back to article ODF's doomed mission to break into Microsoft Office

Could Microsoft's Office team learn a thing or two from those building Internet Explorer and Windows? Depends on what's at stake - and to what extent they're forced to act. This week, Microsoft rolled out the Windows browser ballot screen it agreed to during antitrust settlement talks with European regulators and competitors. …

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WTF?

Ugh...

Let me say, to all you prospective trolls, that I strongly support open source software (i.e. free as in beer) and use it wherever I can.

However, people need to get over themselves with the wording used in the ballot. It virtually the same wording used in Office 2007 if you try to save in the old 2000/2003 formats. There's no "conspiracy" by Microsoft to drive out all ye ODF supporters, though they have complete latitude (as they should) to attempt to offer features in their own format and software that exceed all other competitors.

Since when is it bad for competitors to attempt to compete? Again, get over yourselves.

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Anonymous Coward

Not a conspiracy but a

Not a conspiracy but a message designed to instill fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the mind of the user and thus intimidate them into selecting what M$ wants them to select. That they do the same thing to their older products to get the herd to move in the direction they want them to move is proof of the tactics' effectiveness . Now if they put text next to their own OOXML format that read something like;

"Not guaranteed to be readable by future or third-party products, susceptible to viral infections which may result in data loss".

Perhaps there would not be such a fuss.

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Lord Pontenbry Smythe

The problem is, the features that are incompatible with ODF are unlikely to be used by the majority of people. So the difference isn't an issue.

With a normal company your point would be fine, but MS will shaft you as soon as they get the opportunity, as proved in the past with almost all their products and recently with Vista.

I personally love the .Net framework and the Visual Studio IDE, but if .Net and IIS became the dominant force, it would soon become a bug ridden mess, changed yearly just so MS could charge you again. Oh and staying on an old working version would be out of the question as they'll kill off support.

Competition is great, but MS constantly need checking to make sure they play fair.

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Jobs Horns

I agree...

"It virtually the same wording used in Office 2007 if you try to save in the old 2000/2003 formats."

...although I would pause to point out that there are also Office features that are supported in the 2003 formats but not the 2007 formats.

The wording didn't tell you about that. This isn't a conspiracy, though. This is just bad coding, grown old. It was a bug when it was first introduced but has now been enshrined in successive releases (the 2010 beta is no better) so that today it pretty much *is* a conscious decision by MS not to have a single format that supports all their features. Odd, but true.

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Anonymous Coward

Competition is good - can we have it?

@ "Since when is it bad for competitors to attempt to compete?"

The crux of the problem is, "in which market are they competing"? I ask this because for all intents and purposes the market for office software is virtually dead. You can't talk about competition with MS Office because there can only be one entrant - Microsoft. No one else can enter because Microsoft dictates the terms. I've spoken to many people who are deeply frustrated with MS Office but won't consider anything else unless it can guarantee 100% compatibility. But the only company that can provide 100% compatibility with MS Office is Microsoft. No possibility of delivery means no possibility of competition, which in turn means a stagnant marketplace.

ODF proponents are hoping to introduce the *possibility* of competition by creating an open platform on which a market could be built. Until we have that, competition is *impossible*. And here is where many organisations, and particularly the ISO, let everyone down by approving OOXML. OOXML duplicates the functionality of ODF and should have been rejected on those grounds alone. But worse still, it is couched in proprietary technology and vagaries that inhibit genuine competition - which is why Microsoft worked so vigorously to push it through.

Does anyone doubt this? The article text is very revealing when it describes that OOXML as "an Office-rich XML-based format designed to deliver a Microsoft-centric productivity experience". The key expression is "Microsoft-centric" - it cannot be a genuine standard if it is centred around (and dependent on) proprietary technology. If you remove "Microsoft-centric" from that phrase, you have a perfect description for ODF.

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Proactive public relations.

After a beautiful serve by Microsoft, I believe the ball is now in the FOSS court.

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FAIL

Huh?

What are you talking about?

