Lazy good ODF again

Lazy good ODF again

Okay I admit it I am lazy. Well, I work four days a week as a developer and another two days writing. I am also good at pretending to be a father and a family man. However, in principle, in another life, in a parallel Universe, where elegance wins over brawn, I simply totally and utterly want to be lazy. When a lazy person, my hero, invented the wheel, the invention was not for the purpose of carrying heavy objects. The purpose was rather to avoid carrying heavy objects. Well, okay I want to be lazy and yet still expect large bags of fluffy green money stuff to buy beer and gadgets and motivate others not to bug me.

The only issue with being lazy is that I need to recreate the Universe to simplify my future. As a developer at an educational establishment, I am involved in creating the future infrastructure for learners. However, with so many Word and PowerPoint documents of various versions, quality of content and general value, we have a system of “What goes in stays in and will not budge even if the toilet overflows”. To exasperate this flow issue the end user expects a modern internet experience and I am afraid that management will realize that you can make an awful lot of money out of reselling and repackaging content in small lumps. So being lazy and wanting to be elegant I am a Jedi master, apart from being a little over weight and having no light saber. Okay, I'm not a Jedi master. I am the wind (do not ask!). So being lazy, instead of churning out processes to convert old to new, I would love to side step the issue.

Many, many commentators have blessed Open Document Format with thumbs up. Now there is an overwhelming reason to use ODF. Support Alan’s laziness. Alan does not want to spend the next ten years digging in the entropy mines. He would rather that end users are open to each other and community spirited. No doubt, you have read that Microsoft is delivering a tool for conversion to and from ODF of its numerous document sub species. This action is a wise marketing move from a perceptive company that is commercially dangerous for its competitors. My advice as always is to be very careful of the license and the exact details of the converted documents. Even slight variations and accidental bugs will generate considerable work for me and mine. So remember support Alan’s laziness, any tool you use for ODF conversion needs to work 100%. Please double-check and verify and then double check and verify and only then use with my blessing as a Jedi master.



Terry Hancock's picture

Or "make sure you know where the knife hand is". I think the thing that bothers me most about Microsoft's recent overtures (like the ODF converter) is that it seems a little too good to be true that Microsoft could do anything without the intent to harm.

I want to "give the devil his due" and respect what they're doing for what it is, but the company has such a track record of dirty-dealing and underhanded, below-the-belt tricks, that's it's just too hard to take them seriously when they decide to go "open source" as they claim to be doing with the ODF plugin.

There are of course, legitimate competitive explanations. The Open Document Foundation (also "ODF", let's call them "ODFn") plugin is not released yet, is subject to NDAs to see it at present, and so is not really following the open source "rules". Thus Microsoft, by announcing an open source effort is actually able to undercut the ODFn position by being "more open source friendly" with their plugin. It's a pretty big PR coup.

If you read the press release, of course, it's also an amusing FUD opportunity, as they have taken every opportunity to slam ODF as a less-capable, inferior standard to their own MSOOXML standard. Whenever they do tout the benefits of ODF, they avoid it by actually touting the benefits of "XML standards" (which would, theoretically, include both).

Then there's the scary Microsoft/Creative Commons tool (what a bizarre alliance that is). The license is a standard EULA with all the baggage that carries -- but then, if you're already using Microsoft Word to create document, you've already agreed to substantially the same EULA.

All of that seems pretty toothless to me. There may be a knife, but neither of those can be it.

On the other hand, Microsoft could just be looking for a way out. They can't afford to lose face or back down, so they have to make whatever position they take look like victory. They have to make us think they invented "open source", just like all the other technologies they "introduced" (i.e. appropriated).

I've even considered the possibility that ODFn intentionally left this opening for Microsoft. After all, you should always give a powerful enemy somewhere to go besides right over you! By leaving such an obvious opening, they may be trying to channel Microsoft into a sane course of action while making them think they invented the idea (or, if you want to be more devious, with the actual cooperation of Microsoft to make us think that Microsoft originated the idea!).

But I'm probably overestimating somebody's strategic abilities. Anyway, whatever the motivations, Microsoft seems to be sincere about the open source plugin: they've sited the project at Sourceforge rather than trying to retain in-house control over it, they've picked a standard, GPL-compatible, OSI-compliant, non-copyleft license (modified BSD). You know they wouldn't want a copyleft license, of course -- but that's hardly sufficient cause for concern. It could be that they have learned through experience that this is the only way such a project could be taken seriously.

At this point, the only place for the knife to be hiding is in software patents (but that's a pretty big hiding place). But they've held that threat for a long time. So it may be that Microsoft really is in retreat, and is doing no more than PR damage control. Maybe there is no real "knife".

Alan Berg's picture
Submitted by Alan Berg on

Terry, what a well thought out set of comments. I suspect that only time will show us the real motives of all the parties involved.


Author information

Alan Berg's picture


Alan Berg Bsc. MSc. PGCE, has been a lead developer at the Central Computer Services at the University of Amsterdam since 1998. In his spare time, he writes articles, book reviews and has authored three books. He has a degree, two masters and a teaching qualification. In previous incarnations, he was a technical writer, an Internet/Linux course writer, and a science teacher. He likes to get his hands dirty with the building and gluing of systems. He remains agile by playing computer games with his sons who (sadly) consistently beat him physically, mentally and morally at least twice in any given day.

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