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Feature:Alternative View of Microsoft Monopoly 232

Charles Wu has written an essay about the Microsoft Monopoly on office applications, as well as the importance of file formats and the irrelevance of browsers. Click below to read it.
The following was written by Slashdot Reader Charles Wu

Alternative View of the Microsoft Monopoly

As the Microsoft anti-trust trial is set to resume, it is likely that Microsoft will face some form of legal action. The key is that the government has to prove that consumers have been harmed in some way. This is not so clear, and it's even been argued that Microsoft's dominance has even benefited end users by providing a stable marketplace for products to develop without software publishers having to commit needless resources to porting products to multiple platforms. However, these arguments have all focused on the direct economic benefits and losses that consumers have received from this situation. It is not economic losses that the public has suffered, but loss of choice.

Microsoft's domination has limited the axes of competition to one variable, the ability to work with others on the creation of documents. It has not achieved this from a monopoly in operating systems but a monopoly in application file formats. With this understanding, it makes the charges of Microsoft abusing it's monopoly position in the browser market irrelevant. So it's clear what legal action should be taken by the government to create an open market in software. I come to these conclusion from my own personal experiences and that's a good place to start.

As I sit here composing this essay, I am surrounded by three computers and let me explain why. People purchase computers to perform certain using software applications, and I am no different, except that I may be a little more techno savvy than others. I have an Apple Macintosh Powerbook that I prefer to use for doing my writing work because it allows me to concentrate on my writing and not the computer. A fairly common claim about the Macintosh, and I am going to leave that at face value because it is my experience, and for me that's all that matters. I also have a machine that is running the increasingly popular open-source operating system Linux. I use this operating system because it the most stable and affordable operating system that meets my needs as a web publisher and programmer. Lastly, this brings me to my machine running Windows95. I often receive files from others that I have to read, comment and edit. And more times than not, they are Microsoft Office documents. The best way and until recently the only way to read Office97 documents is using Microsoft Office on Windows. Given my choice and convenience, I use other easier, more stable alternatives for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations when I know that I am the only one who will be reading them. Unfortunately, most of the time that is not the case. So I possess what I consider this extra machine, because I have to do something as basic commenting on a memo. This is the sole reason I continue to have in my possession a Windows machine. Finally, the other major task that I do is web surfing, and surprisingly, I find all three platforms acceptable for that task. So I in effect have no choice but to run Office97, and hence Windows95 and to understand why this is, one has to understand the transformation that occurred in the last 10 years in how we create, manipulate and exchange information. Since the creation of movable type and the printing press nearly five centuries ago, we have not fundamentally changed the way that we work with information. Gutenberg triggered a revolution by enabling the mass production and distribution of information. A more recent minor leap occurred with photocopying which enabled mass publication without the necessity of typesetting. Both these technological leaps involved improving the way we work with the underlying medium of information, which is paper, not words. Paper enabled distribution of ideas and its hegemony in every stage of information creation has been unchallenged until now.

The major application of computers is word processing. Word processing is not about efficiency, but about enabling non-specialists the ability to create finished documents. Word processing is more correctly called document processing.

Historically when someone created information in the form of a memo, a play or an accounting log, she would use pen and paper and create in long hand. This paper would then be handed to a secretary who would transform this into a distributable form by typing it out. A secretary was used because she could reliably and quickly do this. Secretaries were in effect specialists in using a typewriter. Not much different from a concert pianist in the precision and flawlessness required. Word processing changed that, because the person running the keyboard no longer had to execute flawlessly. The computer tolerated the introduction of errors by delaying the final output. Word processors made it safe for idea creators to create not only ideas, but documents as well. All without the assistance of secretaries and delivered the final kiss of death to the typing pool. This ability to manipulate the final product is what human interface specialists call direct manipulation. The actual process may not have become more efficient -- I am a slower typist than most, but it enabled it to be more direct. But the target has always the same, a well formatted document on paper.

To further emphasize how important paper was in our conception of documents, the importance of the Graphical User Interface or GUI was not ease of use, but in the fact that the computer screen was true to its eventual appearance on paper. WYSIWYG -- "What You See is What You Get" should have really been called WYSIWYGOP, "What You See is What You Get On Paper." It was this fidelity in desktop publishing that gave the Macintosh its foothold into the prepress business.

Word processors may have initially simplified the creation of documents, but it did not immediately change the method of distribution and the revision of documents. These processes still took place on paper. A typical scenario was you would use the computer to create a manual, print out a draft and make photocopies for distribution. Others would then make comments and edits on these copies and return them to you. At which point you would make these changes on the computer. An especially comedic situation was that someone would type a letter using a word processor, printed it out, send it using a fax machine and once it was received on the other end, retype it into another computer. This situation did not change until the advent of cheap removable media and computer data networks.

The edit and revision process slowly transformed when people started passing floppy disks around, and later through the use of e-mail. In both cases, the actual data file was being exchanged and now editors and reviewers also engaged in direct manipulation. Data networks accelerated this sharing of information and finally intruded into publishing. No longer was it necessary for one to actually print out a document if one didn't want to. Once display technologies improve to match the resolution of paper, paper's hegemony will end except for long term archival purposes.

Paper has been replaced by the computer data file, but more specifically the Microsoft Office document. Word for word processing, Excel for spreadsheets and Powerpoint for presentations. This is the paper of our new age. When computers were used as instruments of creation and publishing, it was less important what program was used as long as the final product was on paper. But today the digital file serves this purpose. It would be ridiculous if you had to buy paper that required you to use a special pen to write on it, but that is exactly what happens today.

How Microsoft became the new paper standard is akin to the random events that lead to VHS becoming the standard for VCRs. One who has gets, gets and gets some more. Microsoft's initial aggressive marketing, bundling and discounting of its Office Suite led to a clear dominant position. This path dependency lead to dominance. Microsoft did in fact earn its riches through old fashion solid marketing, and has benefited from the spoils.

Today in the U.S., you cannot be an effective part of the information economy if you are unable to read a Microsoft Office document. It is for this reason, that when people buy computers for home, they buy what they have at the office. One has to have the ability to manipulate and read the documents they create and receive at work. Steve Jobs realized Apple would not have a chance if it a parity version of Office did not exist for the Macintosh. The importance of this commitment is under appreciated with respect to Apple's resurrection.

To understand how important file formats are, let's take a look at where another file format has emerged and not fallen to Microsoft and why -- the World Wide Web. Earlier I mentioned that I use all three of my computers almost equally well to surf the internet. The reason is that each of these machines has browsers which able to render and display web documents that are in a format known as the Hyper Text Markup Language or HTML. The conventional wisdom is that HTML is inter-operable because it is a public standard. This is only half of the truth. During the great browser war of the early 90s both Netscape and Microsoft tried to co-opt HTML by creating proprietary extensions. This resulted in a lot of web pages which would not display properly because they contained extensions which the competitor's browsers could not interpret correctly. The critical point is that the document was not displayed properly as opposed to not being displayed at all. In most cases, the relevant information is available to the reader. Compare this to the case where one receives a Word97 document by e-mail and does not have Word97; one is simply out of luck.

This information availability is a result of a quirk in the way the HTML language is specified and defined. In HTML, directives to the browsers in how to display a piece of text are sent in instructions contained in angle brackets. For example "" tells the browser to display all text following in bold until an off directive is encountered in the form of . These directives are known as "tags." What is brilliant is that if a browser encounters a tag that it does not understand, it is instructed to ignore that tag and continue to display the text as it has been. So when Netscape introduced a new tag that Microsoft's Internet Explorer did not understand, it did its best to display the remaining HTML. So the page was defective, not inoperable. This also means that HTML is by definition un-cooptable. Anyone can introduce a new tag into their web documents and this will not prevent others from reading the document, only the likelihood of them viewing it properly. HTML is unique in that it is mostly forward compatible as far as relevant data is concerned. The presence of standards is not sufficient to prevent bad behavior from companies, but a standard that cannot lock others out is necessary for a competitive marketplace. HTML can be broken but not crippled. A side point is that HTML was specified in ASCII which is a lowest common denominator encoding format open to all.

So it is clear that there can and will be real competition and choices in browsers, the same cannot be said for applications that can read Office documents. If I have another word processor I cannot generally view a document in the latest Word format. This even applies if I have an older version of Word. To work with the majority I am forced to upgrade or change. To see how critical the file format issue, let's look at some other markets where Microsoft does not dominate. Let's start with the aforementioned browser market which is very healthy relative to the office applications market. It supports two major players and many niche players successfully. Recently Microsoft became the market leader in the browser market, but it does not own the market in the same way it owns the office productivity market. It no more owns the browser market than the Republicans currently own Congress. If you look at the server market which makes up the infrastructure of the internet. For web servers, Linux and Apache are the market leaders, yet Microsoft and Netscape still have thriving businesses in this segment. This is the case because what is exchanged between computers is HTML. It doesn't matter who serves it up. The same applies to the back end database market, most data returned and stored in databases is ASCII and there is little interchange between them. Because of this Oracle, IBM and Microsoft and a school of smaller competitors are fighting it out in this market giving consumers a choice.

Lastly, let's look at the segment where Linux has risen to great popularity, the market niche of programmers and system administrators. These people tend to work independently and do not need to create documents in Microsoft Office and hence have no need to have a Windows machine. Now this is not to say that programmers and systems administrators do not use Windows, there are those who do. But most choose a system for other reasons such as stability, cost or scalability. Document compatibility is not an issue. At a major company I know, most of the programmers prefer using an operating system known as Unix, but they still have two machines at their desks. A Unix machine for doing their primary job, and a Windows machine to read and send documents to people outside of the programming community.

In every other segment, Microsoft does not dominate the market because in every other segment, the medium of interoperability is different. Web servers are a fragmented market, mail servers are a fragmented market, web browsers are a fragmented market and databases are a fragmented market. People have choices to perform these functions using alternatives which emphasizes the features that are important to them be it stability, ease of use, cost of ownership, supportability or whatever. However because the primary task of most computer users is document creation, people purchase Windows to work with others because they must run Office.

