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Gary Edwards

Nicely done Sam! One of the things the public discussion of the ODf plugin has unveiled is the pent up anger, frustration and fury concerning the Microsoft business model affectionately known as "version madness".

Over 450 million Windows users are intimately familiar with how version madness works. Whenever a new computer enters a business unit, the newer OS and MS Office versions on that machine immediately makes obsolete the other desktops. This forced obsolescence isn't due to application or OS features or functions. No, it's due to a sudden inability to exchange basic information.

Consumers purchase computers to assist and enhance the information process, including accelerating the fluid exchange of information. Who buys a new computer to muck up the flow of information? The only resolution to which is to upgrade hardware, OS and application layers so that everyone in the business process is at the same “version” level.

It is madness that the exchange of information be tied to such a costly version synchronization model.

The Internet has taught us all that the fluid exchange of information is possible, even on a global scale. So how come we can't pull this off at the business unit level? The Internet demonstrates resoundingly that many applications working on many platforms can access and exchange information as long as the information is in a standard “open” file format, and the connection methodology is also based on an open standard. Problem solved.

The real grinder in this madness is that it's impossibly hard to stop the new machine from wrecking it's special havoc to the information flow. Newer versions of MS Office ship with a forwards only file conversion process. (It would be better if the older file format was just left alone). So it's possible for a MS Office 98 unit to send native binary bound information to the new MS Office unit, where it's conveniently forward converted to a new binary file version. But it's inconveniently impossible to send it back. A situation that quickly renders the older version problematically obsolete.

And the upgrade treadmill grinds on. Now running at a $24 Billion per quarter clip.

The ODf plugin can transparently perfect both forwards and backwards conversions. This will greatly extend the life and usefulness of the older MS Office versions. The mandate to upgrade and synchronize at the version level for the sake of simple information exchange will become optional. With the ODf Plugin, upgrade decisions will be based on the real business process need for newer more advanced features in the context of budgetary constraints. The business process and related information systems costs can be factored on the basis of business process needs, instead of Microsoft's rev the monopoly base profit designs.

Using open file formats to resolve costly application vendor differences isn't new. Back in the day, when MS Word applications were the new kids on the block challenging the WordPerfect, Lotus, Software Publishing, WordStar, Amipro, etc. establishment, Microsoft proposed RTF (1987) as an open cross platform inter application document file format. RTF enabled desktop users to bring MS Word into a WordPerfect driven business unit without having to disrupt the business process. And guess what? It worked!

Now that MS Word owns the marketplace, Microsoft is not about to let an open file format like ODf, especially one they don't control, enable competitors the same opportunity Microsoft took advantage of in the early days of Windows with RTF.

In my recent conversations with journalists interested in the ODf plugin, i was asked a most important question, It goes like this, “It's easy to see why ODf is valuable to IT based back end publication, content and archive management systems. What's the value though to desktop end users?”

Of course i tried to answer this by describing version madness and how the ODf plugin eliminates the problem. I provided some real world examples to make my case.

Surprisingly, the journalist scoffed at this, as if i were exaggerating the problem. So i asked him what would happen if his editor got a brand spanking new Vista – MS Office 12 machine, which could receive his Win2K Office 2K documents, but sent back revised documents that his Office 2K system couldn't open? Would he then have to upgrade his system to Vista – MS Office? Or would it be cheaper to install the ODf Plugin on both systems and continue to exchange documents flawlessly in ODf?

I thought i had made a good case, but his answer stopped me cold. He said that that kind of situation could never happen in his office unit. Or anywhere else in this particular tech publication enterprise for that matter. Some fifteen years ago they made RTF the official and only document file format allowed. And that continues to be the case.

So i asked him how it is that his entire technology publication enterprise knew long ago the costly dangers of using Microsoft native binary document formats, yet never once warned the public they served? A public reliant on them for technology advice and expertise?

They knew full well the game afoot, yet they said nothing even as they moved to insulate themselves from the ravages of version madness?

His answer was a sheeply shrug on the order of, “You know how it is. Somethings people have to figure out for themselves”.

Well, sadly were not all as smart as our friends in the technology journal industry. Some 450 million Windows bound users, lacking such insightful prescience, have been trapped for some time in this never ending cycle of version madness. Trapped by the mistake of using Microsoft's native binary document file formats. Trapped by the mistake of putting their information into a forward moving lock box designed to serve Redmond's quarterly objectives for years to come.

Fear not my beloved 450! The ODf plugin rides to the sound of guns, but it rides to your rescue. And the end of version madness.

Oh yeah. The ODf plugin also rides on the strong and determined shoulders of our friends and trusted accomplices in the ever expanding ODf ecosystem of ODf vendors, developers, server side systems, and open source communities. Help is on the way, and it's going to arrive in the surging waves of a relentlessly determined ODf calvary charge.



What a great RTF story, Gary! Thank you for the comment.

Richard Chapman

Thanks Sam, thanks Gary. I could read stuff like this all day long. I know the war will be long and weary, especially for the front-line folks like you guys. But I can't help but watch with morbid fascination at the contorted machinations that Microsoft is spewing forth in an effort to shore-up its sagging empire. They kind of remind me of the "Black Knight" scene in "Monty Python & the Quest for the Holy Grail". With each successive body part whacked off, he continues hurl insults and threats, oblivious to the dire nature of his wounds.

I think with the ODF plug-in, Microsoft just lost their right arm.

Phillip Brown

'self-involved cow-towing'? Not sure what hauling cattle has to do with anything. Or perhaps you meant 'kowtow'?

Peter Sefton

Have I missed the release of the plugin. Have you seen it Gary? You say "The ODf plugin can transparently perfect both forwards and backwards conversions. This will greatly extend the life and usefulness of the older MS Office versions."
That would be great but I need to see it demonstrated before I believe.

I was skeptical last week and I still am. OpenOffice.org Writer can't do decent conversion in and out of Word .doc format, and it's RTF is appaling (no styles!).

See my site: http://ptsefton.com/blog/2006/05/11/
Note also that the new Word OpenXML format is supposed to come with plugins for version of Word back to 2000, which will help a lot with interoperability.



The Plugin is not released yet. We will keep you informed about any details as they become available.

You are correct to view the plugin as important and its performance as interesting.

Since you are among the few who are knowledgable as well as sensitive to the feature mapping characteristics and shortcomings between MS Office and OpenOffice, we value your correspondence and will make every effort to communicate developments about the plugin to you.

Ed Love

This is great stuff, and as an old Unix hacker from way back, I'm delighted to see open standards making more ground against the Death Star.

The image that comes up for me is from the 2nd Terminator film at the end. The bad guy terminator had just fallen into a huge tub of molten metal, and in its dying moments, it changed from one hideous form to another before finally sinking beneath the surface.

Ok, so we're not at that stage yet, but it is a delightful image :)

Wesley Parish

One consequence of providing an ODF plugin for MS Office/s of various vintage and variable taste, is that Microsoft (and the rest of the world) will have a performance test for ODF versus the proprietary MS Office file formats.

And unlike the MS Office Open XML File Format, these will be done without full knowledge of the MS Office internals - which in any case have changed somewhat since MS Office 95 days - so if the ODF plugin turns up a decent performance, it won't be because MS Office has been tuned to beef it up.

Let us know of any further developments.

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Sam Hiser




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