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@ Solomon Grundy

After the whole browser thing, Microsoft seems to have decided to get a jump on the Office thing with their own "choose what you'd like to save things as" screen. By doing this without being forced to, they get to design it however they want, while looking like the "good guys."

When FSF or anyone else comes after MS about content, MS get to respond as the aggrieved party saying “we were trying to do the right thing, there’s just no pleasing some people.”

This is pro-active public relations. They can look like the good guy by acting “first,” while at the same time not actually running any real risk anyone is going to use ODF. (Due to their wording.)

The onus is now on FSF (and anyone else) to find a way to complain about this without looking like whiney little kids who are never satisfied. (Thus the ball being in FSF’s court on how to appropriately respond.)

It was, IMNSHO, a good PR move by MS.

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No need to respond

As soon as organizations slowly use some ODF compliant offices (OO, Staroffice, NeoOffice, GOffice,...) they'll see the very valid utility of a persistent format that allows documents a decade old to be recalled without crazy gyrations. They (FOSS advocates) won't need to complain as the market forces will realize this a is "killer" feature of truly ODF compliant software.

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But OOXL is an ISO Standard!

That would be the one where MS stuff the voting process.

Perception has a lot to do with this.

If I save in ODF will the person who I email have it as well?

Note I *had* to do a recent format conversion between in OO from WinWord 97 to Win03 in XML The complex stuff worked out but the tabs on the first few lines were stuffed.

MS support for a true open standard will *always* be grudging unless forced by a govt. That on its own will spread a lot of FUD amongst casual users.

Organizations *have* to start thinking that whoever controls the data formats they use controls *them* in terms of their upgrade paths, when and how much they spend. This is what Bill Gates understood. Grab them by the data files and their wallets will come right along afterward. Forever.

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And if you send it in...

...OOXML will they have that? Or the old binary format? Maybe, maybe not.

This is exactly WHY standards are needed (and one standard for one thing - we did not need OOXML as ODF was there first). Now we have the VHS/Betamax wars AGAIN (just like BluRay/HD). The people who lose are the consumers through inflated prices and the devs who have to do everything twice.

And once again the arguably inferior standard will be the one that ends up getting adopted.

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Len
Go

Market forces and the network effect

I think you underestimate the power of market forces and the network effect.

An ever increasing number of local, regional and national governments are in the process of switching to ODF as the only allowed format for user editable documents. From smaller countries such as Denmark and The Netherlands to massive countries such as Brazil.

These organisations globally buy millions of seats for Office applications for their staff. If Microsoft's offer doesn't pass the compliance and interoperability tests in procurement procedures they will have lost a big sale.

Now, these governments exchange documents with suppliers in the private sector who in turn will need to adapt to their big customer's office format. All these private companies need an Office suite whose ODF implementation is compliant and interoperable. MS will simple not be able to continue their half-hearted low quality implementation of ODF if they want to continue selling to these customers.

I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years time MS is in the same situation with ODF as they are with HTML now. The power of Internet Explorer to set the web standard is gone, even though IE is still the most used browser. IE is now chasing tail lights of other browsers that do follow the W3C standards...

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MS and Compatibility - we've heard of it !

Some numpty sent me a 'docx' file. Having 'only' XP with Office 2000 (and, of course Linux with OO 3.2), I opened it with Open Office. It worked mostly but there was a graph that did not display properly. Oh well, search for MS' viewer for these docs and load it onto the XP machine (it's only there for 1 app. that cannot run under Linux - grrr). Surprise! MS' viewer also could not render the same graph.

Conclusion - if you want to be more compatible (even in an MS-only environment), choose ODF every time.

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Joke

Shocker

Open source company in "Pissing and moaning that microsoft don't compete with one arm tied behind their back" shocker.

Here's an idea: How about, rather than spending all of this time and effort draging them down, the ODF Foundation work on improving their product so it becomes a defacto choice on merit?

I know. ridiculous ideas are ridiculous.

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Reality calling

Industry doesn't work like that. If it did then there would have been no point in Microsoft bribing ISO to rubber-stamp its half-arsed XML format.

