Word Myths and Feedback


Well, that was a lot of feedback. I was actually pleased to see so much of it articulate and thoughtful. And of course no problem at all if people want to disagree with me.  I just ask that you keep things factual and respectful.


It was interesting that many people self-identified as “net thugs” – even some who had intelligent and reasonable input. I had always thought that trolls didn’t know they were trolls, or were insane, or adolescent or something. If you suspect you are a “net thug”, then why keep acting that way? To those who believed I would label them as such because they disagree with me: please, keep commenting – that’s not a problem.


I’m going make a few comments about some themes that came up in the feedback, since replying to each one would be a little overwhelming. And once again, this is my personal opinion. Any errors of fact are mine. Obnoxious comments are mine alone. Microsoft just makes the ID card in my wallet.


First, I’ll just say that I appreciate the feedback on Word itself. Believe it or not, here in the engineering team we’re very humble about the products we make. We see every failing, every lame thing because we are so close to it. I’ve blogged before about product development, and people seem surprised to know that we are intimately familiar with what is wrong with our products. In fact, our view is skewed to the negative pretty badly – most users don’t see anywhere near the same set of issues that we see. But on the other hand, I think Word is a great tool – it just could be better. So feel free to tell me what you think needs improving. I have almost certainly heard it before or experienced it myself, but each piece of feedback is another vote to help us prioritize.


Some people were disappointed that I “gave up” on the Mac so quickly. Some others interpreted my personal frustration back then as a blanket condemnation of the Mac platform today. Not at all. I actually really like Macs and the current MacOS is a worthy product. As a designer, I particularly like it because of the thought and innovation that goes into it – it is refreshing to see that. I see that in some other products too (MS and non-MS), and I always appreciate it when I see it. Windows Media Center is another one I quite like.


On a side note, some people asked about Open Office or Star Office. As a designer I find these applications rather uninteresting. Unlike the MacOS, or even WordPerfect, there is next to no originality there. [Edit: It seems, and supporters often say] their stated goal is to clone Office97, and they are so focused on that that there simply isn’t anything to learn from or appreciate [in terms of product design]. A funny anecdote one of the people at work tells is that he was in Germany at Cebit some years ago, and stopped by the StarOffice booth (this is before Sun bought them). He remarked on how similar the UI was to Office, and the rep there nodded happily. He then pointed out that in their current beta they had the floppy disk icon in the save toolbar button backwards compared to how Office did it. The rep took note, and sure enough the shipping version had this “corrected”. OK, as a designer, I find that a “desert of the mind”. Please, no flames on this – it is just tiresome for everyone. I understand the story is possibly different if you are a developer. I’m just stating what it is like for me when I look at those apps. If they ever start adding original things with clever designs (that aren’t clones of specs I wrote myself!), they will become interesting.


Back to my Mac problems. One of the people calling themselves “Anonymous Coward” actually hit it right on: System 7.5.2. I was a fairly sophisticated Mac user, and I knew all about extensions, and extension manager, and what sorts of things could go wrong in the Mac. The fact that the Mac I had loved for years for its simplicity and appliance-like perfection (I loved MacWord 5.1a similarly) was now forcing me to have to deal with this overhead of managing its internals on a daily basis wore me down over the months. I had to rebuild my system file regularly. Many sad Macs, and system bombs, although Type 11 was notorious. I did NOT have Mac Office 4.2 on that machine at the time, although I later added it and things got no worse or better. About six months after I got my PC at home, I was still following Mac news, reading MacWeek, etc. I came across a small item that said that Apple had released some shared library in an SDK a year or two before that was the source of all these Type 11 errors, and loads of ISV developers had incorporated that code. Yikes!


There were a lot of comments that claimed to know the “true” reason about why Word succeeded or similar claims. The reality is that the marketplace is a complex system, with a lot of variables. There is no “true reason”. Analyzing this system is something I find fascinating. In a footrace, the “winner” is the person who is first to cross the finish line. Do they have to beat the world record to deserve the win? No, they just have to be faster than the other guys. In the same way, a product that succeeds does not have to be perfect – it just has to be “better”. That means not everyone will love it (Word has 400 million users  – if just 1% of them disliked the product that is 4 million people ready to swamp any blog with their anecdotal experiences). And for the record, I’ll state right here that Word is, like any product, not perfect and is actively being improved. We can’t fix everything – we can’t do all we would like, it might take more than one release, but the various problems people have mentioned in the comments are known issues that we hope to address in the future. If you’re interested in why products aren’t perfect or don’t have the feature you want, I have blogged earlier about the process of building products here and here.


