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Microsoft announces support for its open document format
August 15, 2012 11:20 AM   Subscribe

... Microsoft made an unobtrusive announcement that brings a degree of closure to a seven year long epic battle between some of the largest technology companies in the world. The same saga pitted open source advocates against proprietary vendors, and for the first time brought the importance of technical standards to the attention of millions of people around the world... posted by Egg Shen (98 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
While Office 2013 also supports ODF 1.2 - the competing/pre-existing/superior open document format - history suggests that support may be less than ideal.
posted by Egg Shen at 11:22 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The horror of having structured, templated documentation created in Word and edited in OpenOffice is just staggering. I would work with a different tool if they'd buy one! Or let me use OO tooo!

ARRRRRRRRRRRRRGH.
posted by tilde at 11:29 AM on August 15, 2012


Hm. I predict that "PDF reflow" is going to produce a *lot* of tech support calls.

In other surprisingly-good news, SCO is finally being taken off of life support.
posted by schmod at 11:30 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


...and Word 97 will continue to be a defector standard.
posted by Artw at 11:40 AM on August 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Defacto. Thanks, phone.
posted by Artw at 11:42 AM on August 15, 2012 [15 favorites]


I've moved to LaTeX as in part because I can count on the files I make in it looking the same way, EVERY TIME, barring very weird things like packages changing (never seen it happen, but it could.)

Even if it did, there are people who keep old versions of TeX and its packages around, you know, just in case.
posted by Canageek at 11:44 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have used OpenOffice since its StarOffice days. It has changed surprisingly little since they split the apps into multiple windows. (It used to emulate an entire desktop, complete with Start menu, with simulated windows inside.)

I'm astonished and perplexed that it is still the best open source office clone.
posted by miyabo at 11:45 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, I prefer defector standard. It's got disfunction and datfunction. What more could you possibly need?
posted by tilde at 11:45 AM on August 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


Artw: "...and Word 97 will continue to be a defector standard."
*Boing!* 
It looks like
you're trying
to make a
typo!

Would you
like help
correcting
that typo!?
posted by schmod at 11:48 AM on August 15, 2012 [19 favorites]


Of course, if you're serious about interoperability, there can be only one.
posted by Egg Shen at 11:48 AM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm probably jumping ship from OO/LO if the Surface turns out to be any good anyway. I've done well with it for clunky, mostly working Word clone, but I feel like I've done my time with it.
posted by Artw at 11:49 AM on August 15, 2012


miyabo, have you seen LibreOffice?

Huh, when was OO.o given to Apache?
posted by oddman at 11:49 AM on August 15, 2012


I'm astonished and perplexed that it is still the best open source office clone.

I would be too since Libre Office seems to be much better, as it were. YOMV.
posted by juiceCake at 11:59 AM on August 15, 2012


I pretty much think of it as "the latest version of Open Office", TBH.
posted by Artw at 12:00 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Of course, if you're serious about interoperability, there can be only one.

<nerd class="pedant">Surely, you meant UTF8...</nerd>
posted by verb at 12:02 PM on August 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


Huh, when was OO.o given to Apache?

When all the contributors ran away from the abusive relationship with Oracle. Really you want to be using LibreOffice these days.
posted by jaduncan at 12:02 PM on August 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


If you're just typing stuff for yourself, knock yourself out with your choice of document writer. Hell, write it in Vi and paste it into LaTex on your BeOS 286AT connecting to VAX terminal then pat yourself on the back for how awesomely easy it really would be if everyone would just try it.

Meantime, I've got a bunch of attorneys who have to share files with other people and they get BITCHY if it doesn't look EXACTLY the same on their computer as it does on the other guy, who probably uses Word 2003.
posted by charred husk at 12:05 PM on August 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


If you want examples of how deeply Microsoft fucked with computing and for how long, look no further than office software and document formats. There's no reason a computer from 10 years ago couldn't have run a better word processor and spreadsheet than even exist today. How on earth did they manage to screw one of computing's most popular uses, for so many for so long? It's mind boggling, really.
posted by iotic at 12:07 PM on August 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


*Boing!*

It looks like
you're trying
to make a
typo!

Would you
like help
corr
-

Do you want to turn on Sticky Keys?
posted by Smart Dalek at 12:07 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


> ...and Word 97 will continue to be a defector standard.

That parsed just fine as it stood. I understood you to mean 97 is what you run forever and a day after you jump off the MS upgrade merry-go-round.

As is XP, come to that. Every single dual-boot PC I have, work or home, has somebody's up-to-date Linux distro and OO on one side and XP + Word 97 on the other. (One other thing fits the pattern: up to date GIMP over here, same-old same-old PS CS3 over there.)

I cannot bring myself to call it LibreOffice.
posted by jfuller at 12:08 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


LibreOffice has been improving steadily; the original code was, apparently, truly awful, part of why it never seemed to go anywhere.

LibreOffice Progress To 3.6.0 was something I found fairly interesting. Between the amount of dead code they're removing, and the active unit tests that are (finally) being built, I suspect it's going to end up being a program people actually WANT to use before too awfully much longer. Not sure 3.6 is going to be there yet, but with that much improvement under the hood, 3.7 (or will it be 4.0?) may be a very interesting release.

They're asking, by the way, for more testers for the daily builds, so pitching in some time and filing bugs will likely have a real impact on the project.
posted by Malor at 12:16 PM on August 15, 2012 [11 favorites]


I'm intensely curious about this part:
As Tristan Davis, Senior Lead Program Manager for Word, explained: “With this functionality, you can transform your PDFs back into fully editable Word documents, rehydrating headings, bulleted/numbered lists, tables, footnotes, etc. by analyzing the contents of the PDF file.”
These are not trivial tasks, since lots of PDF's don't have any special representation of these structures more complicated than positioning of text and font characteristics. I've been working on and off over the last year on a project to extract data tables from PDF documents, and there are no perfect solutions. Just detecting a table is hard enough, but describing its structure is also very tricky. Even if you have graphical grid lines on the page, there is plenty of room for idiosyncratic user representations. One of my colleagues is working on detecting section and list numbering, and even that is no picnic.

