“This is a big day for Microsoft customers,” said Stuart Cohen

“This is a big day for Microsoft customers,” said Stuart Cohen

I’ve seen many comments on the Microsoft-Novell affair, like Tony’s very good one. Some more will appear in the next few days, I suppose. I’ll take a little space to say a few words about it.

I’ve read about an alliance in the interest of customers... wow! THAT would be a scoop by itself, and a completely new thing for Microsoft. Or can you think of something they did that wasn’t in only their interest? It’s business? Ok, but let’s play it fair then: I know that marketing rules don’t allow anyone to say straight “I am just trying to get more money, you know?”, but you are not compelled to tell lies; if you can’t tell the truth just shut your mouth and don’t try to make fun of us.

But another thing caught my attention (or should I say worries me?): they announced a commitment to improving the interaction between Microsoft’s top-selling suite of Office software and a free alternative known as OpenOffice.

“Improve interaction”... uh! Ok, let’s talk about what Microsoft means with words like interaction, interoperable, standard, or cross-platform. And since I don’t want to talk in abstract, let’s talk about real things: RTF.

What is RTF? According to Wikipedia, The Rich Text Format (often abbreviated to RTF) is a proprietary document file format developed and owned by Microsoft since 1987 for cross-platform document interchange. Oh, boy. Who out there has written a lot of documents in RTF format with Microsoft Word and can say they have had no problems in reading them with other applications, please raise your hand.

Oh, but wait, it’s not their fault, is it? there are many different specifications of RTF, aren’t they? That’s why the format evolved over time, didn’t it?

Well, I don’t know what kind of improvements the latest specification of RTF brought, but strangely enough it is no more interoperable with OpenOffice.

How I discovered it? Well, I wrote an article for an Italian magazine called Login, whose technical editor was a well known person to us; let’s call him Tony. So I diligently followed the guidelines, copied the RTF template and wrote my article on it using OpenOffice Writer and handed it to Tony; Tony sent it back to me with some little revisions, I worked on it and sent it back to him. Luckily Tony didn’t send it to his staff directly; he opened it with a well known Redmond text editor and found it nearly empty. What the heck?

Marco... it could be a disaster because of your attachment :-D. * articolo-rev seems to have just a program listing inside. * riquadro 2 seems to be empty. * tabella 1 appears empty. ...!.

I reopened the attachment: everything was there as it should. I said to Tony... surprise! Once OpenOffice has put its hands on a Word-made RTF file, Word can’t read it correctly anymore. So is the new RTF specification an improvement or a move to cut OpenOffice userbase?

I should draw the conclusions at this point, but I am running out space. You’ll have to draw them yourself this time. Feel free to drop your comments below.




Eric Drake's picture
Submitted by Eric Drake on

No one in my business sends me documents in RTF format. Most user don't even know there is such a thing. They simply save documents in the native application format they are using which is of course Microsoft Word or Excel. I open these documents in Open Office and don't have any troubles usually.
What I see more as an alternate format is pdf from my customers. Many are saving or printing to pdf from their applications and just sending that knowing it keeps the format and is sort of a "universal" format. What really never took off as a file format and which I wished it had was html. I send this format if I don't send plain text. At one point it seemed Microsoft felt very threatened by the use of html on the web thinking it would become a universal document format not only on the web but also on the desktop with wysiwyg html editors. We were not sufficiently mature at that moment in history. A pity we had to create an MSWord Clone.

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Marco Marongiu's picture


Born in 1971, Marongiu graduated in applied mathematics in 1997; he's now a full-time system administrator for a well known software company in Oslo, Norway. He's also a Perl programmer and technical author and lecturer by passion.
Marongiu has been a Debian User since version 1.1.10 and he helped found the GULCh Linux Users Group (Gruppo Utenti Linux Cagliari), the first one in Sardinia.