Microsoft make it their business to ensure that everyone else is competing with both their hands tied behind their backs. It is Microsoft who have spent decades running as far and as fast as possible from anything that allows users a choice on merit.

If it hadn't, then it would have been dead and buried after the successive loads of crap that were Windows v1, 2, and 3, all of which sucked compared to alternatives available at the time.

MS is not a company that competes - its first and only reaction is always to find a way to lock out any threat, even if doing so is illegal, unethical, or screws over their own customers.

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FAIL

crazy ideas

Yesterday my dad wanted to prepare a slide show for a talk he was doing, just using image slides. I figured it was a good job for OpenOffice presentations or whatever the OO equivalent of Powerpoint is, as he doesn't have office and we have suggested open source stuff where it's more or less equal to ms for the job it needs to do, so I found a handy add-on that allowed the bulk import of a directory of images into a slide show. That worked fine, but then it turned out that Dad couldn't re-order them. I took a look and I couldn't either. No matter what you did it just bounced your slides back to where they came from. Sometimes it would arbitrarily create a new slide as well, but no matter which view you went into or how hard you tried, you weren't going to move those bastards anywhere.

Until they have basic functionality working well enough that my dad could use it, they don't have a working office suite and any amount of whinging that microsoft are being mean and unfair to them won't fix that.

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Gates Horns

Merit? Tell me you're joking

Or you are naive. The track record of standards has had little to do with merit.

OOXML became an ISO standard for document files despite the fact that ODF already existed as an ISO standard for the same purpose (there's a ridiculous idea for you) was not the "merit" of OOXML - it was shown in the ISO meetings to have none. It was because MS stuffed the ISO national committees with their own people and with bribed and threatened partners. And if that did not work (eg in Norway) they then bribed, threatened or FUDDed a senior official to veto the committee's decision.

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It's not

Martin75: Odd, you might as well be saying: Microsoft should be able to compete with the entire world market, hurt it, destroy it, and that's all fine and dandy.

This isn't a case of one company vs another, it's one company vs the world.

We know they'll loose, but the question is how much damage they'll do as they go down.

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Megaphone

A title?

What if Microsoft don't keep ODF support up to date and fully supported?

That might be what they are saying but it might not be in their interest to fully support it or let it be unsupported - I realise this really vague but it's differcult to work out their posistion; I don't think they will break ODF support but they possibly won't update it as quickly as we'd all like which might break things with say OpenOffice.

Mike

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Paris Hilton

limitations of ODF in Office.

Think you got that backward, its the limitations/inability/of Office to deal with ODF

Paris because even she knows not to blame the size of the hole for the inadequacy of the tool to be able to fill it

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Big Brother

What's happened to Microsoft?

MS paying lip service to various anti-trust suits throughout the world?

Pushing for total hegemony through FUD?

Total apparent refusal to play nicely with standards - if they're not MS "standards"?

Well, that's answered my question.

Nothing's happened to Microsoft. Still business as usual.

The parallels between Gates & Ballmer on one hand, and Blair & Brown on the other are interesting...

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Not surprised in the least

Given that Microsoft Office versions have proven not always compatible between themselves, it is only just that Microsoft owns up to the fact that saving them in ODF format will not make things better. Microsoft has never implemented anyone else's standard without tweaking it, changing it, and finally strangling it where possible.

And, from a technical point of view, one must not forget that a file format is nothing but a data and function descriptor destined to be read by the appropriate application. If Word/Excel 2010 have functions that are not describable in ODF, then you cannot honestly expect the format to be able to save that information in a way that can be read later. That said, I fail to see how that could be the case. Even functions that only exist in Office 2010 should be describable in ODF format, although they will not be useable in Open Office, obviously. But of course, I'm not technical enough to know if that is actually possible.

I think this is just a case where Microsoft is being honest. Of course, it won't help Microsoft in the least, but this conspiracy mentality is a bit over-the-top in this case.

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Gates Horns

Did the browser developers supply their own wording?

It looks to me like the browser developers were able to supply their own wording for that ballot screen. Why hasn't the PDF Foundation been able to do the same?