Of course, MS has a lot of firepower to throw at problems like these, so I an open to the possibility of being surprised.
posted by Edgewise at 12:23 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


~With this functionality, you can transform your PDFs back into fully editable Word documents...
~These are not trivial tasks, since lots of PDF's don't have any special representation of these structures more complicated than positioning of text and font characteristics.


Is she referring exclusively to PDFs made in Word to begin with? If so, perhaps those PDFs will include a ton of hidden cruft that acts as pointers for Word to re-create a Word doc? You know, so that a PDF that should only weigh 110k tips the scales at 1meg?
posted by Thorzdad at 12:32 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Ratification of the Pax Of Clippy.
posted by sourwookie at 12:32 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Surely, you meant UTF8

Surely the group of applications that can read ASCII is a superset of those that can read UTF-8?
posted by Egg Shen at 12:35 PM on August 15, 2012


Ah, standards.

I remember in HTML when all the shouting was "Microsoft Internet Explorer doesn't follow the standards!"

Nowadays, of course, the shouting is all "Microsoft Internet Explorer doesn't implement my favorite new feature!" Standards? They get created by Google and Apple after they implement the feature they want.

The common thread, of course, is Microsoft Is Evil rather than We All Like Standards. I mean, we (meaning OpenOffice) could all have started using the Microsoft Office Open XML standard. It's an ECMA standard. Then our documents would work perfectly in Word in OpenOffice (as much as documents ever do.)

But no. It's not really about standards. It's about hating Microsoft. And I get that they were naughty in 1998, or whatever, but really. Can't we give it up?
posted by alasdair at 12:37 PM on August 15, 2012 [12 favorites]


Edgewise: "I'm intensely curious about this part:
As Tristan Davis, Senior Lead Program Manager for Word, explained: “With this functionality, you can transform your PDFs back into fully editable Word documents, rehydrating headings, bulleted/numbered lists, tables, footnotes, etc. by analyzing the contents of the PDF file.”
"

I supported Adobe software in a past life, and let me tell you, there's a special place in hell for people who want to convert PDFs into Word docs to edit them. EDIT THE FUCKING ORIGINAL DOCUMENT AND GENERATE A NEW PDF FROM THAT!

Microsoft is giving people bad, bad ideas.
posted by mullingitover at 12:38 PM on August 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Happy OO user here. At my last job, the installed software included Office 2010. Yuck. Sorry alisdair.

Somebody somewhere will hopefully wake up to the fact that you need a decent formatting document creator with OPTIONS for outputting to print, to HTML, to PDF etc etc, and not an overloaded typewriter with an export function.
posted by Artful Codger at 12:40 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Egg Shen: "Of course, if you're serious about interoperability, there can be only one."

All our internal technical documents (designs, specs, test plans, etc) are in pure ASCII stored in Perforce. That way anyone can read them with any kind of computer and P4 tracks the changes.
posted by octothorpe at 12:42 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hate Office apps. I don't care if it's Microsoft or Open/Libre. I understand they're good for certain tasks but their dominance over everything means I get HR requiring a goddamned Word doc resume even though I gave them perfectly good PDF/plaintext options. Hate on Adobe all you want, but at least I can easily pdflatex. No such thing as doclatex.
posted by kmz at 12:48 PM on August 15, 2012


And I get that they were naughty in 1998, or whatever, but really. Can't we give it up?

Well, as the "hardball" link documents, they brass-knuckled Massachusetts over ODF in 2005.

And they continued to fail to fully implement their own format in Office 2010.

Generously assuming they became not-naughty immediately after that, I wouldn't call malfeasance from 2 years ago ancient history.
posted by Egg Shen at 12:52 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


I supported Adobe software in a past life, and let me tell you, there's a special place in hell for people who want to convert PDFs into Word docs to edit them. EDIT THE FUCKING ORIGINAL DOCUMENT AND GENERATE A NEW PDF FROM THAT!

What if I don't have the original document, but want to edit the PDF into something more readable? Because that situation arises for me all the time.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:57 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


What if I don't have the original document, but want to edit the PDF

Heard of Illustrator?
posted by signal at 1:02 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I supported Adobe software in a past life, and let me tell you, there's a special place in hell for people who want to convert PDFs into Word docs to edit them. EDIT THE FUCKING ORIGINAL DOCUMENT AND GENERATE A NEW PDF FROM THAT!

A common use case in disability is to create an accessible version of a printed book for blind or print-impaired users - for example, a Braille version. This commonly involves starting with the PDF that went to the printer (or came back from the printer). So it's not unreasonable.
posted by alasdair at 1:03 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


alasdair: I remember in HTML when all the shouting was "Microsoft Internet Explorer doesn't follow the standards!"

They didn't. But they were also the only game in town, and were so well known for manipulating the market however they could for financial advantage that their tactics spawned phrases to describe them: FUD, embrace-extend-and-extinguish.

Nowadays, of course, the shouting is all "Microsoft Internet Explorer doesn't implement my favorite new feature!" Standards? They get created by Google and Apple after they implement the feature they want. The common thread, of course, is Microsoft Is Evil rather than We All Like Standards.

The key is that they aren't trying to break the competition as they go. They aren't trying to push proprietary features into the standards. Largely sites that open in Chrome also open in Safari -- and they both open in Firefox, the project you conveniently leave out, that sparked the response to Internet Explorer and is still a major player in the browser space.