If this insight is correct, what can the government do to restore competitiveness to the software market? I believe there is a less draconian step than those being bandied around. The first step requires Microsoft to open up their document formats in sufficient detail such that others can create applications which can read Office documents flawlessly. Second, require Microsoft to publish all changes in these file formats six months in advance of any new release to allow competitors to update their products to read and write these new formats. The terms of this information can either be gratis or a reasonable licensing agreement. Third, Justice should oversee Microsoft's pricing practices, if there is one thing to be learned from what happened to internet browsers is that Microsoft is willing to engage in predatory pricing to drive out competitors. Even with open formats, very few organizations have as much cash on hand as Microsoft and are unlikely to last long in a price war. In an information economy, the medium of exchange is too important to be allowed to be controlled by one company, and until something web centralized is created, most information will be created and exchanged in Microsoft Office. The standard arguments to this proposal are the following. First, HTML is becoming the standard and that the marketplace will take over. This is faulty in that HTML is insufficient to accurately render paper documents, and the new XML standard is more concerned with data representation than with presentation. Others have pointed to Adobe's PDF or Portable Document Format to handle rendering, but it is a publishing format, not a creation format and definitely not an editing format.

Others counter that there exist conversion programs which allow you to use any program you choose. Unfortunately, these are usually reverse engineered solutions that are incomplete. Often the data is manipulated because the end product does not support a certain feature. Additionally the time delay to produce the converter after the introduction of a new format by Microsoft means that most people will not wait and deal with the inconvenience as their vendor upgrades their product. Lastly, there is the argument that Microsoft Office is available on the Macintosh, but the response is so laughably obvious in who provides that. History has also shown that Office for the Macintosh is usually not a parity version, that its release is behind that of the Windows version and generally available only at a higher cost than the Windows version. It also begs the question of conflict of interest for Microsoft to jeopardize its other businesses. A cynical view is that Microsoft's production of Office for Macintosh is more an effort to hold off anti-trust action than a sincere effort to grow a market.

Non-technological arguments include that the government has no right in defining the features and formats that are the basis for competition and innovation. In response, the government has historically imposed guidelines and standards when interchange is involved. This is no different from the government defining what gauge railroad tracks. And today, there is no other dominant form of interchange that is more unregulated than the Microsoft data formats.

This is a less drastic solution than forcing Microsoft to give up its source code or breaking Microsoft into applications and operating systems divisions. The latter does no good anyway, if the premise that interoperability of documents is the most important driver of computer choice. This will only result in two new monopolies at two new levels, especially if the applications division writes Office only for Windows.

So this proposal addresses market concerns, and shifts the market emphasis away from file formats which lock users, to other areas which are more beneficial to users. Computers are rightly disparaged for being too unreliable and too hard to use. Unfortunately, there are products which address these issues, but for most people are not acceptable because they need to be able to work with others at the document level. Hence the choice is either own multiple computers, or accept what Microsoft gives us. Most individuals and companies do not have the financial resources or time to do the former, so the majority accept the latter -- even if it means tolerating that stupid paper clip. The personal computer market has often been compared to the VCR war between VHS and Beta. But the focus of the analogy has been faulty, the correct format comparison is not between Macintosh and DOS/Windows, but in Office applications vs. everyone else. If I go to a consumer electronics store, I have a choice in VCRs which can all play VHS. Unfortunately, I do not have the same choice when "playing" Office documents. We live in an economy driven by the creation and exchange of information, and for any one company to own the format of the dominant format of interchange forces us to accept whatever that one company gives us. Doesn't seem like much choice to me.

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Feature:Alternative View of Microsoft Monopoly

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Very well written essay. I particularly agree with the part about people using office document formats as if they were generic, standardized formats.

    For instance, I was recently asking a couple ISPs in our area for price quotes on co-location. Sure enough, one of them sent me a word document, and I sent it right back. This isn't the first time people have somehow expected me to automatically have windows or MacOS and Office on my computer.

    Personally I never accept email attachments in word format. Whenever I receive a Word document I immediately sent it right back to them and ask that they send it in a standard format, even if I do have access to office where I am at at that time (and of course, they usually end up saying something like "Ok, I saved it as a '.TXT' file, does that work?). I hope buisnesspeople who do this feel embarrassed, and I hope people will eventually get the idea that the world doesn't run on windows or office.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The author's suggested remedies sounded pretty good at first. Then I
    got to thinking. I came to the conclusion that his solutions will
    not have the desired effect: that of freeing the computing industry
    from an unhealthy dominance by one particular manufacturer.

    Let us say, for the sake of the argument, that Microsoft is forced to
    publish the specifications for its office productivity tools in
    advance. What's to prevent them from specifying something be
    embedded in the file format that is Ms-Windows specific, for

    I suggest that it would be unwise to underestimate Microsoft's
    determination to have and hold dominance in the computer industry.
    If you give them even a teeny, tiny hole they will exploit it to the

    History is our teacher.

    All one need do is look at the example of what happened with the
    U.S. Government's requirement that all operating systems be POSIX
    compliant. Oh yes, Microsoft Windows NT is "POSIX compliant" all
    right. Problem is: every last Microsoft application, and most all of
    the third-party applications, run only under the Win32 API rather
    than the POSIX API. But a little loophole in the Federal
    guidelines--no requirement that the POSIX API actually be *used*,
    let MS push their proprietary solutions into Government
    facilities anyway.

    Where Microsoft is concerned, one can *never* be too careful!
  • by Anonymous Coward
  • by Anonymous Coward
    They *are* documented well enough to write a viewer, in MSDN. Maybe not a perfect one, but one good enough to read most files (safely, without nasty macro code).

    I agree people generally shouldn't mail around application specific files unless they have agreement from the recipient, but please, don't spout this bullshit.

    There are numerous 3'rd party converters, viewers for free on the web (admittedly for Wintel platforms only), and all the apps can save in dozens of formats.

    Just because an author is inconsiderate enough to ignore what tools the reader might have (or not have) access to, doesn't mean that the app is crap. Hell, you could just as easily send me a LaTex or postscript file as an attachment that I can't read (on a PC) either.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Man, You guys are really missing the boat on XML. XML is what HTML SHOULD be: a logically defined set of tags that can later be seen by a database, programming language, etc. Essentially, XML **IS** a database. Go look at [] to see the benefits.

    ANd yes, XML is getting a bad name because of Office2000. The point is that the DOJ could make MS use a CERTAIN set of standard DTDs for their documents.... kinda like saying they could only use OPEN standards like HTML, maybe one for spreadsheets (for excel), etc.

    So yes, you CAN embrace and extend XML, just like HTML, but the DOJ could order them NOT to do that.

    But XML is very, very cool.... I just wish I could convey to you in this little space how easy it makes web development. (see also []
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Sure, its "just a way to organize data", but then so is a database, or this web page.

    XML is an open standard which defines the rules and syntax of a set of data (the DTD), and an interchange medium (a well formed document).

    To quote:

    Extensible Markup Language, abbreviated XML, describes a class of data objects called XML documents and partially describes the behavior of computer programs which process them. XML is an application profile or restricted form of SGML, the Standard Generalized Markup Language. By construction, XML documents are conforming SGML documents."
    "XML is primarily intended to meet the requirements of large-scale Web content providers for industry-specific markup, vendor-neutral data exchange, media-independent publishing, one-on-one marketing, workflow management in collaborative authoring environments, and the processing of Web documents by intelligent clients. It is also expected to find use in certain metadata applications. XML is fully internationalized for both European and Asian languages, with all conforming processors required to support the Unicode character set in both its UTF-8 and UTF-16 encodings. The language is designed for the quickest possible client-side processing consistent with its primary purpose as an electronic publishing and data interchange format." [971208 W3C press release]

    The scenario you describe is exactly the kind of situation that XML (and it's parent SGML) were designed to address.

    Try getting a clue first: []

  • by Anonymous Coward
    When Windows 95 was released, there was really only one set of apps which took advantage of the newer OS features. The market share data for Word/Excel/PP vs WordPerfect/1-2-3/Harvard Graphics from before Aug 95 and after are quite telling.

    There was some talk back then that MS hadn't given the full APIs to other companies, but I don't know if that is true (I would believe it, though). I do know that Lotus, etc. didn't have Windows 95 ready versions out soon enough, and MS took advantage of that lapse in releases.

    I think that [competition in the app space bullied by Windows 95] is a better focus for the anti-trust trial than the browser, and I agree that document format is a problem (force people to upgrade to Office97 for compatibiltiy...).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    If Microshaft gets to prevent me from accessing my data unless I use their product, they're keeping me from being able to use my property as I see fit.
    Microsoft is doing no such thing. How could Microsoft possibly prevent you from accessing your data, unless you had already made the decision to use Microsoft products? MS Word does not, after all, go off on its own and find other files on your system and convert them to Word format without your permission. Your data gets into a Microsoft format only because you put it there. And if you possess the software to put it there, you possess the software to get it out, so your data is in no way being held hostage.

    I'm no fan of Microsoft (I run Linux and SunOS at home, and I'm looking into getting NetBSD/Alpha and IRIX systems, just for the heck of it) but to claim that Microsoft is holding your data hostage against your will is ridiculous.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The RTF Microsoft products read and output does not conform to the RTF specification and does not always conform to the RTF that other products read and output.
  • One of the saddest things in the high-tech (particular software) community is that there are very few people apart from Microsofties who understand the power of this concept.

    1. create a proprietary, valuable "core" of your product, file format being an example, an operating system another (whatever that thing called "OS" was, I thought I knew it 10 years ago, but I'm getting off topic)
    2. open up interfaces to it (that nevertheless need to go through your stuff) and tie it into its environment and let others tie it even more. They turned Office into an "application development platform"!! The generally above-average MS developer support is another example, actively recruiting new people to "tie" in the OS with their applications. Or VBA etc.

    And voila, you have a very defensible product, i.e. high barriers to entry for competitors and even higher barriers to exit for existing customers. And BTW, for those of us who are trying to build high-tech companies with high valuations (don't try to talk to a VC if this isn't your highest priority), it is an excellent road to succeed. Which makes it so sad ...

