my file tree. StarOffice's title bar (which displays the contents of the "title" field) is much, much better... yet another reason to use .doc, and just not use M$Word.

    Hey, sorry to ramble on like this.... just my two and a half cents.

  • by Sj0 ( 472011 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:05PM (#2824783) Journal
    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.

    I think that's why most linux-users use linux. I recall that the reason I first used it was because Windows 95 sucked really badly(crash, crash, crash. Even when I wasn't moving the mouse, even with a fresh, clean install. Call it hardware problems, but every other OS ran without any problems.)

    Later I found out it was free and the code was available, and I thought "Cool! I legally own this software!", and it was a bonus.

    The person above has apparantly never needed to pay for his software, nor does he have a problem with people being forced to buy redundant copies of software(I use lotus wordpro or Cetus WordPad -- why the hell should I be forced to pay for software I consider inferior, especially when it's so damn expensive?)
  • The usual snobbery (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bugmaster ( 227959 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:07PM (#2824799) Homepage
    So, as far as I can tell, RMS's solution is to reply with the comment that essentially states:
    You are inconveniencing me by sending this Word attachment, and you are stupid to boot. Please read the following highly technical documents that explain in detail why you are a pawn of the Microsoft hegemony
    As far as I can tell, this is how a common, non-technical user will perceive the comment. This will accomplish nothing but an increased resentment of snobby open-source hippies (as the common user perceives us all).

    The problem here is that an average person does not care about making the future better for everybody. They just care about saving time and money. Now, an average linux user does care about making the future better for everyone, but linux users are few and far between. Instead of trying to guilt-trip the user into submission, it might be better to say,

    Sorry, I could not read the Word document you attached. Can you please click "File | Save As" and save it as RTF or HTML ? I apologize for the inconvenience
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:08PM (#2824800)
    Actually, the word you're looking for is "concise" not simplistic.

    No, the word I was looking for to convey the meaning of 'simplistic' was 'simplistic.'
  • Re:PDF? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by TootsMutant ( 522541 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:08PM (#2824806)
    Say what you want about Bill, and I'm sure we all will, but to my knowledge, MS never had some Russian guy thrown into jail just because his employer broke a US law outside of the US. Virus replication is reason enough to stop sending word attachments, but I sure don't see switching to PDF to be any sort of step forward.
  • by xonker ( 29382 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:16PM (#2824857) Homepage Journal

    Elitism is not the same thing as disliking or even hating proprietary software. Please, for the love of whatever God you worship and the good of humanity, buy a fscking dictionary and look words up before you use them. It degrades the language when you don't use it properly.

    (And that is probably a good example of me being an elitist language snob, which doesn't bother me in the least. I have a funny idea that people should be able to master their native language...)

    RMS isn't asking that people use *Free* Software to send email, merely that they don't use proprietary formats. That's not unreasonable. Granted, RMS would probably prefer it if you did, but that's not the discussion here. Discussion works much better if you limit yourself to the actual discussion rather than trying to re-frame the discussion.

    Yes, let's not be software Nazis. Let's all use software that can communicate in open formats so that everyone can use what they want. I agree with that. That doesn't discount Word, either -- it just means that they have to hit "save as" and choose text or HTML. Unfortunately, when someone chooses to send Word docs, they're forcing me to:

    A. Give up my preferred program for reading email and open the attachment in another program. (I also despise HTML and PDF for this, but that's just a general hatred of attachments...)

    B. Adopt a program I don't like and do not wish to pay for.

    C. Not read the attachment.

    Asking people to send a non-proprietary format is not unreasonable.

    Asking that no one dare bring the topic up because it disagrees with your world-view and because you happen to think that everyone should just conform and use YOUR choice is unreasonable.
  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:20PM (#2824898) Homepage
    I have yet to see a single example of RMS forcing anyone to not use proprietary products. He might tell you what he thinks of proprietary software in no uncertain terms, and he will tell you that you shouldn't and why... That's not forcing, that's having an opinion.