But no. It's not really about standards. It's about hating Microsoft. And I get that they were naughty in 1998, or whatever, but really. Can't we give it up?

I don't know, can we give up the irrational defense of huge corporations? Google and Apple aren't saints, but they're doing miles better by the rights of the computing world than Microsoft did back when they ruled the playground.
posted by JHarris at 1:07 PM on August 15, 2012 [9 favorites]


I mean, we (meaning OpenOffice) could all have started using the Microsoft Office Open XML standard. It's an ECMA standard.

It's not just a standard, it's a ridiculous standard. It's way too complex, and iirc many features include options that say "do what [previous version of Office] did for this", and not implicitly by spelling out the actual behavior, but by actually referring to the old versions of Office that you're supposed to mimic.
posted by Jpfed at 1:08 PM on August 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


Office productivity software exists solely to soak up all the efficiency gains made by other areas of the company.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 1:12 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


But no. It's not really about standards. It's about hating Microsoft. And I get that they were naughty in 1998, or whatever, but really. Can't we give it up?

The fact that this is still an issue for governments — hell, for everyone — in 2012 is directly because Microsoft has been gaming the system for this long. No, we can't give it up and we shouldn't give it up.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:20 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


JHarris: Google and Apple aren't saints, but they're doing miles better by the rights of the computing world than Microsoft did back when they ruled the playground.

Google's better. Apple is much worse.
posted by Malor at 1:23 PM on August 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Largely sites that open in Chrome also open in Safari -- and they both open in Firefox

Well, yeah, but both Chrome & Safari are based on WebKit, and Google sponsors the Mozilla foundation which develops Firefox. So how diverse is this diversity? Meanwhile CSS - never very good to begin with - has devolved into an unreadable mess of -moz-* and -webkit-* declarations - what "standards"?
posted by deo rei at 1:27 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I supported Adobe software in a past life, and let me tell you, there's a special place in hell for people who want to convert PDFs into Word docs to edit them. EDIT THE FUCKING ORIGINAL DOCUMENT AND GENERATE A NEW PDF FROM THAT!

Just FYI, the work that I'm doing isn't intended for something like that. My project is specifically to extract tables from masses of PDF documents for data mining, so it has nothing to do with editing and saving. After all, you're basically correct, although there are some circumstances where users don't have the option to work on the original document.

Is she referring exclusively to PDFs made in Word to begin with? If so, perhaps those PDFs will include a ton of hidden cruft that acts as pointers for Word to re-create a Word doc? You know, so that a PDF that should only weigh 110k tips the scales at 1meg?

Ugh, I really hope not. After all, such an exercise would beg the question: why are you bothering to save the document to PDF, and why didn't you keep the original? Because if their PDF feature extraction is meant to work on random documents rather than just one's own, and it relies on proprietary MS supplements to the PDF data, it's of extremely limited use. Of course, maybe they will try to tackle this task and realize that's the best that they can do, and scale back their ambitions accordingly. Wouldn't be the first time.
posted by Edgewise at 1:31 PM on August 15, 2012


Heard of Illustrator?

Yes. And I am not about to waste time and money (re)purchasing, installing, or using a drawing program to make some edits to what presents as a text document. If it works in this new version of Word, importing and editing a PDF in a word processor is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. I used to work in IT support myself, and I don't miss the format priests in the least. If you think there is only right way to achieve a particular result, then you have fallen into the trap of thinking the tool is more important than the job it is applied to.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:32 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


~What if I don't have the original document, but want to edit the PDF
~Heard of Illustrator?


Editing a text-heavy PDF in Illustrator isn't a walk in the park, and certainly nothing I'd advise a non-graphics person to dive into. The text ends up broken into fragments, breaking apart sentences and words into bits. And, then, there's the PDF format's penchant for wrapping every...damned...thing in clipping masks within clipping masks within clipping masks. Most of the time, you're better off just starting over and re-creating the file from scratch than trying to edit it as-is.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:32 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I used to write conversion tools to import word and excel docs into typesetting systems. We had thousands of test documents and we would convert them in batches and set up proofreaders in conference rooms to do "full reads". I encountered word docs from clients that would crash word on the same version of word that was used to create the doc. This morass of filetypes is one of the great tragedies of the early days ( I think we may be just leaving the early days) of computing. We wasted person-years on this stuff.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:33 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm rooting for LibreOffice. I really am. But it makes me feel like a Cubs fan when I see stuff like this:

This is LibreOffice 3.6.0, prepared with care and presented with proud by the LibreOffice community.
posted by Egg Shen at 1:44 PM on August 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


Eventually Adobe will break the Photoshops UI enough to put it on a par with Gimp.
posted by Artw at 1:59 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Editing a text-heavy PDF in Illustrator isn't a walk in the park, and certainly nothing I'd advise a non-graphics person to dive into. The text ends up broken into fragments, breaking apart sentences and words into bits. And, then, there's the PDF format's penchant for wrapping every...damned...thing in clipping masks within clipping masks within clipping masks. Most of the time, you're better off just starting over and re-creating the file from scratch than trying to edit it as-is.

Wasn't there a presentation by a security expert not too long ago, basically pointing out that PDF files can't even be validated by Adobe's own specifications, because of feature bloat (supporting multimedia, particularly)? It's kind of grown into a mess.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:01 PM on August 15, 2012


It's kind of grown into a mess.
Agreed.
But, if you work in the print world, it's the coin of the realm. But, then, pre-press PDFs are pretty feature-sparse, save for the occasional transparency effect.

I've actually yet to run-across a multimedia PDF, and I hope I never do. Though, I see those features in Acrobat Pro and just imagine the horror...
posted by Thorzdad at 2:13 PM on August 15, 2012


The common thread, of course, is Microsoft Is Evil rather than We All Like Standards. I mean, we (meaning OpenOffice) could all have started using the Microsoft Office Open XML standard. It's an ECMA standard. Then our documents would work perfectly in Word in OpenOffice (as much as documents ever do.)

Er, except that ODF (the format used by Open/LibreOffice, among others) was already an ISO standard before OOXML was an ECMA standard. (And an OASIS standard even before that.) So Microsoft could have used the existing open standard that everyone else was already using and then our documents would work perfectly in Word and OpenOffice.

Not to mention that after OOXML failed to become an ISO standard the first time, Microsoft entirely disrupted the entire organization by paying for a large number of new 'members' to come vote. Those new members voted only on the OOXML standardization and neglected to vote on future issues, preventing ISO from achieving quorum and thus delayed other standards.

But no. It's not really about standards. It's about hating Microsoft. And I get that they were naughty in 1998, or whatever, but really. Can't we give it up?

Ah, I see. I was just trolled, wasn't I?
posted by fader at 2:15 PM on August 15, 2012 [21 favorites]


Is she referring exclusively to PDFs made in Word to begin with? If so, perhaps those PDFs will include a ton of hidden cruft that acts as pointers for Word to re-create a Word doc? You know, so that a PDF that should only weigh 110k tips the scales at 1meg?

Actually, PDFs created from Word using Acrobat/Distiller tend to be much more structured than PDFs created from generic programs printing to a PDF printer driver. They're tagged, which basically means that some of the structure of the original Word document is preserved, and you can control/improve a lot of usability aspects that way - tab order, screen reader functionality, etc, etc. And this doesn't significantly increase the size of the file - it just makes it easier to use.

What if I don't have the original document, but want to edit the PDF into something more readable?

You can do some basic editing in Acrobat, actually. But converting a PDF to some other format is kind of a crapshoot, simply because PDF isn't designed to be used for that. It's an output format, like a piece of paper.

... PDF files can't even be validated by Adobe's own specifications, because of feature bloat (supporting multimedia, particularly)? It's kind of grown into a mess.

Calling it "a mess" is charitable on your part, but I don't think it's really a validation problem. You can put practically any sort of embedded content in a PDF - in fact, there are specific use-cases (PDF portfolios, for example) where you might do exactly this. But from a security perspective, the PDF format is an awful, horrible thing.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:20 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know this is a bit obtuse given what everyone wants to do with PDF. However, folks should keep in mind that PDF was intended to be the electronic version of a printed document. A record in library/information science parlance. It was intentionally designed to not be easily (if at all) edited. It is, explicitly, not a text document.

Now, folks who want to extract data from this in some way or another, I'm cool with trying to hack that. However, folks who want to use it as yet another word processor document file format, well, you're wrong.

But, yeah, I understand the difference between designed use and end use and this isn't a battle I'll ever win. But I can still seethe over it in my head. Occasionally this seething turns in to a more public rant.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:51 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


A personal favorite bug
posted by jewzilla at 3:49 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember in HTML when all the shouting was "Microsoft Internet Explorer doesn't follow the standards!"

If it were just that they didn't follow the standards sometimes, things might've been fine. Sure, it's not fun to do everything two ways, but it's really not *that* bad putting filter: alpha(opacity=33) next to opacity: 0.33. And sometimes they got it right where the standard got it wrong (see the w3 box model, for one example).

What really earned Microsoft umbrage wasn't just not "following the standards" -- although a lot of people phrased it that way, it's not really what they meant, I think. It was all the weird deviations, the half-assed implementations, the winking elements, the missing functionality, the misleading documentation -- even with their own stuff.

And even then I think they might have been forgiven if they hadn't just sat down and abandoned their software for six years, letting the rest of the world pour in millions of man-hours to work around their folly.

And that's to say nothing of how they pushed Netscape around (among other software enterprises).

One might reasonably argue that the accumulated contempt for them should have cooled a bit, but arguing that they're somehow just picked on doesn't play.
posted by weston at 3:53 PM on August 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


However, folks should keep in mind that PDF was intended to be the electronic version of a printed document. A record in library/information science parlance. It was intentionally designed to not be easily (if at all) edited. It is, explicitly, not a text document.

Now, folks who want to extract data from this in some way or another, I'm cool with trying to hack that. However, folks who want to use it as yet another word processor document file format, well, you're wrong.


I hear ya, pezboy. Getting upset because the .pdf format is not as easily editable as a word processing document makes little sense to me. It's like getting mad at bread because once baked, it can't be broken back down into flour, eggs, oil, etc. I understand that people sometimes need to extract data from .pdfs, and occasionally need to edit files they didn't create, but to me, this mostly seems like a solution in search of a problem.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 4:22 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Dammit, that last comment was meant to reference Fezboy!, not "pezboy". (Does Mefi even have a "pezboy"?) Anyway, Fezboy!, I agree with you.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 4:24 PM on August 15, 2012


They aren't trying to push proprietary features into the standards.

Mostly they just avoid standards instead. Look at Apple and their failed promise to open/standardize FaceTime. Now we get two competing WebRTC proposals from Google and Microsoft and no participation at all by Apple, so there is no interop videochat standard.

Getting the big companies to agree to implement a standard is extremely tough and it's not just Microsoft that makes that true (see HTML5 video, where pretty much every company has done something to make life more difficult).
posted by wildcrdj at 4:47 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


ASCIIDoc -> Docbook -> everything
posted by five fresh fish at 4:47 PM on August 15, 2012


Yeah, has anyone actually unzipped a docx vs odf file and looked at the XML? *raises hand*

Neither are pretty, but I would MUCH rather parse an ODF file than a docx file. The content- the actual text- in the docx file is still filled with cruft- like tags for the red spell-check underline- instead of JUST being the content. The ODF format is way, way cleaner.
posted by rockindata at 6:25 PM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


alasdair: "Nowadays, of course, the shouting is all "Microsoft Internet Explorer doesn't implement my favorite new feature!""

Firstly: IE9 and 10 are massive improvements, and are (for the most part), perfectly usable web browsers.

Secondly: Firefox has supported (prefixed) CSS3 Columns since 2006. IE still doesn't.

Thirdly: The prefix debate is another thing, and is a result of fundamental brokenness within the W3C, which is a discussion that is well beyond the scope of this post. Things like gradients and columns should have never been controversial, and should have been quickly standardized.
posted by schmod at 7:08 PM on August 15, 2012


But no. It's not really about standards. It's about hating Microsoft. And I get that they were naughty in 1998, or whatever, but really. Can't we give it up?

As a knee jerk emotional reaction, absolutely. From some of the responses we often see (though never of course on Metafilter) it's as if Microsoft's products haven't changed since 1995 nor apparently, computer manufacturers except of course Apple.

But when there is a legitimate complaint, I see no reason not to complain. One of their most perplexing decisions for example, was changing the rendering engine of HTML in emails to the Word HTML rendering engine.

As for having to use Word, it will take some progressive corporations to move away. My most unpleasant clients are those mired in the Microsoft Office world (and those in the Lotus Notes world, second, followed by those in the Mac/Print world third - what, the logo you saved as a PNG 24 was done on a PC?). In general they are not very flexible. I don't blame the software though, I blame the users. In this world of it should just work and it should be easy to use, it's hard to get people and businesses to think beyond that point and think about a scalable open strategy and have a willingness to actually learn how to use their tools inside and out (of course many don't know how to use Office particularly well either). That said, the open source alternatives have to be viable as well.
posted by juiceCake at 8:21 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


their tactics spawned phrases to describe them: FUD

FUD comes from IBM.
posted by kenko at 9:29 PM on August 15, 2012


Of course, if you're serious about interoperability, there can be only [ASCII].

Olen eri mieltä.
posted by Anything at 9:39 PM on August 15, 2012


It's about hating Microsoft. And I get that they were naughty in 1998, or whatever, but really. Can't we give it up?

"It is galling to be held in place against your will. This is why I teach about tyranny in the best possible way—by example. Even though you read these words after a passage of eons, my tyranny will not be forgotten." — Bill Gates.
posted by stebulus at 9:40 PM on August 15, 2012


Office 2013 is a pretty sweet piece of software BTW. It's worth finding, downloading and installing the customer preview.

I don't know what MS can do right at this moment. They're producing great consumer software, selling it at a good price and they're conforming with requests to use open standards. The stuff looks beautiful too. Installation was as easy and as quick as anything I've ever seen.

There online offerings are pretty much there too. Cloud services are as good as anyones, and they're competitively priced too.

The development tools are awesome. Office is awesome. Windows 8 is awesome. Azure is awesome.

I'm coming off as a microsoft shill here, but people really need to check out what they've been making over the last couple of years.
posted by zoo at 12:18 AM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wasn't there a presentation by a security expert not too long ago, basically pointing out that PDF files can't even be validated by Adobe's own specifications, because of feature bloat (supporting multimedia, particularly)?

Sounds like OMG WTF PDF by Julia Wolf. It's a good talk. This format needs to be taken out back and shot, or at least declawed into a "safe" dialect that removes all the scripting bullshit.
posted by Rhomboid at 4:23 AM on August 16, 2012


I don't know what MS can do right at this moment.

I'm no basher. I'm very happy with Windows 7. And I liked Word 2010 enough to... uh, acquire it. [No thanks on 2013 though. The Metro Win 8 styling makes me feel like I'm in a sensory deprivation chamber.]

But "conforming with requests to use open standards" is generous to the point of shilldom. During the Massachusetts thuggery, MS said that adding ODF support would be "trivial". Taking them at their word, that the world's richest software company could produce only the crap implementation they did strongly suggests a deliberate attempt to denigrate the format.

And by its sheer elephantine size, OOXML is only arguably "open".
posted by Egg Shen at 7:11 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


we (meaning OpenOffice) could all have started using the Microsoft Office Open XML standard. It's an ECMA standard.

I'm not sure if you're trolling or not, but it's only an ECMA standard because Microsoft bullied ECMA into making it so, and then abused the ISO/IEC fast track process to shove it down everyone's throats there as well. It was always a pile of shit and basically un-implementable by anyone except Microsoft in any meaningful way. It was a transparent attempt to hijack the movement towards an open document-interchange standard by creating a "standard" that was owned by Microsoft and could only ever be viewed properly using their software, a textbook divide-and-conquer move.

Keep in mind that Microsoft had tried to do exactly that to Java a few years previously by creating an incompatible fork, and ended up in a very nasty court battle with Sun over it in which their strategy was exposed, and that was quite at the forefront of everyone's minds (at least those who weren't shilling for Microsoft) in the early 2000s.

There were a lot of reasons to hate Microsoft at that time; they were, to put it very nicely, Not Nice People as an organization, and were widely and correctly perceived to be willing to piss in the collective swimming pool if it helped them gain any advantage over others. In the last few years -- perhaps as they have lost some of their dominant position in the marketplace -- they have seemed to move beyond such obvious bully behavior. (Apple has, ironically, taken the position of chief pool-pisser in the meantime.) If Microsoft were to propose an interchange standard today, it might merit serious consideration; ten years ago, when they were at the height of their power and uninterested in anything but maintaining the status quo against all comers, even at the cost of forward progress, everything out of Redmond was best taken with a fist-sized grain of salt.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:58 AM on August 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


Office 2013 is a pretty sweet piece of software BTW.