What does better mean? In a marathon, one runner might have greater potential, but another runner might have better strategy – drafting off the leader, conserving energy – maybe even “psyching out” the other guys with a late unexpected burst. In running, this sort of strategy is considered part of the sport, and athletes with strategic skills are lauded for that. In business, it is also normal – you compete with what you can bring to bear. Timing is critical. The point is that any market is a fluid thing, and having a great product is only part of the equation – although it is pretty hard to win without a product that is at least close to the best if not the best.


With computer products (maybe this works in other industries too), there are windows of opportunity. If you can latch on to one, then you will succeed beyond what some might say are the merits of your product. A good example is “VHS vs. Beta”. A popular fable is that Beta was a better videotape format than VHS, but VHS won anyway, so the claim is that it is not true that the best product always wins in the market. But in this case, the definition of “best” had a temporal element to it. There is a technical argument that beta recording quality is slightly better than VHS, but most consumers couldn’t really appreciate the difference. What mattered much more was that in 1977-78, VHS tape was the first format to come out with 2hr recording capability. Beta could only do 1hr. VHS held this advantage for most of a year. 2hrs vs 1hr is not just twice as much – it is a movie vs. half a movie. Consumers picked the product that was “best” because it did what they wanted – let them record movies off TV. Later, Beta came out with 2hr tape, but the momentum had shifted from the early mover Sony to the followers (VHS consortium), and Sony couldn’t keep up. Was that the only reason? No – Sony also didn’t license their technology, and kept their prices high. But for those who study this sort of thing, the decisive factor was the 2hr vs. 1hr thing. Sony missed their window.


In my case, I had a “tipping point”, and for such a dedicated Mac guy as I was, it was heartbreaking to have my Mac just tank constantly. (yes, I know about “Save”, but for the poster who made that comment – surely you would not accept that answer from me if you had a similar problem – use your head dude!). Once I had switched to a PC at home, there was no going back – I found there was a lot of software for the machine – all the latest games, whatever (and this from a zealot who argued “who needs 100000 apps – the Mac has two of everything you need”). My PC worked fine, and there was no reason to go back to the Mac, even if System 8 had resolved things (I never actually checked).


Some of the posters noted that Word was helped to success by the Office bundle. That is certainly true – that move was a truly inspired marketing decision to use our strength of having enough apps to build a “suite” – something which hadn’t existed up to that point. At first it was just a bundle of three apps for the price of 1.5 apps or so. People said it was crazy – too much of a giveaway. At the time, word processors such as WordPerfect, Word and others sold for ~$500, so to sell Word, Excel and PPT for only $699 seemed illogical. But in fact what it did was make the price of getting all our apps much more affordable, and we often got $699 (discounted of course) from people who would only have bought one app before for $499. This is called “supersizing” in another industry :-). BTW, the price of Word and Office has come down nearly every release – as some people commented Microsoft led the way in making software cheap to “make it up in volume”. There is another myth that Microsoft made software as a whole get more expensive – one comment actually raised that classic. That one is beyond me – no factual evidence exists to support that assertion that I am aware of. Three apps purchased separately from the market leaders were around $1500 before Office. Office is now about $379 – nearly half what it was when it came out, and that is in current dollars. If you keep Office for 3 years before an upgrade, you are spending ~$8/month for software you use most of the day to get your work done or run your business. That’s three lattés, or two if you get syrups and extra shots. It is also about 4 days of cell phone usage, or cable TV. Pretty good deal in my mind.


Other commentators said they thought the Office bundle was the primary reason for Word’s success, because they felt Word itself was second rate. I don’t doubt the people who hold that opinion since everything’s subjective at the individual level, and there is no right or wrong about what people feel, but I have a whole bookcase full of “best word processor” awards starting from 1990 across from my office as proof that the great majority of reviewers agreed that WinWord was the product with the most right stuff at the right time.  In fact, there is a strong correlation with a product winning reviews and the start of its ascendancy in the market. It happened with WordPerfect, it happened with IE, it happened with Word. Each of these started winning reviews as “best in category”, and within 2 years they were market leaders. Was that the only factor in these products’ success? Certainly not. But at least the market is consistent in this respect – the products that are considered best by the “qualified” judges end up on top. (I suppose the IE comment is going to generate a lot of flames. Oh well – it is simply a fact that IE3 won 19 out of 20 major reviews in the space of a year after it came out when it was put head to head with Netscape 3 and whatever else was out there. I’ll leave it at that.)