    It's funny, because in the article that spawned this discussion, he doesn't once say anything against using Word, just sending documents in Word format to others.
    But sending people documents in Word format (and refusing to cease this practice) is much closer to "forcing" someone else to use Word. It's not literally forcing, but it is applying leverage on them, if they want to read your docs. I can't actually think of anytime RMS has applied any leverage on someone to use free software.
  • by Gummbah ( 72706 ) <a@NOSPam.deruwe.be> on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:24PM (#2824928)
    its just that the "extensions" not supported by Word 97 won't be displayed or might be displayed incorrectly

    So it does kindof compel users to upgrade, wouldn't you say?


  • Three letters (Score:2, Insightful)

    by word munger ( 550251 ) <dsmunger.gmail@com> on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:25PM (#2824940) Homepage Journal
    R T F
  • by Un1v4c ( 226792 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:36PM (#2825052) Homepage

    Dear Mr. Stallman,

    Your overly "closed-minded" and selfish approach to a simple obstacle has confirmed our suspicion that you are an idiot.
    When you come to work on Monday, you will find that your security card has been disabled. Please contact the security team for an escort into the building, they will be expecting you. You will have 30 minutes to clear your personal belongings from the building and un-ass the premises.

    For future reference, the world owes you nothing. If you choose to use a non-industry standard word processor, please expect to put up with, and overcome, such trivial inconveniences.

    >You sent the attachment in Microsoft Word format, a secret proprietary format so it is hard for me to read.
    >If you send me plain text, HTML,
    >or PDF, then I will read it.
  • by sane? ( 179855 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:48PM (#2825163)
    I suggest:
    "Because of all the Word viruses, my firewall doesn't allow MS Word through. Try saving it as RTF and you'll have more luck."

    That way you have a good reason, and you question their sanity for using Word.
    No usual user has heard of Linux, but they are afraid of virii and will do anything you say.
  • by dinivin ( 444905 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @03:54PM (#2825206)
    Hey moderator (the one who marked the above as flamebait): Fuck off!

    Now that was flamebait (or maybe a troll). My original statement, as much as you may disagree with it, was dead on. Just ask anyone who deals with customers.

  • by J'raxis ( 248192 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @04:00PM (#2825257) Homepage
    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 clontzman ( 325677 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @05:31PM (#2825885) Homepage
    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.

    Sure you can. You just have to use VBA rather than hacking the source of the program itself. People have made all kinds of modifications to Word via a robust and well-documented API. I'd argue that's more useful for most people than monkeying around with the source code (which makes the software unsupportable, from a Microsoft point of view -- "Yeah, I've been getting fonky crashes since I tweaked the spell-check algorithm....").

  • LaTeX! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mboedick ( 543717 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @05:58PM (#2826085)

    Use LaTeX!

    • free
    • open standard
    • can be written with any text editor
    • can easily be generated programmatically and it's scriptable (do database query, programmatically generate LaTeX, run through LaTeX, dvips, and get beautiful printed report)
    • plain text fits in with UNIX philosophy, can easily be scripted, hooked up to other powerful tools (make, perl, sed, awk, emacs, etc.)
    • can be truly version controlled with CVS because it's plain text (can do diffs)
    • compresses nicely with gzip to take up minimal space
    • can convert to almost any format you want (HTML, DVI, PS, PDF, etc.)
    • lots of third party packages
    • looks 100 times more professional and slick when printed than Word
  • by zvar ( 158636 ) on Saturday January 12, 2002 @09:42AM (#2828276) Homepage
    I've heard this a few times in this thread.

    What I can't understand is why... Yes for some stuff htm on a server is the way to go, but for most things the company wants you to have a compy 100% of the time. That way if the server goes down one can still read the sexual harrasment policies in the handbook that was e-mailed to everyone.

"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault