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News Flash from Redmond: FOSS Causes Dissatisfaction!

News Flash from Redmond: FOSS Causes Dissatisfaction!

"This isn't about switching to open source software, but to a format widely and well-supported by open source office formats," noted blogger Chris Travers. "The government could continue to run Microsoft Office, but the preferred data format would be ODF. This makes Microsoft's argument seem to be rather shrill. Why on earth would changing the default format of released documents be a big deal?"

By Katherine Noyes
02/24/14 2:34 PM PT

Here in the Linux community, we're all familiar with the many benefits that come with using open source software -- customizability, interoperability, and freedom from vendor lock-in, to name just a few examples.

Well, Linux Girl has shocking news to report. It turns out there's also a BIG PROBLEM associated with open source software that we've all apparently overlooked: dissatisfaction!

Yes, that's right, dear readers: Open source software causes dissatisfaction and other assorted problems for its users! Thank goodness Microsoft is around to alert us to this worrying situation.

'This Will Cause Problems'

Linux Girl

"You may not be aware, but the UK government is currently in the process of making important selections about which open standards to mandate the use of in future," began Microsoft blogger Alexbuk in a post last week.

"The government proposes to mandate Open Document format (ODF) and exclude the most widely supported and used open standard for document formats, Open XML (OOXML)," Alexbuk went on to helpfully explain.

"We believe this will cause problems for citizens and businesses who use office suites which don't support ODF," he suggested. Not only that, but "we believe very strongly that the current proposal is likely to increase costs, cause dissatisfaction amongst citizens and businesses, add complexity to the process of dealing with government and negatively impact some suppliers to government."

Imagine that, dear readers! All these years and we had no idea. Luckily, there's been plenty of tequila on hand down at the blogosphere's Broken Windows Lounge to help soften the blow.

'Just Stupid'

"Well, wouldn't you know, Microsoft is pitching the FUD again," began Google+ blogger Kevin O'Brien over a fresh Tequila Tux cocktail.

"I happen to know that LibreOffice can handle just about anything you need to do, and for word processing and documents, Writer is superior to Word," O'Brien told Linux Girl. "There is no reason for anyone to be dissatisfied -- in fact, they will probably have a certain relief, since LibreOffice does not use that highly confusing 'Ribbon.'

"Giving control of the people's data to a private company that can switch formats any time it wants is just stupid," he concluded.

'This Is Microsoft's Greatest Fear'

"I don't doubt that it will cause dissatisfaction -- in Microsoft," Linux Rants blogger Mike Stone chimed in. "This is Microsoft's greatest fear. It starts slowly, and gradually more and more 'customers' slip through their fingers, realizing that there are viable alternatives."

Microsoft is "hoping to nip this in the bud while progress is still slow," he added. "I hope Microsoft's bluster is ignored so we can finally get past them and move on to better things."

Similarly, "the only dissatisfaction will be in Micro$oft's pockets," agreed Google+ blogger Gonzalo Velasco C.

"Of course any change (from A to B, whatever those options are) needs to be done properly," he conceded. "If you change a public service person's computer from Windows 3.1 on a Pentium MMX PC to Ubuntu 14.04 on an AMD Phenom II X4 machine without any training and preparation, the person will be confused and frustrated for a couple of days -- until she/he perceives the system is way better and the new machine a jet!"

In much the same way, "take somebody from M$Office 2003 and give them 2012 to see if they don't throw a brick on the computer screen," Gonzalo Velasco C. added. "Nice statement, Micro$oft!"

'The Last Vestige of M$'s Desktop Monopoly'

And again: "Of course M$ and 'partners' will be dissatisfied with governments choosing ODF," blogger Robert Pogson concurred.

Governments and citizens, on the other hand, "will be satisfied with using standards that permit them to share reading, writing and presenting information in a format not being jerked around by a corporation wanting frequently to be paid for 'upgrades' (arbitrary changes)," Pogson explained.

"Using OOXML and ODF both is absolutely silly, like requiring round and square wheels on vehicles," he added. "OOXML was designed to lock people into using M$'s products forever -- something that should be of no interest to governments and taxpayers."

In fact, the government of the UK "should spit the hook out by banning use of M$'s products anywhere in government," he suggested. "If all governments did that, the world would be freed from monopoly rather quickly as ISVs would ship products for GNU/Linux and other FLOSS operating systems promptly. Governments are the biggest businesses, and ISVs cannot ignore them."

Meanwhile, business software use is "the last vestige of M$'s desktop monopoly," Pogson asserted. "Eliminating that monopoly -- which is of no benefit to anyone but M$ and 'partners' -- should be a priority of all governments, just as they seek to secure their citizens against terrorists and other common criminals."

'Microsoft Will Lose Some Credibility'

Of course, strictly speaking, "this isn't about switching to open source software, but to a format widely and well-supported by open source office formats," noted Chris Travers, a blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. In other words, "the government could continue to run Microsoft Office, but the preferred data format would be ODF."

In any case, "this makes Microsoft's argument seem to be rather shrill," Travers said. "Why on earth would changing the default format of released documents be a big deal? It isn't clear that this is an issue at all for documents released to the public or shared between departments.

"The most likely outcome here is that Microsoft will not get what they are asking for, and will lose some credibility when the sky doesn't fall," he predicted.

'A Win/Win - Just Not for Microsoft'

Last but not least, "here we go again," sighed Google+ blogger Alessandro Ebersol.

"Microsoft can state whatever they want -- they are the losers in this case, so they'll complain, they'll curse, they'll badmouth, whatever," he explained. "The thing is, Windows just exists as a wrap for MS Office, and of course, MS can force out the competitors, accessing undocumented system calls and APIs, what makes its office suite outperform the competition."

Yet "a word processing program is not rocket science -- it's just an empty screen where we type our letters, documents, resumes," Ebersol added. "The wire that still holds MS Office is the OOXML format, the damned DOCX (and the other X, XLSX, PPTX, etc...), which is a closed standard (despite Microsoft claims)."

Besides, "the world is moving towards non-desktop-centric computing, and other alternatives are more attractive these days," he pointed out. "BYOD is also important, and MS does not fit all the gaps here."

Finally, "nothing can beat 0 cost," Ebersol concluded. "Sure there are the training costs in the beginning, but once the folks are trained, the TCO just fades over time. So, open source is a win/win scenario -- just not for Microsoft."


Katherine Noyes is always on duty in her role as Linux Girl, whose cape she has worn since 2007. A mild-mannered journalist by day, she spends her evenings haunting the seedy bars and watering holes of the Linux blogosphere in search of the latest gossip. You can also find her on Twitter and Google+.


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