How so? In what way is the word processor better than it was a decade ago? How is it better than other word processors? Can it compare to a good page layout application?

I can ask similar questions about the other components. I use a wide variety of wordwhacking and publishing software, and I just don't get the appeal of Word.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:59 AM on August 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apple has, ironically, taken the position of chief pool-pisser in the meantime.

A little curious about this. Do you mean because of locked-down devices and app stores? I agree there are bad things about those (and I detest iTunes), but is this really the same sort of pool-pissing as Microsoft's many awful attempts to wreck havoc on standards for gain, both successful (docx) and unsuccessful (the web)? Does Apple mess with standards in a way I've missed or have forgotten about?
posted by iotic at 11:36 AM on August 16, 2012


Apple is doing something Microsoft has never done in the PC space, dictating that they can tell you what you can run on hardware you have purchased. Microsoft has been anti-competitive many times, competing in ways that aren't fair, but Apple is the first computer company to prevent competition altogether on their platform in many years, particularly in any kind of successful way.

You simply cannot sell any software on an Apple platform that Apple doesn't like. Well, okay, you can, but your potential market is tiny (jailbroken devices), and Apple is doing everything in its power to make that market size zero.

Love or hate Microsoft, for all their abuses in the PC space, they never actively tried to prevent competition altogether. They certainly didn't succeed at it.

This is one reason I like my Galaxy Nexus so much -- I'm not very fond of the Google App Store, so I use Amazon's instead, whenever possible. There's no Amazon app store on an Apple device, and there probably never will be.
posted by Malor at 1:37 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


on an Apple platform

Argh, I should have said 'on an iOS platform'. They're now making it awkward and difficult to sell software directly to MacOS consumers, but it's not yet officially forbidden.
posted by Malor at 1:38 PM on August 16, 2012


That stance is not credible, and depends on conflating several different situations to the detriment of Apple and to the benefit of Microsoft.

Apple has never dictated what you can and can't run in the personal computer space. Microsoft didn't sell computing hardware until the XBox, which is more closed, locked down, and less free than any Apple gear. And if you are referring to phone hardware, Apple is credited with blowing a closed market wide open, and creating a functioning app system where previously there were much more closed-down stores. Microsoft is following Apple's lead with Metro (or whatever it's called), and is in no way more open.
posted by Llama-Lime at 2:07 PM on August 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Apple is credited with blowing a closed market wide open, and creating a functioning app system where previously there were much more closed-down stores

Only if you completely ignore the previous Windows, Palm, etc stuff, sure. There was no "locked down" ecosystem for apps on those. There was not a good store/discovery mechanism, which Apple did do, but of course they coupled that with a greatly increased degree of lockdown over all previous smartphones.

Does Apple mess with standards in a way I've missed or have forgotten about?

Apple is a fan of standards when it helps them and not when it doesn't, like most companies. They don't want a video chat standard. They didn't want a free/open codec in HTML5. Etc. I wouldn't go so far as to say they sabotage standards, but standards are clearly not their priority.

(There are other examples, but since I work mostly with online video its the stuff I'm familiar with)
posted by wildcrdj at 2:42 PM on August 16, 2012


Sounds like OMG WTF PDF by Julia Wolf. It's a good talk.

Yep, that's the one. Though I couldn't remember her name, it was a memorable lecture. Definitely worth watching.

Still, too bad about the inevitable APPLESUX derail, though. This was a decent thread for a while.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:15 AM on August 17, 2012


And cue the inevitable pro-Apple cheerleading.
posted by Malor at 4:18 AM on August 17, 2012


That stance is not credible, and depends on conflating several different situations to the detriment of Apple and to the benefit of Microsoft.

You'd better believe it's credible. And the fact that it works to the detriment of Apple and the benefit of Microsoft matters flip if it's true, and it is true. Truth trumps all. If that's the criteria you've been using before you chime into the conversation then you are, by definition, carrying water for Apple. Please, put down the bucket.

Apple has never dictated what you can and can't run in the personal computer space.

1. They have started warning people against perfectly ordinary software with their Gatekeeper feature, though.
2. They actually have now -- some APIs are only available to apps distributed through the App Store. So, if I wanted to use a program that used the Notification Center, I could only run if it if were sold in the App Store. That IS dictating something I can't run.

Microsoft didn't sell computing hardware until the XBox, which is more closed, locked down, and less free than any Apple gear.

Oh now you've done it, you've strayed on my personal "turf."

The Xbox is certainly not defensible, but it should be understood in the context if its industry, that of special-purpose game consoles, which have used lockout techniques since the Nintendo Entertainment System. Xbox Live Arcade was actually an advance in freedom at the time in allowing independent developers access to the platform, because it didn't require pressing disks and spending huge piles of money to participate, at least for XBLIG. However the word is that has changed somewhat since then? Word is that the QA process for a patch for Fez is prohibitively expensive, to the extent that its developer is leaving the broken version in the store. So there is that. (It's possible because this is because Fez is released through Xbox Live Arcade, instead of Xbox Live Indie Gaming, although it sucks either way.)

Apple's iOS strategy is trying to get the best (from their perspective) of both worlds: they want to sell general computing devices, but they also want to benefit from the locked-down, you-do-what-we-say aspect of game consoles. As someone who knows a fair bit about game consoles, I can tell you that is not a good thing either for developers or consumers.

And if you are referring to phone hardware, Apple is credited with blowing a closed market wide open, and creating a functioning app system where previously there were much more closed-down stores.