    Where this becomes problematic, of course, is when you have reached the size and macroeconomic importance of Microsoft. And if one talks about breaking this monopoly apart (note that there are very few outcomes, if you use this approach, that do not end in a monopoly of some sort for your product at least in some market segments), one needs to take away a critical mass of the fundaments of this defensible position, which are proprietary core (thus the discussion about opening up file formats) and the lack of competition for the same open interfaces that are being used to "tie in" stuff. APIs are a big part of this but not the only ones. And the interface part that, sadly, sadly, is commonly ignored. No one needs the Windows source code to compete against it, only a guarantee that they aren't being chased to death following monthly API changes. (In fact, if you decided to build a Windows competitor, would you start with the Windows source code? Or would you really want to build a Word competitor from the Word file format if you could avoid it?)

    To finish the soap box: the tie-in is more valuable and anti-competitive than anything else, create competition there first: freeze the APIs, require that they be documented completely (expensive I know) so other people's work does not reinforce the monopoly. And then the file format is (almost) irrelevant ...

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm not sure that XML should be denigrated so much. Combined with XSL or other style sheets, it can do virtually anything with regular documents that you might need. If you really want to get some fancy stylistic flourishes run a desktop publishing programs. However, for most document production, particularly for business, an XML-based processor would probably be best.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Take a look at this clause from the MSDN licensing agreement (which, incidentally, is only available in Word 97 format) available at http://msd ?Doc=License []

    2.1 b. In addition, for the MSDN Library, this EULA grants you, as an individual, a personal, nonexclusive license to make and use an unlimited number of copies of any documentary material ("Documentation"), provided that such copies shall be used only for personal purposes and are not to be republished or distributed (either in hard copy or electronic form) beyond the user's premises and with the following exception: You may use Documentation identified in the MSDN Library as the file format specification for Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, and/or Microsoft PowerPoint ("File Format Documentation") solely in connection with your development of software product(s) that operate in conjunction with Windows or Windows NT that are not general-purpose word-processing, spreadsheet, or database management software products or an integrated work or product suite whose components include one or more general-purpose word-processing, spreadsheet, or database management software products. Note: A product that includes limited word-processing, spreadsheet, or database components along with other components that provide significant and primary value, such as an accounting product with limited spreadsheet capability, is not considered to be a "general-purpose" product.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 25, 1999 @09:52AM (#1833193)
    Software versus Protocol (or file format) Standards

    Every computer company, whether hardware vendor or software vendor, plays the "customer lock-in" game. The object is to foster customer dependence on technology that only one company can deliver, and then take the customers to the proverbial cleaners because the customer has no alternatives.

    Open standards for computer networking protocols, and for file formats, serve to mitigate or prevent customer lock-in, and this is why more open standards are a good thing, rather than a bad thing. Unfortunately, it appears that this seemingly obvious truth is lost on the majority of Information Systems (IS) professionals in the business world.

    Open standards of this type are the central message of the Internet. The Internet Engineering Task Force [] (IETF) requires demonstrated "interoperability", i.e. disparate computers and software successfully communicating, as the primary requirement for any standard specification to be advanced in their process.

    A Scenario

    Imagine this scenario: you're the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of a major corporation. You, in order to promote the efficient flow of information through the company, issue an edict to the effect that Microsoft Word (or WordPerfect, or whatever) shall be the standard software package for producing and exchanging documents throughout the company.

    While this should work fine provided that there is a version of that software for every computer in your enterprise - an iffy proposition these days; there are two unhappy outcomes from this kind of "standard":

    1. It is very difficult for a single software package to fully meet the needs and working styles of every person or group in a medium or large company, aside from the issue of finding a version of that single software for every computer your enterprise owns & operates.

      Some people and departments will be very unhappy with your order, and will likely defy it, by using a different and probably incompatible software package that better fits their department's business needs. This will cause problems when they try to exchange documents.

    2. You've just locked your company's document destiny to this one software vendor, and they can bleed you dry if they so choose. Or, worse, if they go out of business, you're stuck.

    What's worse is that converting from one document format to another is usually difficult because of semantic information loss - different document representations have different assumptions, and it's usually not possible to cleanly translate from one set to another. This is the "lock-in." In strict terms, the software vendor can't charge you more than it could cost you to convert your documents to another format, but who has that particular price at his fingertips at any given moment?

    A Different Scenario

    Now, let's change the scenario a bit: instread of standardizing on a particular word processing software package, you order that all documents shall be in a standard file format, e.g. SGML with a particular DTD.

    In this world, your company makes it clear to all software vendors that this is your chosen corporate document standard and that if they wish your business, their software must implement appropriate interpretation and manipulation of that file format.

    This puts those software vendors into competition with each other for your business; presumably the one who can produce the best results with the most pleasant and efficient user interface will win your dollars.

    This also gives the various different groups inside your company the freedom to pick the software that best suits their working style, so long as it produces the standard document file format. Everybody wins.

    If we take this scenario further - you contact your fellow CIO's in other companies and promote this idea, then even more people and organizations win. Just by doing the right kind of standard.

    How the Internet fits

    This is precisely what the Internet is about: standards for networking protocols, for E-mail & messaging, for file transfer, for remote access, and file formats like HTML. The Universities and Research Institutions that initially designed the Internet had exactly this result in mind: no one vendor in control, all competing on a level playing field for the business, with the best results for the customers.

    Of course, the big companies will fight this kind of initiative because it requires them to compete harder - they can't rest on their laurels. Small companies will welcome this kind of initiative, because it gives them a foot-in-the-door with potentially big accounts, for (relative to their size) lots of money.

    Some vendors will counter with "standards" of their own. Of these, some will be honest attempts to extend an existing public standard in a useful way, and some will be an attempt to stymie the process. The things to watch out for are:

    1. no published specification (or an insufficiently published specification that cannot be independently implemented for lack of particular details).

    2. onerous license or patent restrictions.

    3. No alternative vendors of software for that "standard."

    All of these end in customer lock-in to a proprietary "standard" - a situation which is not to the customer's benefit in the long run.

    Open, public standards for file formats, and computer networking protocols are the right thing for everybody.

    Another essay on this issue can be found at the Best Viewed With Any Browser [] campaign site.

    This article is at html []

  • XML is better than HTML for a word processing format because it is much more flexible and extensible. On the other hand, XML is more a process than a standard. If MS Office writes its documents in XML, and my word processor writes its documents in XML, those documents can be completely incompatible. It should be easier to translate between XML documents than the current mess. On the other hand, I'm sure Microsoft, with their "embrace and extend" philosophy, can come up with an XML DTD so obscure and awkward, with non-standard constructs, that you might as well be looking at a proprietary binary format.
  • by Gleef ( 86 ) on Friday June 25, 1999 @10:24AM (#1833195) Homepage
    A very interesting piece, but there are some points I dispute.

    It is not economic losses that the public has suffered, but loss of choice.

    Later on in the article, Mr. Wu describes how, in addition to the two computers he uses to get his work done, he keeps a third machine with Windows and MS Office installed just because of Microsoft's monopolistic trade practices. I'd say this counts as an economic loss. Another economic loss is all the downtime and lost productivity due to Windows crashes.

    Microsoft's domination has limited the axes of competition to one variable, the ability to work with others on the creation of documents. It has not achieved this from a monopoly in operating systems but a monopoly in application file formats.

    I agree that their dominance in the field of file formats is troubling, but in my experience their OS monopoly can't be discounted either. It's both.

    With this understanding, it makes the charges of Microsoft abusing it's monopoly position in the browser market irrelevant.

    Nobody is accusing Microsoft of having a browser monopoly, much less abusing it. They are accused of using their OS Monopoly to get anti-competitive OEM bundling agreements, and using both of those to unfairly increase their browser's market share (among other things).

    This is the sole reason I continue to have in my possession a Windows machine.

    See! Economic loss.

    The major application of computers is word processing.

    No, the major application of computers is database processing. The major application of desktop computers is word processing.

    To further emphasize how important paper was in our conception of documents, the importance of the Graphical User Interface or GUI was not ease of use, but in the fact that the computer screen
    was true to its eventual appearance on paper. WYSIWYG -- "What You See is What You Get" should have really been called WYSIWYGOP, "What You See is What You Get On Paper." It was this fidelity in desktop publishing that gave the Macintosh its foothold into the prepress business.

    There's a great quote, attributed to Brian Kernighan (of C fame), "The trouble with WYSIWYG is that what you see is all you get".

    Paper has been replaced by the computer data file, but more specifically the Microsoft Office document. ... It would be ridiculous if you had to buy paper that required you to use a special pen to write on it, but that is exactly what happens today.

    Agreed, while some offices have rejected the Office document as a standard, too many have not. As long as a significant portion of the people you deal with use a document format, you've got to have a way of using it.

    The first step [the government should impose] requires Microsoft to open up their document formats in sufficient detail such that others can create applications which can read Office documents flawlessly.

    While I'd love to see such documentation, I disagree that the courts should require it. First off, I think the Justice department should be focusing on addressing Microsoft's direct restraint of trade and other anticompetitive business practices. It's hard to effectively do what you describe from the courts.

    Secondly, it is easy for the government to achieve the same goal, without invoking the judiciary, and with a better (IMHO) result. The President should have his technology advisor draft an executive order specifying that by June, 2000, all electronic documents handled within government offices, and transmitted to and from government offices, must follow an attached standard. Then it should go ahead and specify the general standard (XML or whatever), and the specific formats for government word processing documents, spreadsheet documents, etc. The US Government is such a huge consumer of Microsoft products, MS would be foolish to not support such standards. All of us can then use such standards too, whether as a native file format, or merely a standard interchange format. Assuming the government makes their standard flexible and extensible (easy to do with things like XML) it should work well.

    I think this is a better way to fix the document issue than to order Microsoft to do something that really can't be enforced.
  • M$ can't even keep their own format consistent or compatible between versions of Word, and they have little motivation to do so. Who wants to get stuck with an old version of Word when it can't read the docs your coworkers with the latest Word are sending you? Just another way to force people to pay the upgrade tax.
  • I do this same thing. One thing I have noticed is that people will complain that it's a pain to have to choose a different file format rather than just hitting save. They never seem to notice that they were already in the save dialog in order to give the file a name, or that they waited the time it took for Word to start rather than sending a plain text email (which is sufficient 95% of the time), or in the case of formatted documents that they spent more time choosing fonts than it takes to pick a compatible file format...
  • "MS Word does not, after all, go off on its own and find other files on your system and convert them to Word format without your permission. Your data gets into a Microsoft format only because you put it there."
    Don't speak too soon, AC. Microsoft products go off and seize control of certain file types when installed on Windows (which has only one default for each type). On the Mac, Microsoft products seize control of the file typing apparatus so that all _future_ downloads of said types are assigned to the Microsoft application. Lastly, Microsoft products can be unsafe to 'try out' because they import other data and silently change important things to a proprietary MS way, literally destroying the original data and taking the new data captive. This last behavior is well known to Web designers experimenting with big cgi-laden sites and trying out Frontpage- suddenly it's all .asp and the original scripts are nowhere to be seen, and the whole site has to be basically rebuilt from scratch.
    All it would take is for one of these products to go looking for likely candidates for importing, in much the same way that Windows installers might look for likely unrecognized disk space for formatting.
    You are very naive if you think Microsoft products do not actively try to seize and hold control. The only thing stopping them from exhibiting no limits at all, is public outrage. And the public gets tired and cynical after a while...
  • Posted by astro/geek:

    I was hopeful about this too, but according to the reports at Office 2000's debut, it writes XML which doesn't conform to spec and includes lots of illegal tags which can only be rendered by (surprise!) MS Office 2000 or IE5. I'd call that "Embrace and Stifle."
  • Posted by wccwcc:


    I take your points to be valid, as I wrote this article to target the largest audience and felt necessary to explain things to that some readers might not be familiar with. Those readers are assuredly not slashdot readers. This seemed a better alternative to submitting multiple versions for different audiences.

    I also took a meditative tone of voice to bring the issue of operating system and application choice away from an abstract position, to a more personal perspective. As for footnotes, I find them to be annoying[1], but can agree with your position. Personal choice and preference rears its ugly head again.

    So I took the risk of explaining too much at the risk of offense.

    Charles Wu

    1. and distracting.
  • Posted by EZ E:

    Isn't the whole idea of publishing and producing a document going to need to be overhauled?

    Here's a scenario: We all get so interconnected with the convergence of email, voice, networking, chat, web, and whatever else the global data network can put forth that information flow becomes a stream, rather than a granular flow. Where do documents fit in here? Why do we need a document?
  • Posted by wccwcc:

    In the cases you mention, I would consider those sites as not using HTML, but the languages you describe. HTTP would just be used as a delivery mechanism for those languages. Granted one can come up with degenerate cases where HTML document is unusable (e.g. a doc composed of one image encoded in a new image format), but the gist of my point I believe is still valid.

    Charles Wu
  • I'm in the USAF and work in a computer maintence shop. Fortunatly I don't work on NT systems, but the computers in the actual shop are NT. The sun system just got purged because people didn't know how to use it (2 of us did). Unix is hard for people to use even if you're comp maint (which is hardware maintence fyi) it's still hard to use unix for most people. The Air Force can't justify spending the money on training people to use unix when they can install an almost idiot proof os, and still run their proprietary posix apps on them.
    I'm pretty sure CAMS uses the posix api, which used to be run on dumb terms, CAMS is very important for maintence troops because it catalogs everything that that needs to be done/has been done. Just an example.
    I wish I saw more solaris systems sitting around, but there's nothing I can do about it. It's a sad fact that it's going the way of the dodo, but I have no solotion. At least our vaxen are still running strong.
  • Is it just me, or is the target audience of these features rapidly decreasing in intelligence?

    Is the Slashdot audience the audience that needs the author's interpretation and sugar coating of the history of Microsoft gaining dominance, in order for us to understand the article? Is the Slashdot audience the audience that needs HTML explained?

    Do we represent the people that need small words and short sentences so that we can understand things? I felt like the point in this article was very difficult to get to, because of the assumption that every second word or concept needed to be explained[1].

    I actually got the feeling that, in fact, the author was as unfamiliar with this topic as he took his audience to be. This is a mistake, in my opinion -- but my opinion is that the people that know something the rest of us don't are the ones that share in public forums.

    I find myself turning rapidly into an old curmudgeon, and while I apologize for it, these are still my views.

    1. Footnotes are good for explaining things that some people might need explained, but the majority will not.
  • Charles,

    Thank you for responding.

    In re-reading my post, it was probably more inflammatory than necessary -- so I apologize. I am extremely glad to know that at least some features on Slashdot are written with a specific audience in mind, whether I agree with that choice of audience or not.

    With some of the features I've been seeing lately (and not just Katz's articles and not all of Katz's articles), there seems to be no thought put into target audience, or who that audience is, or...

    My personal recommendation for future articles published in a semi-technical forum such as Slashdot would be to assume more baseline knowledge of the audience (keep in mind also that commentators inside said audience can clarify concepts and terms for audience members on the fringe). If the article was intended for much wider distribution, though, that's another thing :)
  • Godamnnnnnnn!!! ...some people just don't know
    when to stop typing!! -- just state your point
    and shut up! We didn't need the full history
    of desktop publishing and web browser, and that
    whole paragraph describing why you use three
    machines or whatever -- just get to point!
  • I don't agree with the author's proposals to
    open the MS Office file formats -- that
    would only lead to even stronger support
    of MS Office which we don't want -- we want
    MS Office file format to die and go away not
    become even more common.

    Web documents should be the next standard,
    not MS Office.

    Think about all the proprietaray crap embedded
    in each Word and Excel doc -- Windows-specific
    fonts, OLE objects, backslased directory names,
    ActiveX controls, VBA macros, etc, etc -- you
    expect us to adopt all that stuff into other
    platforms just so you won't be incovenienced??!!

    We want Microsoft to keep doing what it's doing
    -- go ahead and make MS Office as incompatible
    as possible and slowly and surely people will
    throw more support into cleaning up web
    document standards and forget about using MS
    Office formats.

    Support web standards, not M$ standards.
  • Everyone should stop whining about MS not making the Office formats available. They have been available for quite some time (not long after Office 97 was released IIRC). To get them (instructions copied from the MSWordView homepage):

    As someone who is currently working on MSWordView as well as the Word importer for Abiword, I can tell you that the Word file format is a sick joke, and that documentation you reference contains about 80% of what you need to do it, and only 60% of it is actually right. And then, that insane mess of unnecessarily complex data is wrapped inside an OLE2 structured storage object (ie. another poorly documented proprietary creation of Microsoft).

    Please, download those docs, and skim through the 500K of documentation. By the end, you will agree the Word file format was created by either a) a company intending for no one else to ever successfully write a perfect Word importer, or b) by sadistic programmers obviously under the heavy influence of one or more narcotics.

    And as for their supposed conversion to XML, I'll bet anyone a $1000 that it's non-compliant XML wrapped around arcane, poorly documented (if at all) binary data.

    What's most amusing, however, is that you defend Microsoft on this. The documentation on MSDN is a joke. If you want to make use of it, expect lots of reverse engineering, too (as work on WINE will clearly demonstrate). They put that stuff there so suckers like you would think Microsoft is playing nice. They're not. They are bad for this industry. And anyone who tries to tell you the effect of their "standardization" has been good is buying into the MS PR BS, too. Interoperability is easy and reduces costs by increasing competition, and it would be considerably easier if not for Microsoft's anticompetitive, predatory practices. My solution to this antitrust trial? The DOJ shold call up the DOD and have Redmond wiped off the of the planet.
  • Even if Micorosoft is using XML, they can add all sorts of proprietary tags to it can't they? As I understand it, XML lets you define your own standard, but if everyone doesn't go by it, then it's worthless. It should be easier to make other products that can read those files, but it wouldn't mean it was a good format? Am I missing something here? I think I need to read a bit more about XML.

  • As I roll through the comments it is so obvious which are "astroturf" because the structure of the comment is quite distinct.

    I'm sure a talented person could make a filter for this :o).


  • What faulty logic! What is a layout but data? This goes here, that goes there, these things go together, etc. Of course XML will become the standard interchange format for text documents, and spreadsheets, too. Microsoft will have to support it because there are enough people out there not using MS products to make it an important feature

    Of course, this will take years. MS will draw out the process of settling on a common format as long as possible. In the meantime, there are interchange languages. I use them all the time. It is a little inconvenient, mostly because people expect you to have MS Word, but after returning their mail enough and telling them to save it in RTF, they get the point.

    HTML itself will become more and more important as companies use intranet webservers to publish internal data. People will realize that saving a document in HTML means it can go up on the web and be viewed by anyone who needs to view it. The web will become the prevalent means of distributed authoring, with things like DAV leading the way.

    Still, I think it would be a good idea to force MS to open up it's file formats. It would hurt them worse than almost anything else. Unfortunately, it is far outside the scope of the current trial, and therefore unlikely to be considered.

  • The is not merely an open standard; it is a well designed open standard. The file formats of MS Office were designed by Microsoft to be difficult to reverse engineer and to be as closely tied as possible to the Microsoft platform. This does not translate to a good standard. If a standard is to be decided for Word Processing it should be human readable, easily understandable, cross platform, and leave room for upgrades with bidirectional compatibility

    The Office formats have no concept of expandability and are neither forward nor backward compatible because Microsoft always intends to replace the format with something incompatible in the next release to force users to upgrade. The Office file formats have no concept of interoperability because Microsoft's primary concern is forcing people to use Microsoft Office on Microsoft Windows. The Office file formats are not easy to implement or understand because part of their purpose is to delay competitors from reverse engineering them.

    Your point also falls flat because the cost of completely replacing Office on every machine is realized everytime a new version of Office comes out. No one is still using an old version of Office.

    Imagine you have currently have a network with 100 systems running Microsoft Office 2.0 on Windows 3.1 for Workgroups over 386SX machines and you now need to hire a new employee. You cannot buy a copy of MS Office 2.0 because they are no longer available and you can't upgrade just one computer because it won't be compatible with the others. You are therefore forced to replace all 100 systems with Pentiums running the latest Office on Win98 or WinNT4. You don't need any new features of the new systems and in fact now have to change all existing documents to the new format, but Microsoft's upgrade methods force you to do it. Very Good for Microsoft; Very Bad for you. If you buy a system from a company with this sort of history you should anticipate the expense of redoing all your documentation later when Microsoft chooses obsolete the format and force you to upgrade.

  • Indeed, I just this February 1999 upgraded from Word 1.1 and Excel 3.0 to Word 6.0 and Excel 5.0
    also having upgraded from Win 3.10a and a 386 to Win98 and a P-133. However I still cannot read lots of documents people send me because I am still not "current" with everything. This is the upgrade cycle that is much more of a problem than the OS part. Upgrading the office suite forces the OS to be upgraded, not the other way around, and I am forced to upgrade the office suite when the rest of the world upgrades and sends me documents with newer versions of software than I currently own.

    Hal Duston
  • When you say "or better", you mean it works with Mozilla, right? :)


  • >If anything, the document compatibility problem
    > is worse, because you have perfectly reasonable
    > unix solutions (I used framemaker at one
    > company), trying to mesh with the windows
    > machines that management is using.
    What makes the (propritary) framemaker format any more reasonable thatn the (proprietary) MSWord format?

    Microsoft isn't different becuase they use proprietary formats, their only different becuase they've been more successful than others! Why do people want to penalize them for this?

  • This article (and a good % of the comments) are really indicative of the typical "Linux is perfect/Microsoft is Evil" bias. And let's face it...this bias seems to be getting worse daily...

    A couple of points against the article:

    1) MSOffice Document specifications are ALREADY open. Anyone who wants to can implement an viewer/editor and many already have. I can think of at least half a dozen non-microsoft products that can at least Read .doc files.

    2) The author fails to acknowledge that MANY other (non-Microsoft) products use proprietary formats. He doesn't seem to have a problem with them...why is that? Probobly becuase they aren't as succesful/defact standard formats. If this is the case than we must concluse that the author only has a problem with successful file formats....this semes rather rediculous doesn't it?

    3) The author proposes no alternate document format. Let's face it. Comming up with a format to save all the information in a modern Word Processing document (which might even included embedded graphics, or other documents) is a HARD thing to do. Microsoft came up with one that works pretty well (for the millions of people who use it everyday anyways). If there was a public open solution to this problem, Microsoft might have used it, but since no such solution was avaliable, what choice did they have?

    4) As soon as a possibly viable alternate solution arrived (XML), Microsoft began releasing a product the conformed to this spec. True, their are problems now but most of them are due to the fact that XML is VERY new, and there are almost no (possible 0?) products that implement it fully.

    I really wish the Slashdot audience would be a little more open/thoughtful before the MicrosoftBashing that is common practice around here.

  • I don't agree with the author's proposals to open the MS Office file formats -- that would only lead to even stronger support of MS Office which we don't want -- we want MS Office file format to die and go away not become even more common.

    that's crazy! why would it matter if you use the program of your choice to manipulate it. the money goes to your favorite software company not microsoft! that's assuming software is still going to be sold. even in the service model opening up document specs is a good idea.

    "The lie, Mr. Mulder, is most convincingly hidden between two truths."

  • i fully agree with "Plain Vanilla ASCII" as only text format which guarantee portability and interoperability in almost 99% of cases including future and far future.
  • Yes, word processors can create incompatible XML in the sense that they won't necessarily be able to understand each others tags, or display them in an identical fashion.

    The real advantage of XML and, SGML as well, is in large scale document publishing. The advantage of XML is that it decouples content creation from formatting. Think about how mch time is wasted deciding whether something should be bold or bold-italics etc... Especially since the formatting says nothing about the content. For example: Currently, a serial number in a document might be tagged as or the equivalent proprietary tag. In XML the serial number could be tagged as , which tells us what the data is not what it looks like. A DTD tells the writer what tags he can use and the DTD can be customized.

    In parallel, some one else (myself) is writing style sheets for formatting the tags for display in a browser, or conversion to html, rtf, pdf, etc. But, the key is that now writers will be able to concentrate on content creation, while some one else deals with formatting. It also enforces consistent formatting across writers.

    The other advantage of XML is that cusomized tags give information about the content that can make search engines much smarter.

    To relate this back to proprietary file formats, XML is only cross-platform WYSIWYG when the DTD and style sheet is either sent with the document or known to all. A word processor can very easily use obfuscated tags, and an internal style sheet. Which while the file may be saved as XML, and the content is available to anyone. No one without the same program can accurately reproduce the document.


    P.S. XML does not require a DTD, but does require a style sheet of some sort for accurate reproduction. A DTD is mostly useful for document creation.
  • Oops, fell into an html trap.

    Currently, a serial number in a document might be tagged as or the equivalent proprietary tag. In XML the serial number could be tagged as , which tells us what the data is not what it looks like. A DTD tells the writer what tags he can use and the DTD can be customized.

    This should read:

    Currently, a serial number in a document might be tagged as "italics" or the equivalent proprietary tag. In XML the serial number could be tagged as "serialnumber" , which tells us what the data is, not just what it looks like.
  • I believe the military does require certain documents to follow an SGML DTD. I don't remember the name of the DTD, but it is out there.

  • One way the Government can deal with Microsoft is to stipulate it's own standards for document types. If the government agencies would dictate what standard types were involved with a text document, (tabs, tables, columns) then anyone could create files in this format and sell to the government.

    It's easy to see why the public is stuck with proprietary standards in this regard when we our government doesn't dictate what formats are acceptable.

    Even stating that RTF (rich text format) was the standard format for memo's and communication would relieve many problems.

  • If they don't meet the standard then some other company will. Clearly Microsoft loses when it can't dictate the standard. It's a document standard and if Microsoft tries to extend to change it, then they wont get the goverment contract.

  • > Whenever I receive a Word document I immediately
    > sent it right back to them and ask that they
    > send it in a standard format

    Way to go! Isn't it possible to do this with procmail? Like, rejecting .exe files (for the viruses, and being otherwise useless) and .doc files. One could even send automatically a nice error message

    "Error: unsupported attachment format".

    After all, it IS an error to mail these things around ;-)
  • Microsoft does not try to keep teir document formats consistent or compatible across versions of Word because they use this a club to force users, especially corporate users, to upgrade.

    I would not be surprised to learn that Microsoft breaks even, or takes a loss on slaes of Windows simply to ensure the dominance of Office in the market. This perpetuates productivity of their largest cash cow, which they will continue milking until forced to change.

    I think Mr. Wu is absolutely correct, and that Microsoft cannot be effectively harmed by the current DOJ anti-trust suit.
  • Word's XML stuff will have lots of functionality stuff embedded in it as ActiveX controls... Why not Java? Well (that one is obvious)...
  • (Wordpad docs save in Word6 format, that's why)
  • Word...

    Ever notice while Word seems kinda slow at converting docs? Because the Word conversion process first converts to RTF (which is why in the past each new version of Word, to Word97, was accompanied by a new RTF spec), then to the format desired. Word docs are a binary format (all the formatting info is binary for the most part). RTF is a tagged text format (with tags much more cryptic than HTML), ala HTML.

    Word6/97+ docs are a different beast, because they're sort of "metafiles", if you've ever looked in them. Notice all that stuff in them that looks oddly enough like a DOS 'dir' listing? Has something to do with "OLE Documents".

    No big deal? Microsoft makes the BIFF5 format pretty easily available (becuase Excel97 still isn't too tightly tied to OLE Documents, unlike Word). So it is possible for programs to create straight BIFF5 files w/o all the OLE crap in it, and Excel can still read the doc (but when you save it it puts the OLEDoc stuff around it). But if you want to figure out a "real" Excel97 .XLS, you need to have the OLE SDK (plus NDA, I surmise) to get the format for an OLE Document (to figure out when the BIFF5, actual Word document, etc., starts & ends)... Or perhaps sign an entirely different NDA with MS for the Office file "format" beyond what you do for an MSDN subscription...

  • Hmm... HTML...

    one of the things you CAN'T do well, if at all, in HTML is page headers & footers (and page numbers). Yes, it's because it has no concept in a web browser, but ever print out pages where the page is split in the middle of a text line?

    Sure, probably browser problem, but there is nothing in HTML to say, "Hey, browser, break the page if you're printing at this line!".

    Frames work (for one-page items), but IE & NS let you choose different options for printing frames, neither of which is, "repeat top frame at top of each page, with trailing frames suitably shown on the printed page").

    No knowledge of intended paper format, etc...
    All things HTML has no concept of.

    But I get this distinct impression that while a Word XML "document" will pass thorugh XML checkers, etc., they won't be very viewable on anything besides IE4/5, due to the use of ActiveX controls for various functionalities in them...

  • Word2K will by default use the Word97 document format. The XML "format" will be a save-to option, but won't really be one document, but a bunch of pieces saved in a subdirectory...).

    [from Woody's Office Watch].
  • I do not know tex, but isn't this regarded as the ultimate document format? What is wrong with thst as a standard? I know there are several efforts to make document processesors based on it (klyx, lyx).

    Is XML suitable for printing? HTML definitely is not.
  • Your car analogy does not hold at all; it isn't even remotely analogous to the software situation. Please rethink.

    File Formats are the real issue. Not OS, not the app, the file format - period. That is why everyone uses MS Office in the first place - not because it is so "good".

    To say that file formats are irrelevant is absurd. Tell that to all the companies who go through the torture of new MS Office releases and new incompatible file formats. The situation is out of hand and now that Micros~1 has "won" they are actively engaging in price gouging.
  • In "The Microsoft Files", the author relates a story about when Bill Gates first discovered the internet. After a while, he became furious, and was stamping his feet and screaming ... nothing on the internet was in Micros~1 file formats.

    Looks like he's getting his way. God I hate that fucker.
  • The question here is not the quality of the product. What we are dealing with here is the philosophy of free enterprise.
    BMW or Yugo, they have the same rights under free enterprise. And at those times the government decides it needs to limit free enterprise in a specific instance to encourage free-er enterprise on a general scale, then both BMW and Yugo would have the same responsibilities.
    Christopher A. Bohn
  • PDF is not a collaborative format -- that is, while we can all write in the format (with appropriate plug-ins for our word processors), and we can all read in the format, we cannot use a typical word processor to edit a PDF document someone gives us.
    Christopher A. Bohn
  • I get the feeling the author of the article has read 'XML and the Second-Generation Web' in the May issue of Scientific American that mainly focuses on XML as a universal medium of digital exchange. That's the same as the focus of this article itself. ml

    And of course XML and style sheets keep the information itself and the presentation style seperate and, more importantly, there can be more than one style sheet for different types of presentation. One for standard desktops and laptops, one for PDAs and another for voice systems. Extending that idea could lead to information that could be formatted in literally any form, the copy for a paperback could have another stylesheet applied to it for ebooks (assuming these do become popular).