If MS puts a line in saying it doesn't support the full ODF format (as it has done) then that's fine. But the ODF Foundation should have been consulted on the wording of the ODF option, surely...

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FAIL

The wording is the problem...

M$ make it sound like ODF is deficient when it was M$'s choice to ignore an excellent existing standard so that they could create their own proprietary format for further customer lock in.

M$ - monopolistic, underhanded - FAIL, business as usual for M$

On the bright side it will become increasingly more expensive for M$ to keep buying large comtracts and they will eventually collapse under their own weight.

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Stop

Rocks and Hard Places

I don't see what else Microsoft are expected to do. If their product does not support all ODF features and files saved in ODF format may lose some of the formatting and so on it's only right to warn users of that or they will be furious when they find that has happened. Not adding the warning would be worse.

I don't understand the suggestion to apply some regulatory pressure - What regulatory pressure and to what end ? There's no reason Microsoft should support ODF at all, it's their choice to do so, and should be.

The bottom line is that some people want to force Microsoft to support ODF and that is quite offensive in itself.

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the real answer of course

would be a ballot screen asking if you want MSOffice or OpenOffice as your default office suite - and then to download it (a free 'add-on' to MSOffice?!?)

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ODF not complete

No I'm not a Microsoft or Linux fanoy (I'll use whatever gets the job done) but lets look at this objectively.

The Open Source movement largely consists of hobbyists and there are literally thousands of them around the globe who are good enough to put their time into writing applications for the benefit of humanity and then supporting them (I use firefox as my primary browser)

Because of this applications and their associated formats can change quickly to address a potential need or implement a new feature, they can then put out the new build or add on over the Internet overnight.

Comapre this with a lumbering corporate like Microsoft which has a large corporate market share.

If it controls the file format its product uses it can control the release cycle which is much slower than open source and can be far eaeier to suport as remember that MS often has support agreements with its corporate customers, coporates who may not employ open source advocates who could overhaul the code would not be satisfied with a best endeavours approach which is common within open source.

To implement ODF Microsoft has had to take a snapshot of the standard in time and implement that but of course its not going to be able to assure customers that all office features are supported in ODF as it hasn't fully examined the code so is not familiar with it.

HTML hasn't changed all that much so I think the comparison with a browser is unfair in this instance.

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Jad
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RE: ODF not complete

"The Open Source movement largely consists of hobbyists ..."

Umm ... thats actually not true any more.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/01/22/linux_developers_pay/

You also have to remember that a large number of the people who work/worked on OpenOffice were paid to do it, and a large number of the organisations on the ODF consortium are highly paid individuals who do it for a job ...

Just my 2cents.

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ODF isn't OO.o Format

The ODF format isn't the openoffice format, the OO.o formats were all made legacy. so even though Sun has many, many paid developers working on OpenOffice, they are dedicated to using an ISO approved format and not their own prideful creations.

The ODF standards are also version, much like the HTML ones and it's not similar to the code, it gets massive peer review and then a final publication describes that version of the standard. We've had 2 published versions of ODF and one is currently going through peer review. 1.0, 1.1 and 1.2. Microsoft only have to support 1.1 to be compatible with every current editor.

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ODFO

"Many features of Microsoft Office are supported by ODF but some content or editability may be lost on save."

That sounds like a perfectly accurate and honest statement to me. It's no secret, nor should it surprise anyone, that MSOffice and OOXML has features that ODF doesn't. This is why format parity is an impossible, not to say arguably undesirable, dream.

I really don't see what they are supposed to do about this. Can regulators force them to nobble OOXML and their suite so it only supports the features that ODF does? Or engineer a 'lite' mode so only those features are available when ODF is chosen as default format? Seems doubtful.

Seriously, format interoperability is a nice value-add for an office suite, and I abhor anyone placing artificial barriers against it, but nobody should be obliged to slave away in pursuit of it to the detriment of the product itself.

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Paris Hilton

So? What's Your Point?

So Microsoft offers what it has as choices, and in doing so reiterates that ODF is not going to be their preferred pick. Microsoft has made it very clear ODF will not be getting their full attention and support.