This IS true, and the profited greatly from it. But they could, and should, have gone farther, and profited more. Yes, profited more; they wouldn't have been able to skim off App Store sales, but word is that's only a small portion of the iOS pie anyway, and it would have meant that the threat from Android right now, which has moved in to take over a lot of the market to the extent that Apple is trying to use design patents to preserve their monopoly, wouldn't be so great.

Microsoft is following Apple's lead with Metro (or whatever it's called), and is in no way more open.

This is true too (and Microsoft does it shockingly often -- grow a backbone and lead guys). But no one has disputed it, and concerning Metro huge numbers of people, including Gabe Newell (a costly man to displease), hate it. It's almost as if you're seeing the world through Apple/Microsoft colored glasses. Why?

The Apple/Microsoft war is over. Microsoft's waning, and Apple's found success outside of that battlefield. Leave it for the history books.
posted by JHarris at 8:58 AM on August 17, 2012


Gabe Newell has been complaint about the Windows Marketplace, not the Metro UI. His arguments could apply equally to Apple.

Not that Microsoft isn't stupid for not ensuring that there was a Metro version of Steam from day one sat right there on the start page
posted by Artw at 9:02 AM on August 17, 2012


It has?? (googlegooglegoogle)

The links at the top of the search (Gabe Newell Windows 8) don't mention Metro, but they don't mention the Marketplace either. But he does say that he considers Windows 8 to be a "catastrophe," and it seems to be for reasons of UI. He seems to think will drive people away from Windows, so he's expanding into Linux as part of a "hedging strategy."

That meaning seems to fit in the sentence as I wrote it, although it's for reasons of useability instead of openness.
posted by JHarris at 9:11 AM on August 17, 2012


His concerns are about closed systems. Of course, he also thinks touch is a fad and that the PS3 would be impossible to develop for, until Valve did, so it's possible that he has a bit of a conservative streak when it comes to new things.
posted by Artw at 9:23 AM on August 17, 2012


that the PS3 would be impossible to develop for, until Valve did,

The PS3 Orange Box: one of the only times that Valve has outsourced a port.
posted by jaduncan at 9:37 AM on August 17, 2012


JHarris, your first paragraph confuses me, because it appears that we agree almost entirely on the factual bits that you quote later on, but because I want to be factual and I'm late to thread I'm "carrying water" for Apple? But clearly I must completely misunderstand that paragraph, because you claim that the stance that "Apple is more restrictive than Microsoft has ever been" is credible, but then defend all my points about de-conflating the situations.

One minor quibble is that restricting Notification Center APIs to store apps is kind of stretching it when it comes to "dictating what you can and can't run on your computer." Particularly with the software out there that pipes Growl notifications to Notification Center.

If this is pro-Apple cheerleading, so be it, but that's not my intention. Discussing this in terms of teams is much less interesting than discussing it in terms of computing realities.
posted by Llama-Lime at 10:20 AM on August 17, 2012


I don't defend all your points. You aren't reading very carefully.

When you see the one paragraph on which we disagree and the two on which we agree, you seem to say "we're aligned, mostly." But the points on which we are in sync are minor compared to the ones on which we're not.
posted by JHarris at 10:44 AM on August 17, 2012


Yeah, still not getting how you're arguing that Apple is "worse" in some sense than Microsoft, and still don't understand your first paragraph at all. But clearly there's little fruit that will come from this discussion, so whatever your point happened to be, consider it conceded, I wash my hands of this thread.
posted by Llama-Lime at 11:03 AM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


JHarris: The Xbox is certainly not defensible, but it should be understood in the context if its industry, that of special-purpose game consoles,

Consoles, however, are generally sold at a very steep loss, at least for the first several years of a given generation. So you're getting a lot more hardware for your dollar than you should be, and the DRM, while noxious, can be construed as part of the deal -- in exchange for getting the hardware super cheap, much cheaper than you could anywhere else, the platform is locked down.

Apple has no such excuse; their profit margins are ridiculous, but their iOS platform is still locked. And it sure looks like MacOS is headed the same direction.

In addition, consoles usually aren't very good general-purpose computing devices. The original XBox was just a cheap PC and was eminently hackable, but the 360 and the PS3 are deeply strange architectures, not well-suited for running general-purpose code. If hacked, they can be used as computers, but they're only really good at running matrix-style math on large amounts of data. This makes them super-specialized devices that do shiny graphics very well, and not much else. Comparable PC hardware at the time was much faster for regular code, and modern PCs are far better, even down in the cheapest models.

That's not really true of Apple devices, which are relatively straightforward, and run regular garden-variety code just fine. They're not hugely quick, but they run on like a single watt of power, so what the heck do you want? They're general-purpose computing devices in a way that current consoles just aren't. The lockdown on iOS devices is both directly painful, and then indirectly painful in that it's encouraging Microsoft to do the same thing with Windows. So the chuckleheads that prioritize shiny toys over freedom are fucking up my life, and I really, really resent it.
posted by Malor at 1:09 PM on August 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I mean, we (meaning OpenOffice) could all have started using the Microsoft Office Open XML standard. It's an ECMA standard.

That would be the standard that was so long and obtuse that a number of ISO members filed asking for more time so they could finish reading it before voting?

I hate PDFs, since the reading software sucks, but I love how pretty LaTeX documents are, and how easy it is to do a lot of things word makes hard. I wish someone would either go write a really good PDF reader (Sumatra but with support for more PDFs, good printing and Antialiasing) or a better output format of some sort.

On an unrelated note, I can't wait until high resolution displays remove the need for subpixle rendered text, as that will greatly improve the LaTeX world.
posted by Canageek at 2:17 PM on August 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


On an unrelated note, I can't wait until high resolution displays remove the need for subpixle rendered text, as that will greatly improve the LaTeX world.