    XML also defines meaningful categories of information. Excel documents don't 'know' what kind of information they contain. Using a well designed DTD that people in some industry or the users of some format agree on could eliminate at least most of this problem. And if M$ doesn't release their DTDs, as suggested in an earlier comment, what is to stop people from using open DTDs that fit their needs rather than the cookie cutter formats M$ puts out?
  • My first thought while reading the article is that
    the author had not ran across any Javascript/Java/Shockwave/etc. web sites. People using browsers with Java/Javascript turned off, or without support for 'the latest' version, etc. find a number of sites are unusable. Certainly if one is browsing non-scripted HTML one gets the
    text as expected.
  • Please don't use java! Use a well suported windowing library and c/c++ so that it will be portable but not suck...

    Oh wait.. we already have abi-word and go and gnumeric and etc., and star-office for for ms compatability....

    "There is no spoon" - Neo, The Matrix
    "SPOOOOOOOOON!" - The Tick, The Tick
  • One thing we can all do is try and refuse MS Doc format. I was recently in the enviable position vis a vis a bunch of lawyers that they wanted something from me. I refused all documents in MS format and as expected it was suddenly no problem for them to switch to RFT.
  • If, as most expect, the judge declares M$ a monopoly, the US Govt should simply declare that for 5 years, starting one year later, they will not buy any M$ products.

    The 5 year period guarantees a decent market for competitors. The one year delay gives them a chance to develop products.

    No standing body to watchdog M$, no long nvloved appeals process, no messy quibbling about how to break up M$, or how big a fine, or oversight of APIs. A nice simple solution.

    And there is precedence of a sort. Several defense contractors were barred from doing business with the govt because of overcharges. I think (but would not bet on it) that they were barred without even having been convicted of anything.

  • I have Office2000 Premium, and believe it or not, it's actually pretty nice.

    It would seem that while it is in fact backward compatible with Office 97, it also has HTML integration. I attended an Office 2000 "Road Show" prior to it's release, and I saw the features of the new suite. It uses HTML as a saved file format, so any of the programs (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) can actually save out their files as an HTML document. (PowerPoint can even save an entire presentation as a web site.)

    I also noticed that it marks WordPad files as "Microsoft Word Document(s)"

    -- Give him Head? Be a Beacon?

  • Good essay. Why not make the document format a standard, and have a committee oversee changes?

    A similar suggestion for OS's, set up standards that must be met. And let developers and companies duke it out.

  • I was under the impression that XML was just a way to organize data (using the user defined tags). How does that constitute a Word Proc format? MS could change the meaning of the tags every couple years. No difference, just with XML the files will be bigger (ascii instead of binary).


  • Yep, they're pretty much the same, except for Access files.

    They also support a file format called 'HTML' which produces really ugly XML that only displays right if you're using IE 4 or better.

    QDMerge -- generate documents automatically.

  • D'oh!

    s/or better/more proprietary/

    Happy now? heh heh

    QDMerge -- generate documents automatically.
  • XML specifies how to store information. It does not specify the meaning of that information. Microsoft could simply not publish Office DTDs and competitors would be unable to determine what constitutes valid formatting and what is completely useless.

    One can use custom tags in XML, thus the markups do not have to have any standard logic behind them. A markup tag such as ``MSXML_FFT'' would be very difficult to understand if not properly documented and would require extensive reverse-engineering, which may be illegal, in order to successfully understand its use.

    If one truly wanted to be diabolical then one could simply bypass the tags for certain, critical functionality. Dropping in a UUENCODED binary formatting section would definitely add some complexity to a document.

    Basically, in order for XML documents to offer a means to opening the doors for competition, the XML document tags must be fully documented. Without a medical dictionary a layperson might have a difficult time reading an advanced medial journal; and without some sort of ``dictionary,'' a programmer not working on MS Office products would probably have a difficult time understanding how the document formatting works.

    Actually, I do not know anything about how Office 2000's XML documents are designed. I have not tried Office 2000 or seen any files produced with it. I also do not see anything that even meantions Office 2000 in the April 1999 MSDN library (although some information might exist on Microsoft's site). However, there is some information on the binary formats for Office 97. Unfortunately they are (IMHO) not very good.

  • According to a review of Office 2000 I read, it looks like the native format is the same as Office97.

    Has anyone actually seen the files this thing pumps out?


  • Thank you ever so kindly for your insight. Now, if you would be so nice as to actually write something capable of reading something described by that tangled mess, please do so. I think you will find that, as has been demonstrated by other attempts, it is extremely difficult.

    I don't think Microsoft opening up its document format standards is such an excellent idea, mostly because I don't think it will matter whether or not they're open.

    Standards bodies around the world have often demonstrated how to make biased or impossible to implement standards. In my darker moments I think of my favorite (only a slight touch of sarcasm is meant there) language, C++. :-)

    I think the current trend towards XML and XSL is a much better way to beat back this particular head of the Microsoft monopoly hydra.

  • I've know people in the publishing industry, and almost all manuscripts come in as either Word or WordPerfect.

    LaTeX, etc is often used for the actual type setting, true, but that's different that the actual processing of words.
  • Well, doesn't "open" XML rely on an "open" DTD (document type description?)? If the MS Word 2000 DTD is only embedded in IE5 and MS Word, what good is it? I guess I see MS Word XML as a bunch of buzz-word crap until I someone demonstrates differently.

    Word has had an "open" (docs available) tag markup language for at least 10 years. It's called RTF, and it doesn't do anyone any good if you have to "Save As" to get it. I imagine Word 2000 works the same way (File+Save As Web Page).


  • I'm sure many CIOs would love to have a vendor-immune standard for storing their information.

    The problem comes in the tool set. People buy Microsoft Word because it has 90% of the feature that 90% of the people want. They don't buy it because of which file format it has/doesn't have. You indicated that yourself - Right now it's just not possible.

    Microsoft generally gives it's customers just what they want (or deserve!). The problem comes in that their important customers aren't you or I, it a handful of huge corporations and governments.

    If the big shops start calling them and saying "We want XML with XYZ-DTD", Microsoft would give it to them. However, in the big shops, "desktop applications" is unfortunately not really considered a major priority relative to the mainframes and business critical systems. Maybe all this garbage about "knowledge management" will put the fire underneath their butts.


  • It's interesting that they won't even let you put out a MacOS-based product that works with MS Office 98.

  • People will tell themselves funny things when the want a new toy.

    Fact is that Microsoft has produced a Word 2000 converter for Word 6.0 (circa 1993). It's not 100% perfect, but it will bring most stuff in. (A 1993-era computer is a 486/33 or so. )


  • Some of us may remember a time when WordPerfect/DOS had about 80% market share. Within a year or two, Microsoft WinWord demolished it. This was despite the fact that WinWord lacked certain features and had a fairly crappy WordPerfect importer.

    Microsoft Word had been development for sometime on Macintoshes, and was by far the most mature PC GUI word processor at the time. People and corporations just took to it - it gave them something close to WYSIWYG, and had substantially lower training and licencing costs. And, contrary to popular belief around here, MS Word and Excel drove MS Windows sales, not visa-versa.

    So, if WordPerfect could lose most of their market share even with their proprietary file format, what's to prevent Micrsoft Word from doing the same?

    Admittedly, the problem is more pronounced now with e-mail and the like, but if someone invented a word processor that was clearly better than MS Word, and could do a decent job of importing most Word files, Microsoft's market could collapse in an instant.

  • I mostly agree with the author. However, MS's dominance extends far beyond that of mere office formats. These document formats are much overplayed. There are other products out there that support all the truely important features that Office provides, and more stability. Yet most companies stick with Office*. Most every company can survive without using the latest Office suite. They choose not to, because it simply takes more effort to use another format. Most document transfering is in house, and if not in house, its between customer/contracter/client. Certainly a large company of say, the size of Coca Cola or IBM can use whatever the hell they want.
    The strongest argument against using non-MS argument is economics. Let us not forget that most of MS's sales are tied into OEM sales. Few companies will choose to go out and spend ~100-300 dollars per employee to use another office suite, when they already have one that works 'ok'. This is a result of MS's monopoly in applications and operating systems. None of the products are strong enough to stand on their own, regardless of file format. They use their applications to bolster their OS, and their OS to bolster their Applications. While a browser may sound irrelevant, and it certainly is in terms of raw dollar sums to MS, it is not. A truely cross platform browser is what threatens MS. This is the same reason as why they don't have Office* for Unix, and other OSes. All of these things marginalize 95/NT's position in the market. Put simply, they make it very replaceable. If external forces are able to break this bond, the entire organization will crumble like a house of cards.

    In other words, I believe a division of application and operating systems would do the market a great deal of good. It would not allow MS to bundle. It would make it harder for MS to force the latest and most bloated code over on the user. It would force them to compete on performance, and not on the MS proprietary standard. Futhermore, I believe most companies are starting to realize that the next office suite isn't any better than the first. These upgrades, which introduce more and more bloat force the company to upgrade machines as well. These costs are not minor. Furthermore, If the market is less willing to buy the latest MS office suite, fewer changes in file formats will be made, and that will make it much easier to develop code to import/export MS formats. Short of cryptography, there is damn little MS can do to prevent this. I'm convinced that these forces in combination will change the status quo for the better.
  • One thing I have noticed is that people will complain that it's a pain to have to choose a different file format rather than just hitting save.

    Doesn't that prove that Microsoft has a monopoly in the market? Why should I have to buy something just to corraborate with another human being? Isn't that similar to having to buy a certain model phone, just to receive a call from a friend? :-)

    The world needs to work together, and Microsoft wants it to happen by cramming their product down everyone's thoughts.

    The author was right. In fact, that's what I've been telling all my friends for the last year. Okay, so the productivety market started out relatively level, but as one company became more used then others, soon the inevitable happened. A virtual snowball affect. And soon the other products became slightly less important.

    I am an open-source advocate. But Open Source isn't really the answer here. Neither is the proverbial "standard" file formats that everyone's going to be required to use. Instead of Open Source, we need Open Format. Microsoft can and should innovate with their products. But they must be require to publish their file formats so that the market is not locked up.