Looks to me the ODF pushers are just rankled at Microsoft's position on ODF and will take every opportunity to attack them on it. And they don't like the wording or its position in the panel. And here I was thinking the open source fanatics were intelligent enough to read and decide regardless of where something was placed on a screen. I guess they better hope the toilet paper roll is within their definition of easy reach at the next public place huh?

Paris because even Paris understands what's easy.

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Gates Horns

All it needs...

is for Microsoft to be forced to state that Office is NOT standards compliant until they fix it to fully support ODF.

In fact until Office fully supports OOXML as they managed to con through the standards comittees.

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Stop

Ehr...

On Save/Save as, OO throws up a dialog with a wording very much like the one described here if you choose to save as .doc ("incompatible format, changes may be lost", etc.)

And not unsurprisingly, the OO native format is on top.

It's been like this for years and years.

Not really sure I understand what the problem is.

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Joke

Ah, yes, the Windows "experience"

They've spent almost three decades, promising this "experience", haven't they? All the way from the days of OLE DB, through MDAC and COM ("Everyone stay COM and no one will get hurt" - what a lie that proved to be). All we really got was a spaghetti soup of acronyms-de-jour, from a guy who seemed to have gotten hold of a tin full of 'M's and 'S's. Each year, a new acronym. Just tell your boss that the reason last year's "solution" didn't work, was because they weren't using the latest acronym.

There are IT managers who have built entire careers out of selling next year's acronym. (Open sourcers come up with gimpy names for their products and then carry on using them for half a century, but Microsoft people come up with gimpy products, and then rename them every autumn.)

Buying into the Windows "experience" actually turned out to be a bit like inadvertently buying something from the USSR: suddenly, everything's fine - but only as long as you buy everything else from the USSR. (The overall experience, is a bit like living in the 1960s, of course, but as long as all your tractors come from Factory 9, and your combine harvesters come from Factory 12, and your cars are made in Building 24, then the tools, that you bought from Bureau 61, will still kind of work okay with all of them.)

Just don't, for God's sake take a look at any of that stuff from the 'free' world, because that stuff is Cancer.

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"An ever increasing number ...

" ... of local, regional and national governments are in the process of switching to ODF "

Glad to hear it.

Now, its high time that all colleges and other educational establishments instructed their students and staff to create documents only in ODF format. Maybe that means they should be working in Open Office too, maybe not -- but if they use a MS product they should at the very least be checking that their documents are "proper" ODF with nothing missing.

Otherwise, we perpetuate exactly the problem that we had in the days of IE4, with webmasters creating sites that only worked properly *in* IE4.

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@ Jason Bloomberg

Let me explain why regulatory pressure is in *our* (the public's) interest. Microsoft is well within its rights to use a proprietary format, in its proprietary office suite. If you want to use it, then by all means, buy it. However, imagine having wanting to use a government service and having to fill out an online form to do so. Imagine this form being available only in the MS proprietary format. Imagine teachers in schools giving out assignments in this same format. Imagine them requiring the students to submit their assignments in the same format. This would mean that everyone involved _must_ buy and use the MS product.

Actually there is no need to imagine. Both scenarios are real. Hence our call for regulatory pressure.

@pctechxp

ODF is an ISO standard. Are you fully aware of what this means? HTML is also a standard. In fact, why apologize on behalf of Microsoft wrt ODF and give them credit with HTML? Are you aware of what is going on wrt HTML 5 support in the browser scene?

The whole point is that we want our products to be standards compliant. You know, like those wall sockets that fit all the plugs of all our appliances?

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@ Kyriakos Vallianatos

Apply pressure on those who choose to use MS product, convince them that ODF is a good idea, let MS fall by the wayside or get on programme. You're going have to do that anyway or users will keep using proprietary formats.

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@ Kyriakos

> "The whole point is that we want our products to be standards compliant. You know, like those wall sockets that fit all the plugs of all our appliances?"

Did you mean like those two pin flat sockets using 110V@ 60Hz, those two (or three) pin round sockets using 230V@50Hz, or maybe those three square pin sockets using 230V@50Hz? ;)

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Stop

Will this apply elsewhere?

