Today is Document Freedom Day!

Just a quick post let you all know that today is Document Freedom Day.  I know that in this day and age it’s easy for anyone to pronounce that any day is Anything Day, but this one is important.  It’s about encouraging people to use, and maybe more importantly, accept, open document formats.

I can’t tell you how much it pains me that MS-Word format is still the overwhelming majority in most arenas.  People find themselves in the absurd situation where they want to apply for a job in open-source software, and have to send their CV in a proprietary format in order to get it looked at.  Or they want to write to their MP about a freedom-of-information issue and have to send the letter in a proprietary format.

Equally bad, in a more insidious way, is the simple matter of communication with other people.  In my spare time I am a dinosaur palaeontologist, and since many of my papers are collaborative, I have to send manuscripts back and forth with my co-authors.  Personally I use OpenOffice to work on these — it’s improved steadily over the years and is now the equal of Microsoft’s obscenely expensive office suite — but you can bet your lower intestine that many of my collaborators use MS-Word, and therefore can’t read the OpenOffice format.  Not a disaster in the immediate, since OpenOffice can read and write Word format, but it’s just wrong that all the historical versions of these manuscripts are in a format that Microsoft can (and, if prior form is any guide, will) change without warning at any time.  [The Brachiosaurus altithorax reconstruction above is from this paper.  White bones are ones that we know are definitely from that species; light grey probably are; dark grey are unknown from Brachiosaurus, and filled in from its close relative Giraffatitan, which what you probably think is Brachiosaurus.]

Oh, and it hardly needs saying that when the final versions of these manuscripts are sent off to journals, they have to be in MS-Word format.  That’s what journals accept.  So the world’s academic heart is enslaved to a format controlled by a convicted monopolist.  Not good.

(Yes, I know that academics in computer science, maths and some branches of engineering submit papers as LaTeX.   Trust me, we palaeontologists are still mired in Mesozoic.  I bet if I polled 100 of my colleagues, less than half a dozen would even have heard of LaTeX.)

So do what you can, please, to support  Document Freedom Day.  Maybe most importantly, if you’re responsible for document acceptance policies, whether at an academic journal, a government office, or a recruitment agency, please do what you can to ensure that open formats are not discriminated against.  It’s not your job to prop up Microsoft’s failing monopoly (or anyone else’s — I’m not just having a crack at Microsoft here).

Forward!  Forward, into the Shiny Digital Future!

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3 responses to “Today is Document Freedom Day!

  1. Open Office is closed for the day, as it was never open in the first place, you Gnu!

  2. Just had a talk today (at my company): sometime back, we switched to exchange, now we’re strongly concidering sharepoint.
    And of course, we “standardized” on Microsoft Office.

    How does that make me feel? I don’t know.

    I acknowledge:
    - Office and other products are somewhat decent or good products nowadays
    - people are used to Office, and we value their experience (and don’t try to force them)
    - “everybody” uses Office, so we want compatibility, e.g. for guest speakers (valuing them)

    It makes me sad:
    - we’re giving away our diversity without even seeing it’s value
    - we are bying in to becoming slaves to one system (and anybody who contests that: once all the company’s documentation is on the sharepoint wiki, any change would create an outcry of rage from the people who wrote it and so we won’t even concider it.)
    - we are educating ourselves to have our eyes on one way of doing things and to immediately disqualify any other way (okay, thats the other way round as well, from OS fanboys, I acknowledge)
    - we’re willing to throw away our nation’s expertise in building software (Germany in my case), and are trading it for building extensions to exactly one ecosystem, and the lobbyists even tell us we should be proud of that as it means “producing jobs” (Yeah, I’m talking from a European perspective)

    This makes me angry, unhappy. And it honestly makes me cry.

  3. It’s not at all a problem of MS Word 2007 itself, it’s the best word processor I’ve used so far. But the format – non-interoperable, unsupported even by MS and closed. Personally, if it’s simple enough (and I try to keep them that way) I export it to RTF which is more widely supported and comparitively open

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