    The analogy to VHS I think was perfect. I am not required to buy a certain VCR to play 85% of my videos, and 2 others for the rest of the videos. Each manufacturer can compete, not on format, but on features and quality.

    Require Microsoft to do the same. Let's have one file format. Microsoft can innovate, they'll always set the standard. But let them compete on quality and features, and not on market locking.

    If Microsoft were required to open their file formats, in a utopian world you'd expect them to end up with about 1/5 of the market. If they have more, good for them. But at least it wouldn't be because I had to buy Windows and Office 2000 to read a memo from a vendor.

  • "Deleting email that's from your not-too-computer-literate but beloved (or rich) aunt, your boss's boss, or a (potential) big customer may not always be in your best interest."

    Absolutely right. It drives me nuts.

    User: "Hey, I got this attachment I couldn't open."
    Me: "Forward it to me. I'll see if I can help."
    User: "I deleted it."
    Me: "Uh...I'll get right on that."
  • The office where I work is all Mac on the client side. We frequently exchange Word and Excel docs with other companies without difficulty. We do use Office 98 for the Mac, so this helps things, but my computer at home does not have Office and I have no trouble converting, reading, or creating Windows friendly files. (BTW, the Mac version of Office blows chunks just as much as the Windows version, so don't accuse MS of cheating us out of bloatware.)

    My users at work double click files they are sent. If they don't open right up, the email is deleted and forgotten. I think most Windows users are the same. It's a matter of convenience, not capability. To own a Windows computer (or even a copy of Office) for the sole purpose of opening the files is a little silly. I don't know what tools are available for Linux, but there are plenty of options for Mac users.

    The proposed solution: have the government intervene and force MS to open up their format.

    It may take diligence to live in a Microsoft free computing environment, but it is not impossible. I don't think we need Janet Reno to help us open documents.

    Every time these debates begin, I warn people that government involvement only grows. There will never be a time when the DOJ does not want to have their hands in the computer pie. Don't scream against the CDA and cheer at the same time for lawsuits that stick it to Bill Gates; they are two sides of the same coin.

    It can be tough not to have a government babysitter, ready to make sure your docs open up and your OS is priced fairly, but at least you can stay up past 9:00.
  • We want Microsoft to keep doing what it's doing -- go ahead and make MS Office as incompatible as possible and slowly and surely people will throw more support into cleaning up web document standards and forget about using MS Office formats.

    Proprietary formats make it increasingly difficult for historians and people in general. Have you ever wanted to read your term paper you wrote in 1986 on MacWrite? Chances are you threw out the paper copy knowing you'd have the file on hand.

    Project Gutenberg [] (for those who aren't aware, it is an effort to make copyright free texts such as Edgar Allan Poe's writings freely available) has considered the implications of any format into consideration.

    Excerpt from Project Gutenberg:

    "Suggestions to make them less readily available are not to be treated lightly. Therefore, Project Gutenberg Etexts are made available in what has become known as "Plain Vanilla ASCII," meaning the low set of the American Standard Code for Information Interchange: ie the same kind of character you read on a normal printed page-- italics, underlines, and bolds have been capitalized.

    The reason for this is that 99% of the hardware and software a person is likely to run into can read and search these files.

    Any other system of etext storage is going to fall short of an audience of 99%.

    This does not mean there are not other valid mean of doing the etext business. . .after all, over half the computers are DOS, so one could address a wide audience by just doing DOS. Plain Vanilla ASCII, however, addresses the audience with Apples and Ataris all the way to the old homebrew Z80 computers, while an audience of Mac, UNIX and mainframers is still included.

    Even an open standard poses a problem in regards to usability -- especially in the future -- more devices, programs, and a loss of backwards compatibility. What will ever be as universal as plain old text on paper?

    And from a historian's point of view, reading what people wrote 15 years ago is becoming increasingly difficult.

    I think I've opened a big can of worms...with a few more tangents which could be addressed.

  • The folks at abisource [] are doing a heroic job of trying to deal with the Word97 format. I initially wondered why they would read Word97, but wouldn't write it, but now I'm convinced it was an important strategic move.

    I'm sorry to say that, at the moment, they're not yet production quality. 80% of the Word97 documents I've gotten have been legible or better, but one or two have not, and one blew up the Gnome session manager -- logged me out, and I had to kill off X several times (as root from a character cell console) before I could log back in. That last can't be blamed on abisource: Gnome should be impervious to such nonsense regardless of app misbehavior. If any software maintainer would care to contact me, I'll be happy to explain the details of the environment in which this happened (and send the nasty file).
  • I don't have O2K, but one of the new features is supposed to be Save As XML. With good open-source XML capable Word Processors, etc., we'll be okay:

    Somebody sends you an O2K file you can't read, kindly ask them to resend but this time in XML, and let them know that they should always send documents as XML (no macro virus worries, ASCII text, OS interoperability, no vendor lock-in). They can always read it as XML and so could you.

    Now, just need that awesome XML "Office"-type program for Linux/Be. If you decide to write one now, please use Java and let me know.

  • XML isn't a display language like HTML. So "Save as XML" would mean stuff like mail merge or the mini-databases you can insert into Word would be made into XML and then the display format would probably be in parser code. But even that would be good, it would alow anyone with a parser (included in most recent browsers) to read the files and backend datafields.
    BTW, XML isn't ASCII it's Unicode
  • XML is not for display! It's for the backend. You put your info into XML format and then a parser adds a style sheet to it to make it purdy. The style sheet AFAIK is also extensible to an extent so you can make your info do some awesome stuff. It uses HTML/DHTML/PHP3 for the front end display. So lets work on an office suite that will produce XML/HTML documents that can be read by anyone with an XML parser.
  • The ubiquity of Microsoft Word means that you can choose to share your files in just about any format you want. After all, Word can read almost anything with it's built-in converters.

    I'm not sure what format to go with, though. WordPerfect? That's still a proprietary format, even though it runs on Linux. RTF has a bad reputation, and ironically, Microsoft got in big trouble with the press and public when it used RTF instead of the Word 6 native format to share files from Word 97.

    The HTML/XML format that Word 2000 produces contains all of the formatting of the native file format. And yes, you can read them in any browser on any platform, if you're willing to wait 10 minutes for it to parse all of the new tags.

    Personally I'll stick with ASCII. Sure it's limited, but we all use it all day for email anyway. We all need to worry more about grammar and spelling than special formatting anyway.
  • Thanks for the link.

    It must be my processor(P100) then. I had to wait forever for Netscape or IE to parse and display a simple Excel spreadsheet the one time I tried.
  • Weeeell, M$ usually makes readers available free for download...

    Do consider also the fact that said free readers typically only operate under Windows.
  • Unfortunately, I have had similar problems not only going between Mac and Win Office, but between different machines running Office 97 on Windows.

    Interesting how that doesn't happen with most other file types ...

  • I think it would be an exceedingly unusual person, however, who couldn't be persuaded to switch WP programs for some sum of money.

    You've never seen a full-blown vi vs. emacs war, have you?

  • I knee-jerk reaction was to say "Just get Office98 for the Mac!" but I recalled several problems I've had with moving files between MacOffice98 to WinOffice97. Tables get lost or scrambled, imported charts and graphs become unintelligible too often to be reliable. This is especially bad when I send files back and forth from Japan.
  • Lets put aside the fact that OFFICE 2000 uses XML or whatever,

    More like whatever. Microsoft's XML/HTML implementation in MS-O2K is not getting the best reviews as being very standardized.

    and MS do use standards where good standards exist like TCP/IP.

    Again, Microsoft's adherence to the TCP/IP standards have been pretty spotty. They were also slow to embrace TCP/IP (can anyone say NetBIOS), and it appears that they are intending to 'embrace and extend' with proprietarized prototols if they can get away with it.

    Why should Microsoft publish its own property ?

    That's what entities which are serious about standards do.

    Are the US government then going to force BMW to release its engines specs so we can all manaufacture cars with great engine ?

    Not an accurate comparison for a couple of reasons. First, 'hard' manufactured goods are much easier to reverse engineer. You can buy a BMW, take it apart and measure all the parts. Microsoft on the other hand, licenses their products with the restriction that you can't look under the hood and take it apart to figure out how it works inside. Secondly, for the user, a person who knows how to drive a Ford can probably drive a BMW without too many problems. The same gas that runs a BMW will run a Ford, the same oil that works in a BMW works in a Ford. BMW's and Fords can run on the same roads. But Microsoft makes applications with proprietary file formats, and all the competing programs have to deal with reverse engineering them.

    Secondly, car manufacturers have in fact been forced by the U.S. government (and also pressured by the insurance industry) to allow 3rd party 'compatible' parts vendors to build replacement parts.

    I am afraid the only thing that can tumble MS is a competitive product,

    I'd prefer if strictly market pressures could eliminate monopolies, but sometimes it doesn't work the way it is supposed to. Mainly when said monopoly exercises dishonest tactics in order to maintain their position. When a monopoly power is allowed to do that, even superior products will fail (or be bought up).

    any else means americans don't have freedom at all, like being free to be successful.

    Being free to be successful and being free to use dishonest tactics to succeed are not necessarily the same thing.

    Are we free to be successful if any well funded competitor can squash us through whatever means they want even if we come up with a competitive product?

  • Nobody *HAS* to force BMW to release it's engine specs. If I want to know how they did it, I'll pull the engine out, put it on a stand, tear it down, measure everything, send chips of metal off to the labs to figure out what it is, etc. etc. They can't stop me from doing that. That and a (i.e.) 350ci V-8 is pretty much a 350. A V-8 is a V-8 is a V-8 (on the lowest level...) You could even build from scratch an exact clone of the latest BMW engine after you've done all that...but why? Now if they (to use the analogy) welded the hood shut and said "We're not going to tell you what's under there...just turn the key and drive!....and if you do otherwise you're violating our terms of sale!"..that's different.

    Herein lies the problem with propietary file formats. Yes you *can* do essentially the same thing (go in an examine the files byte-by-byte with a hex editor to view all the little goodies that make it what it is) and really nobody can stop you. But what a royal PAIN.

    The 'good point' is that Microsoft has built this grip on our information, and really the only way to break it is to turn these formats *into* "standards." release *all* the specs, all the tags, all the formatting characters, etc. etc. And let anyone build their own V-8. Stop them from 'extending' the standard unless the additions are widely approved by a standards body, like the w3c and ietf....or even sae.