Almost every software package in the world has a unique internal format it uses to save documents. If you're only using a document in MS Office, of couse you want to use their internal format, but if you want to share it you may have to export it.

Are the likes Adobe or Autodesk or Oracle going to be forced to display a similar window every time you want to save a file in Photoshop or AutoCAD or create a database in Oracle format? "Do you want to save in PSD PhotoShop internal format or as a GIF?"

Fair enough, force MS to document their file formats, but leave the rest to the market.

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Standards

Well, Adobe, Autodesk and Oracle aren't convicted monopolists. Plus GIF was a proprietary standard until 2001 when the parent on it's compression ran out. I recommend saving things in png, svg etc. Better standards for static content.

Of course we could do with more standards for a couple of different areas, but those will come.

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Unhappy

Microsoft ODF ...

As long as they don't try to make a competing ODF standard (Microsoft Java anyone?) they just have to support the standard (noone asks them how much they have to support it) to be "open standard compliant" which is all they need to sell Microsoft Office to certain academic and government institutions.

They just have to support it, they don't have to use it, and they aren't stopping you from installing other Office applications at the same time.

Unlike Internet Explorer (which comes embedded in the OS for "free"), you pay a small fortune for Microsoft Office so you could say that it is assumed that you _want_ to use Microsoft Office.

I only use OpenOffice, at work and at home, I find Microsoft Office Repulsive to work with, and miss the extra features of OpenOffice when I have to use it (F11), and always seem to get lost with each new interface (I have to support a lot of Microsoft Office users) ...

but that doesn't mean that Microsoft are wrong in what they're doing, however much I would prefer them to do it properly

I don't half ramble do I?

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@AC 12:13

"As long as they don't try to make a competing ODF standard (Microsoft Java anyone?)"

I can't work out if you're being serious. In case you are may I suggest you investigate something called OOXML.

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OOXML...

...*IS* the competing standard!

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A little amendment needed

The options sound fine, all that is lacking in the first option is a similar 'but' option to match it with the second option ' but people using non-Microsoft software may be unable to open your documents."

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Title wrong?

Should it be "Microsoft Office continuing to have poor standards support", or something along those lines?

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FAIL

why bother with the ballots?

If MS didn't say anything about the limitations they'd be laid into by class action suits. If they do, they're labelled as not playing fair. Will OO.org have a similar ballot screen in their app?

I prefer Opera and iWork for my browsing and document creation, but I think the ballots are unnecessary. It is true that many users wouldn't switch from the defaults because they wouldn't know about the alternatives, but I'd suggest that making them care about things they don't need to is more hassle than it's worth. Just let the users who care make the change. For the rest, the defaults will probably serve them well enough. If they feel limited by the defaults, then they'll care about it and learn how to fix it.

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FAIL

A New Tech Support Hassle

This is just great. A confusing screen in which your only options are do you want it to work, or do you want it it only partially work.

I can already hear the thousands of phones ringing and my department budget taking a hit in the support center all because the OpenSaucers are out stirring up the muck for everyone that actually makes money.

Open Source should stay out of the real business world. They cost everyone money but they don't have enough business savvy to realize it.

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Money

Those damn open source people! They're making us loose are extortion money!

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Your failure, sir...

"Open Source should stay out of the real business world. They cost everyone money but they don't have enough business savvy to realize it."

Oh that's right: stay out of the "business world" because everyone in the "business world" looks so serious in their suits talking about money. If those open source types had stayed out of your "business world" you wouldn't be on the Internet at all: it'd be you, your dial-up connection and Microsoft's shitty proprietary service on the other end, and you'd have had almost twenty years of that "business class" experience.

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Yeah, but

we were still making scads of money when all we had was dial-up and Microsoft's "shitty proprietary service". Now we just make more money with a high speed connection and Microsoft's "shitty proprietary service".

And while I do wear a suit, people like me are responsible for the techies paychecks - you know the money stuff you were talking about? Yeah, we do that. You're welcome.

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