I also detected another old saw about hidden advantages or undocumented APIs that somehow made Word better than competing apps. The reality on this is so counter to the conspiracy it is astounding. The Office team barely talks to the Windows team. If anything, there is more mutual contempt than cooperation, although we constantly try to make that better. And, what are “undocumented APIs” really? Are they APIs like “ExReallyFrickingAwesomeTextOut()” that somehow make our applications have features and usable designs that customers want? Actually, Michael Cowpland (CEO of Corel at the time) said it best in an interview in LinuxToday a few years ago. I don’t know how I saw this, but I kept it because I was astounded that he actually shared it given that it was in his interest to maintain the myth:



Dwight: There was no issue that Microsoft Word would be able to run better on Windows than WordPerfect because you weren’t getting information?


Michael: No. We know that for a fact because with our JBridge technology we had to X-ray the OLE APIs and I actually asked our chief engineer doing that what about all these undocumented APIs, the ones they’re supposed to use and there truly are some undocumented APIs but it’s ones you wouldn’t want to use anyway. They are just for internal communication. I had him print them all out and we could see they weren’t sinister ones. They were just there because they needed internal communication and there wouldn’t be any point in exposing them because you wouldn’t want to use them anyway…. “


To me this is a fascinating example where doing the actual fact checking is hard, so people never bother. But in this case, they had to, and they couldn’t believe that the myth was untrue. Makes you wonder about all these myths – if they were true, there’d be hard evidence of some kind – like a dev coming up with the supercallifragillistic undocumented APIs. But there isn’t, so…well. Now, Michael is a character in his own right – if you’re Canadian like me you know that his ego was having trouble fitting in the Ottawa valley for a while there. Trophy wife, Lamborghini, mansions, fiscal impropriety *ahem*… Well, events seem to have addressed that.


Another set of comments were on file formats. This is one of my favorite myths, in the sense that so much is written about it, speculated, then repeated endlessly as “fact”, and there are only a handful of people who know the real story. The real story is also so boring that it has no chance of ever overtaking the “meme” that carries the conspiracy theories. It is sort of like the Bermuda Triangle. Many people actually believe that an unnatural number of ships/planes are lost there. There is also a lot of documentation backing up all sorts of stories, with official sounding sources such as air-traffic control transcripts, etc. If you have ever seen one of those debunking documentaries, you know what the real deal is. Everything is just quoting other stories that quote other stories – except for one or two original documents – and these are pure fabrications. The air-traffic controllers never said those things, the transcripts don’t exist, and the actual humans in the control tower swear none of that transpired. But yet a whole culture of people believe it because it is printed and documented with citations and everything. If you repeat something often enough, it must be true.


So, file formats. Here’s the deal. In the 80s and early 90s, every time (nearly) that a new version of a product came out (1-2-3, WordPerfect, etc), the standard deal was that the new version had a new file format. This was a no-brainer and was considered normal and acceptable by the market. The product had new features that the old one didn’t understand, and you ran these things on standalone machines that had no network, so as long as the new version could read your old files, you were golden. You almost never had to send a file to someone else electronically – you printed it. Innovating meant a new file format.


So, this was the tradition, and generally applications followed it. Word6 had a new file format compared to Word2, as was normal. Then Word95 came out – it was a 32-bit port of Word6 with only a few new features (although it had my all-time favorite – background red-squiggle spelling), and none of these affected the format, so it wasn’t changed. Word97 was started in 1994 at the same time as Word95, and almost the first thing that was done was the routine change of file format to accommodate some of the big plans we had (Unicode support being a huge one). Something really big happened in 1995 though – the internet, email, and Windows95. Suddenly everyone was getting a computer to access the internet, do email, and/or to experience the “wonder” that was Win95, since that had been such a big deal. PCs were becoming mainstream and were spreading everywhere. Corporations were deploying them in huge numbers. Another development was accelerating – LANs, and WANs – so electronic copies of documents could be shared inside companies much more easily.


Around the beginning of 1996, well past “code complete” for Office97, we started to realize that the world had changed. Word6 had been sold into a market of about 10 million consisting of pretty techy users with few interconnections except via floppy disk (“sneakernet”), and it was the “challenger” product, so the installed base or older versions was small. Word95 had been unnoticed since it had the same file format, but it was widely adopted – not as much as Word 6 though. Word97 was going into a market of about 50 million, and Word was now “the standard”. We quickly tried to do something about the impending problem, but it was really too late. We had to ship without the ability to save the old binary format of Word6 (there is only one binary save path in Word and it is quite baked in), and of course we couldn’t go back to the old format since it would mean removing most of the improvements: all the new graphics, international support, etc, not to mention a huge delay. We started a crash project to build a “downrev save” converter to the old binary format using Word95 as a base, but that wasn’t ready at launch. Thus was born a legion of conspiracy theories about our “true” motivation for changing the file format.


The reality of that was that customers were pretty dissatisfied, and wouldn’t buy the new version. Sales stalled at first, and we made a rule that the next versions of Office had to save in a format that was compatible with 97. We could still add new features, but whatever they were, they had to fit in the old format. This is why Word97, Word2000, Word2002, and Word2003 all use the same binary format. Fortunately we had those last few months to add some bits to the 97 format that made it possible to add things in the future that the old versions of Word would ignore politely, but sticking with the same format for the last 8 years (Word97 shipped in 1996) has put a significant crimp in our style. There is a corresponding claim that circulates the net that says we change the format “every release”. Since we bend over backwards not to do this, that one always makes me chuckle.


Another one I like is the use of the word “obfuscation” when some people on the net (usually the “thugs”, or “anonymous cowards” as they describe themselves) describe our behavior with the file formats. The dictionary on my desk (actually the Encarta dictionary built into Word2003) says obfuscation means “to make something obscure or unclear, especially by making it unnecessarily complicated“. This implies some kind of intent with the word “unnecessarily”. In fact, the file format for Word is simply the most convenient way to save files for us. That’s it. It appears complex to others because it is highly specific to Word, and it has undergone all sorts of contortions to try to remain compatible over the last four versions. We also have documentation for it (I can find some older versions of it on the net published without permission – I bet you can too). We make the documentation available to partners, governments, anti-virus vendors, etc. Some people ask why we don’t make it public, often in a tone that implies we are somehow required to do this ethically. We don’t do that because it is our intellectual property. People who want to work with us can get it by contacting us; people who want to compete with us need to work harder. That’s business. We might change our minds about that if it seems that making the format public would be of most benefit, but really it is our prerogative.


By contrast, Word has supported interchange formats for years. RTF was created as a way to exchange formatted text between applications, since before that there was no widely accepted way to transfer anything other than plain text. Then HTML came along, and although at first it was so basic it couldn’t really handle word processing formatting, it got better so that now it sort of handles it, but not completely.


HTML is another interesting story. We take a lots of grief over our HTML support in Word. But it does what it was designed to do. The problem is people don’t realize what we intended it for. Word HTML was designed in 1997 (mainly) as a replacement file format for Word. As such, it was not designed to be created by any app but Word. The idea behind it was that you could create intranets where people save documents as HTML to web servers directly (not going through an admin), just as you would to a file share. They would be browsable as web pages but still editable as Word docs. Most people still don’t know you can open files off a web server directly in Word, edit them and save – but it is pretty cool. We built our product specs that way for several releases. We had a problem though – in order to make the experience seamless, we had to be able to round-trip everything Word normally saves in its binary format through HTML. This includes little details like which words have already been spell-checked and other niceties we store to provide a better user experience while editing. But HTML had no concept of many things that Word did. So we used the extension mechanisms of HTML to enable us to save things in HTML that it couldn’t normally handle. We followed the rules as we did this (bugs notwithstanding), but the resulting HTML was not like anything HTML coders had seen. They were used to minimalist, human-readable HTML. Being human-readable was not a goal – after all, most people don’t care what HTML looks like when they look at a web page. Thus started another huge myth, that we were out to somehow “co-opt” HTML with Word, when in fact we were just trying to make things work in the confines of a very limiting format. In a later release we added the ability to remove much of the “round-trip” info for the people who wanted to use the HTML we made in places we didn’t design it for (this is called “filtered HTML”).


