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Re: [school-discuss] Re: [IIEP] Open source and open formats

[sorry to those who don't like top-posting, but the only alternatives in this thread would be to middle-post, or to bottom post with the first post in the thread coming second]

I think Vu Do Quynh's comments would have been very appropriate a few years ago, when there was no reliable way to translate Word documents into other formats (I don't count wv as reliable, and antiword will only produce plain text). However, as you say, OpenOffice can read and write in just about any format (there's even preliminary LaTeX support).

On the other hand, I think we all share Vu's assumption that open standards are preferable to proprietary formats. At the moment, we are fortunate to have an Open Source word processor that can read Word documents almost perfectly (though even with OO, there are occasionally formatting problems). However, this is due to a fortunate series of events: Sun licenced the .doc format from Microsoft, then bought Star Office, then open-sourced it. When MS bring out a new format for Word, they might be more careful about who they share it with and how transparent they make it.

I think Both Michael and Vu have some good points. I also think that the way to go is to gradually encourage more use of open standards (or even semi-open standards like PDF). So I don't throw a hissy fit any more when people mail me Word documents, but I don't normally send them myself.


Michael Dean wrote:

I can open any version ms .doc file with openoffice.org.! It is the Rosetta stone of word processors, and it shall rise or fall on this and many other pragmatic features. Must all of us eat our own dog food in lockstep? I paid for my copy of word. And would you prefer we use the feature of openoffice and mail in attachments in .pdf format? Is one proprietary format better than another? I really think that most of us paid for word, perhaps you didn't ? Everything gets massively copied, but in my book two wrongs don't make a right. Would you also like us to go back to steam engines in the name of eschewing proprietary software. RTF is just as propreitary as doc format. I don't think persons from developing countries are being hurt by their ability to use openoffice or word as much as their governments keeping hardware out of their hands with confiscatory duties (like India) or mainland China companiews being forced to smuggle in surplus hardware from USA through Hong Kong because of their country's leaders having grandiose plans for home manufacture! What you are suggesting is that you have THE ANSWER to political correctness regarding software. Probably what most people would want is just a computer! They can get the software, open source or proprietary, on any street corner. The righ patht is the most pragmatic path to worker productivity.

Vu Do Quynh wrote:

Hello everybody,

I have been quite silent those past weeks but I did read all the posts
that went to the list and particularly appreciated the ones aiming to
refocus the forum.

I would like to address one issue : the one on the format of information

I'd like to take a paradoxal example to illustrate my idea : Our forum
discuss about Opensource in education but many attached files, like the
latest one sent by G. Hume, are in a proprietary format (i.e. Microsoft
Word *.doc). Although it is quite recognized that MS Word is the major
word processor being used worldwide, still that position calls on
several remarks, one of which is that the predominant position of MS
Word is rather due to the rampant illegal copying of MS Office suite
(97, 2000, 2003, XP, etc.) rather than to people massively and
enthusiastically buying MS Office suite.

By sending information in files formatted in a proprietary format like
the one from Word, we force other people to use Word to be able to open
it and by doing so, we also, consciously or not, induce people to use MS
Word instead of other free, or open source, softwares, like
OpenOffice.org or Abiword (that can run under several operating systems,
including MS Windows).
Thus if we want to guide other people, especially those in the
developing countries that certainly cannot afford to buy the licences of
expensive commercial softwares like the MS Office suite, we need,
especially people from developed countries that possibly have the money
to buy those same softwares (or are working in an environment that
obliges to do so), to send information in a file format that is as open
as possible.

By order of priority, such an open format (for sending as attached
files) would be :

1) *.txt, i.e. plain text format for information that does not need any
particular formatting style (like bold, italic, etc.)
2) *.rtf : for information that needs to include some formatting style
and tables (although RTF is still a proprietary format from Microsoft,
it is much more widely accepted over different computer platforms and
thus, more accessible)
3) *.pdf : for complex information that needs to include graphics,
photos etc. By the way, to open and print PDF files, you do not
necessarily need to install the "free" Acrobat reader which still is a
massive download of 10-18 Mb (depending on the version) : you can read
PDF files natively from any Linux distributions and, under Windows, you
can use a low-weight PDF readre like the one ("free") from FOXIT
Software (http://www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf/rd_intro.php) whiwh is less
than 1 Mb to download.

For downloadable information files on web sites, the same priority
applies (HTML could replace on some occasions *.txt and *.rtf files) and
OpenOffice.org formats can be offered en plus, as well as *.doc (Word)
format if really necessary.

Using the free OpenOffice.org suite, that includes everything to work in
a modern office (Writer, Calc, Impress, Draw), you can read Word, Excel,
Powerpoint file formats, and save your documents under these formats as
well. You can naturally save in the OpenOffice.org format which is
composed of XML formatted information files (thus an open format) that
are compressed in a zip format (which makes them smaller than Word
files, unless the latter are compressed before sending), but it is not
yet pratical to distribute information under native OpenOffice format as
not so many people are using it but are rather using Word (legally or
not). I must say that OpenOffice (since 1.1.0) can export directly to
the PDF format which makes it a very productive and outstanding office
suite when you consider that it is freely distributed.

All this is, of course, more work (at least in thinking and planning) on
the producer side, but such is the cost of a wider accessibility and to
really mean what we say !

So maybe we should start with ourselves in showing the right path and
adopting as much as possible free and opensource software in our
everyday work. The first step is by using a more accessible file format
than the one from Word when exchanging information, and the second one
by gradually using free software until you can entirely switch to these
(I am at such a stage : using OpenOffice for all of my current word
processing and office work, just keeping in the background my "old" MS
Office 97, in case somebody send me a complex Word/Excel-formatted

Best regards.

Vu Do Quynh
Agence universitaire de la Francophonie, Bureau Asie Pacifique
Responsable, Centre d'Accès à l'Information scientifique et technique (CAI) de Hanoi
08 rue Tran Hung Dao, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tél: +84-4-9331070 ; Télécopie: +84-4-8247383
Sites de toile: http://www.vn.refer.org/