The Retina displays make text beautiful, like paper. Everyone will benefit when they make their way into broader use.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:04 PM on August 17, 2012


Retina displays make the interface between white and black slightly sharper. Bah.

(Yeah, I admit it, I'm a cynic.)
posted by JHarris at 3:35 PM on August 17, 2012


Have you actually seen & used a "Retina" display? I'm not sure you have.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:27 PM on August 17, 2012


Neither have I tried heroin. I'm just a little sick of people going on about them. They might indeed be great, but I refuse to believe they're the second coming of $messiah. Again, cynic talking.
posted by JHarris at 9:46 PM on August 17, 2012


Not sure how we ended up on screen tech, but:

"Retina" display is a marketing term; only Apple will ever ship any of those, because a Retina display is always and forever only what Apple calls one. There are already three separate DPI levels that have been called Retina, and since Apple's determination of 'correct viewing distance' is largely pulled out of their butt, it's far too ambiguous to be a technical term.

That said, 300dpi is very important in the world of paper; that's the first level at which black and white text becomes truly smooth and lovely. You have to get out a magnifying glass, usually, to tell whether a printout of pure black text is 300 or 1200dpi. If all you're doing is fairly normal text, 300dpi is fine. You don't need any more than that. Graphics, however, are harder. Most printers have to dither dot patterns to simulate grays or complex colors, so you need to go to 1200dpi to get nice-looking pictures. You can't see the difference in text, but you most certainly can with graphics.

LCD is better technology: it can do color and grayscale directly. So a 300ppi LCD will be about the same as a 300dpi laser for text, but more like a 1200dpi color printer when displaying graphics. It should be just about freaking ideal for long-term use. Go out and look at a comic book, and an iPad or iPhone should be substantially better than that. They won't hit magazine quality (typically 2400dpi), but they'll look very good.

In the late 1980s, I remember observing that someday displays would get to 300dpi... as far as I was concerned, after studying the first laser printouts I ever generated myself, that would be the holy freaking grail for a computer screen. It's a shame Apple didn't go to a true 300dpi on the Macbooks... the way they're doing the scaling is completely bizarre anyway, so a 300dpi screen would have looked about the same to software as 200. Guess the manufacturing tech isn't cheap enough yet to make screens that big.

iPhones are over the magic barrier, 300dpi, so they should look like paper at any viewing distance. iPad 2s almost get there, at 264. But Macbook Pros are much lower, down at 220. The pixels are going to be visible if you look closely; you won't see them sitting in a chair with the laptop on a desk, but if it's propped on your chest in bed, you will probably be able to. It's not quite paper-quality yet.

Overall, my suggestion would be to wait for screens that are a true 300ppi, and on which every pixel can individually addressed by user software. When you can get that tech at a price you feel comfortable with, jump in with both feet. In fact, jump in even if the price makes you a little uncomfortable, because it's going to look amazing.
posted by Malor at 12:04 AM on August 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


*sigh*
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:14 AM on August 18, 2012


That comment was certainly useful, Blazecock. Why don't you express disdain some more?
posted by Malor at 12:21 AM on August 18, 2012


MPlayer X leaves the Mac App Store.
posted by juiceCake at 7:04 AM on August 18, 2012




> It's not just a standard, it's a ridiculous standard. It's way too complex, and iirc many features include options that say "do what [previous version of Office] did for this", and not implicitly by spelling out the actual behavior, but by actually referring to the old versions of Office that you're supposed to mimic.

This is exactly right. Setting aside the way Microsoft rammed the spec through the standards body, this is the reason to prefer ODF. For example, the OOXML spreadsheet defines February 29, 1900 as a legitimate date. Why? Because old versions of Excel did.

Of course, that's not an obstacle for third parties. You can still implement spreadsheet formulas based on this flawed date logic. But for an example of something only Microsoft can do, have a look at section 2.15.3.6 in the six thousand page spec. The section that says to conform to the spec, just use the same spacing algorithm that Word 95 does. In fact, the spec mentions several other word processing applications you must somehow incorporate: Word 6.0, WordPerfect 6.X, Word 97, Word 2002, Word 5.x for Macintosh (not Windows)…

Also, even if Microsoft somehow brain-dumped all these unspecified algorithms, making the spec very large indeed, OOXML still has a big flaw. Look at the markup: it's hella ugly.
posted by Monochrome at 4:44 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


But who will I convince? People interested in ODF or OOXML have probably stopped reading past the bickering over Microsoft and Apple.
posted by Monochrome at 4:47 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Malor: How is DPI calculated? Would it just be display resolution in the X direction divided by the number of inches of screen space in the X direction?
posted by Canageek at 6:12 PM on August 20, 2012


I think so. That's how I've always talked about it -- height and width divided by the number of pixels in each direction. The numbers can come out different, if the pixels aren't square; this is actually fairly common on TVs, and dot matrix printers usually don't have square dots either. If you have to trade one away, vertical resolution is typically less important than horizontal, but what you REALLY want, for screens you're going to be using at the same distance as a book or piece of paper, is 300 DPI or PPI, both directions

Note that 'DPI', dots per inch, is not quite the same as 'PPI', pixels per inch, because dots are usually able to be only black or one of a few primary colors, where pixels can generally be any of 16 million possible colors. For an image that's purely in the basic primary colors, dots and pixels are identical, but for displaying any kind of complex color, pixels are much better.

There's one screen tech that doesn't work quite this way -- the Pentile screens share subpixels in a strange way, so their actual resolution is lower than what's claimed. They still look pretty good, but their color is funny, and you need something like 420 claimed PPI to get the same resolving power as 300 in regular LCD screens.

They're a lot cheaper to make, but they're not as good, and just doing simple division makes them sound better than they are.
posted by Malor at 3:41 AM on August 21, 2012


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