  • I've contemplated writing an editorial before, and I'm currently running a site that is, in essense, one big editorial, with a few technical solutions thrown in.

    While it is tempting to ask writers to keep things short, the simple fact of the matter is that most concepts cannot be communicated in one or two, or even 10, paragraphs. And when the concepts aren't communicated, two big things happen: One, you failed to accomplish your primary goal, which was to communicate your concept, and two, you will be the recipient of ENDLESS STREAMS of e-mail (or slashdot posts) taking you to task (or flaming!) you for statements you never made, interpretations you never meant (and could have corrected in another paragraph), or berating you for missing a point that you did not miss, but cut in the interests of space.

    Keeping things short is not the best solution. Writing in a newspaper style is ("inverted pyramid").
  • Anybody can signup for MSDN and obtain the specs for file formats. But simply adhering to these specs doesn't make a "competing" office suite usable in a MS-centric environment. If my personal experience with StarOffice is an indicator, only primitive files are rendered correctly. IMVHO one problem is OLE. There's a GPL'd OLE library, but I'm not sure how well it (and OLE in general) works outside of MS-Win environment. Apparently StarDivision couldn't get it to work (and I tried StarOffice for both Linux and Win32!)

    Even if we implement a "Chinese Wall"-style system between OS and Office divisions of MS (same way as SEC mandates strict information barrier between investment and trading divisions of the same company), I wouldn't bet on a 100% compatible office suite for a non-Win32 OS...

    Well, I guess, the situation described by Charles Wu gives yet another meaning to the term "network computer"... ;-( It all boils down to a business decision: spend money on MS software or forego some of the clientele.

  • by Pope ( 17780 )
    Hey, at least the damn Acrobat Reader is free and has a Linux version Ah yes, but you still have to shell out $$$ if you want the "full" version of Acrobat for creating and editing the damn things. Full, in quotation marks, because the Mac and PC versions are NOT equivalent.Some features are unavailable for the Mac :( Pope
  • I work in an IS shop as part of the Electronic Commerce team. We're a Unix shop (at least until the Windows-heads drive the us away), but more importantly WE ARE A WEB SHOP. We use a web server to serve up standards compliant content.

    Almost every day I get requests to put MSWord and MSExcel content "on the web." I fight this tooth and nail. We have an extranet web reporting system which collects data from all over the Enterprise. One of my jobs is to get this data into a somewhat coherent form in an Oracle database so our reporting CGIs can generate on-the-fly reports and graphs. I get data in a number of file formats. The best stuff comes from the mainframe folks (from SAS and MUMPS on VAX equipment). These folks understand extracts and data integrety. The worst stuff comes to me in Excel spreadsheets.

    The first most obvious evil is file size. Positional or delimited extracts from the mainframe folks are clear, well organized, consistent and compact. On the Excel side I had one file, 750 records, 12 columns. File size? 1,387,000 bytes! Why? A similar file from the mainframe folks is about 110,000 bytes.

    The next evil is data integrety. I have to explain over and over again to the Excel folks why they should use unique ids for each reporting unit, that they should use the same id for the same reportin unit across files. They tell me th names are on the spreadsheets, so why do I need that? I try to explain that there are spelling, capitalization, and punctuation differences between the names in each of the file depending on who types them. I try to explain that ID numbers are harder to mistype and that they are more efficient to search on.

    They don't get it.

    Microsoft has put computing power into the hands of people who don't know how to use it. I know that sounds techno-elitist of me, but it is TRUE! There is so much corruption of data going on out there because everyone has a PC on his or her desk. I wouldn't care if it were not for the fact that these people then come back to IS and say "make this all work together." That's where I get upset.

    You see, I am all in favor of "power to the people" when it comes to information, but to me this is like studying taxidermy and thinking that makes you an open-heart surgeon.

    Getting back to the web, that's the final evil. Try to explain to these people that some of our clients use Macs or that it might be unreasonable to assume that all of our customers have to buy Office and they just don't get it. Show them the difference in performance between downloading an HTML table and an Excel spreadsheet with the same content, and then tell them how much worse it would be on a 28.8 modem instead of a T1 and maybe they get it, but its a hard sell.

    My Linux bigotry comes not from an inherent hatred of Windows per se. It comes from the fact that Linux embraces standards, and Windows makes it up as it goes along.

    I'm afraid I'd have to side with the folks who say these formats should die. Even if enerything in the world interoperated with them, they stink as network delivery formats for pure bandwidth reasons. Their signal to noise ratio is too low.
  • However, these arguments have all focused on the direct economic benefits and losses that consumers have received from this situation. It is not economic losses that the public has suffered, but loss of choice.

    Loss of choice is an economic loss, insofar as you would accept some amount of money as compensation for loss of choice (among word processors, etc.(*)).

    Perhaps a better way of putting this is that any consumer losses are not directly measurable losses such as losses due to higher prices for particular commodities, but instead are losses arising out of indirect economic harm. (E.g., I'm forced to choose between (a) the inconvenience of not using my preferred WP, causing me to expend extra labor, and (b) the prospect of losing customers at my printing business because I can't read their documents).

    (* To stave off the anti-M$ troops: Clearly some "losses of choice" are not compensable in money -- e.g., loss of freedom of religion. I think it would be an exceedingly unusual person, however, who couldn't be persuaded to switch WP programs for some sum of money.)

  • Everyone should stop whining about MS not making the Office formats available. They have been available for quite some time (not long after Office 97 was released IIRC). To get them (instructions copied from the MSWordView homepage):

    How to Obtain Microsoft Office File Formats

    The MS Office file formats (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Office Binder and Office Drawing) are all freely available from the MS web site provided you are a member of the MS Developer Network (MSDN). Joining MSDN is free to gain access to these specifications
    Simply go to the following address:
    From the list on the left of the screen select MSDN library online
    If you are not a member of the MS Developer Network you will need to join - it's free.
    Once you have subscribed to the MSDN, you can obtain online copies of the file formats. To do this, follow these steps:
    1.On the MSDN World Wide Web site, click MSDN Library Online.
    2.Under Member Area, click the Library Online tab.
    3.Double-click Microsoft Office Development.
    4.Double-click Office.
    5.Double-click Microsoft Office 97 Binary File Formats.
    6.Select the format you are interested in (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.)
  • Having just been to a MS Office 2000 marketing sesison earlier this week (It was free), I think that you're totally off base. Here's why:

    1) Microsoft is still working very hard to co-opt the web. And, with Office 2000, they're doing that very well with their funky Captive-X controls. What does that mean to the consumer? You'll soon be seeing a lot more Windows/IE-only areas on the web.

    2) They have made HTML the "sister file format" of Office 2000. The theory being that you can now save your file to HTML and have it be functionally/visually identical to saving it in the Word/Excel/Powerpoint/etc file format. Why are they doing this? Because it lets them tie into #1. All of these Office 2000 generated Web pages use Microsoft's 'embrace and extend'ed web technologies.

    So, a year from now, when you're no longer recieving Office documents, but URLs to web-documents which can only be viewed/edited using IE5 for Windows, which of your 3 machines will you be using to browse the web?

    Oh, and that stupid paperclip is now 3-D looking! Like I didn't have enough CPU cycles to burn...I swear, someone should put together an Office Assistant theme pack for Q3...Fragging the clip would be such a rewarding experience!

    Ultimately, what will doom Office are the new, ever-more-destructive OTDs (Outlook/Office Transmitted Diseases) like and Melissa or the raft of Word Macro Virii out there which target the "integrated" Office platform. You thought they were bad before...just wait until they find a way to target the executable code that handles the "self-repairing" and "install on demand" functions of 2000...

  • I believe the author to have made an excellent case, however I do feel that the case is fundamentally incorrect. Microsoft's handling of Office is definitely indicitive of monopoly power but it is not their only measure, and is not the most important.

    The core of the anti-trust litigation is whether the consumer has been harmed. Windows runs on over 90% of the world's PCs and it is difficult to purchase a system from an OEM without it preloaded. As a result of this power, Microsoft has ensured that OS/2, DOS(MS as well as others), Intel Unixes(including Linux), and others all have to fight for less than 10% of the market. With the price of computers constantly decreasing, Windows prices have skyrocketed exponentially and continue to do so.

    "if there is one thing to be learned from what happened to internet browsers is that Microsoft is willing to engage in predatory pricing to drive out competitors."

    This notion seems to contradict the prime assertion of the essay. Microsoft's bundling of I.E. has clearly resulted in a destryed browser market and the corporate sale of Netscape. One could argue Opera is not free but Opera has a minute market share and is very limited as to what platforms it supports. If the barriers to entry are severe for browser sellers, there won't be browser sellers. Clearly that has harmed consumers--not in the availability of free browsers but that there are only 2 browsers that support modern web standards.

    Granted, there are many examples we can point to about the anti-competitive practices of Microsoft. Office is among those examples. However, what the government is asserting and what seems most valid is that Microsoft used unfair tactics to gain the power it had. Had it not used those tactics, Office, Internet Explorer, Windows, and other examples of anti-competitive behavior would not have profited at the expense of the consumer and competition. In other words, had Microsoft not destroyed consumer choice and competition these issues would not exist. We can go after little flames of monopoly--like Office and IE, but until we address the root of the problem, more flames will appear. Therefore, it would be wrong to assert that the government is fighting for the wrong reasons, however poorly or greatly they do so.
  • I remember the first time I came across IFF on the old Amiga I had a sudden epiphany. What a farking great idea! Although that format thrived on the Amiga it never really went anywhere else, which is sad.

    It seems to me that a revival of this excellent format is in order. It would make it possible for any program to read any document of any type, simply by only pulling out the "chunks" it wanted and ignoring the rest.

    Also IFF was defined to always be an open format. Any new "chunk" type had to be documented and registered, and then placed in the public domain to be viewed by anyone who wanted. In the days before WWW this was a lot more difficult, because you'd have to order a new "Inside Amiga" book to get the latest chunk information.

    I would suggest to those in the Linux community who have not as-yet started making Open Document Format Standards a priority that the time is precisely NOW! to do it, and I can't imagine a better wrapper than IFF.

    Let this stand as the seed of a manifesto.

The solution of this problem is trivial and is left as an exercise for the reader.