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!