XML is also a fun one. We designed our XML support to be what we had long hoped HTML would give us – a great interchange format that was clean and designed the way we needed it to be to be optimal for Word. Word2003 has a new optional file format called “WordProcessingML” (WordML for short). This format was designed to be manipulated by external processes, such as server apps assembling documents from fragments. It is also a full – round-trip format like HTML was, but it doesn’t have all the contortions we had to go through to make HTML work. We also wanted to support schemas that a customer might define for their data. So we added support for XSD, which is a standard that the W3C defines for describing data. If you have the Pro (business) version of Word 2003, you can markup a document with a schema of your own design, and we are able to export this in exactly your data format. This enables all sorts of interesting interactive “applications” you can build on top of Word, from invoice tools, order management, assisted authoring, work flow, etc. We built a little tool internally to help write our specs for the next release of Office, and it uses WordML as the document format, with another schema on top designed to carry spec-related markup in the document, and aggregate the spec info on a SharePoint server (e.g. you want to see all the open issues in all your specs – this is now quite possible with some server-side script pulling data out of the WordML docs on the server).


We had some funny moments last year when we announced the XML support, and that it was going to be fully documented. To us this was natural, since why on earth would we do all this work only to not document it, or make it hard for people to use? But when the announcement came, the conspiracy people on the net reacted in shock. Since they had built-up a complete alter-ego Microsoft that had bad intentions for everything it did, this caught them by surprise, since it didn’t fit their world view. This was when I really got to know Slashdot. For kicks we would read what people said there, as they struggled to twist reality to fit their view, and speculated on what (me and my colleague’s) intentions were. It was surreal. The moderator scores were especially humorous. About one poster in 100 would actually get it right, but their posts would be rated something like a “2”, and completely baseless conjecture was rated a 5. People would sometimes post real samples of the XML Word produced to try to bring some clarity to the discussion, but that was rated low of course, and always killed the thread – it seemed it wasn’t fun to deal with the fact that the XML was real, standards compliant, and useful. So a new thread started, with the same rants repeated. But not to worry, eventually a way was found to incorporate our XML work into the conspiracy world, so all has returned to normal.


Well, it’s getting late, and baby seems to be nodding off again finally, so I am going to get some shut-eye. I’m sorry if I offended anyone – I just thought it might be interesting to hear a side of things that you probably don’t get to hear. Next post I’ll take up topics that people are interested in, and try not to get distracted by the “thugs”.

Comments (100)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes, OO.o is pretty much there to clone MS Office. But if Office were there for Linux… Well, probably best not to go there, especially when others see this post. 🙂

    As for Word, all I really want is to be able to write structurally and keep style away. Perhaps the ability to open/save both TeX and DocBook would be good for me, since both do little but drive me insane (yet have all I want and need).

  2. Anonymous says:

    While in truth I use and like Word for quite a few of the reasons you listed early and even here… Can you offer any incite into its bastard inbred cousin that causes me daily headaches, Works. Which at least from my point of view seems to offer very very little of the niceities of Word and just go our of its way on headaches..

    Biggest one in particular:

    Every time there is a newer version I have the headache of:

    Word won’t open defualt saves.

    Previous vers of Works won’t open the default saves.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Learn to use Word’s Outline editing mode, and you’ll never want to use TeX and friends again.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The bizarre Slashdot behaviour can be easily explained if you think about it.

    I have noticed that most of the conspiracy theorists have too much free time, while the reasonable people feel it’s a waste of time to keep going on such discussions — they have better things to do.

    Since it takes time to moderate, most of the moderations are made by people with free time on their hands (and with enough determination to keep going on, of which conspiracy theorists seem to have plenty). People with too much free time can also post several times, while people with other things to worry about will simply throw their $0.02 in a single reasoned comment, unless the discussion is about something very close.

    There is also some strange inverse correlation between being a developer on some project and being inflammatory about it (as seen on the KDE vs Gnome "wars", the ones doing the "war" were not the developers, which were cooperating).

    Sorry for, in typical slashdot style, nitpicking a minor point on your post while completely ignoring the rest.

  5. Anonymous says:

    On a side note, some people asked about Open

    > Office or Star Office. As a designer I find

    > these applications rather uninteresting.

    > Unlike the MacOS, or even WordPerfect, there

    > is next to no originality there.

    They had an XML file format several years before Word. Credit where credit’s due surely?

    Perhaps someone with more knowledge of OO.O could post a list of features it supports that Word doesn’t?

    > we used the extension mechanisms of HTML

    There aren’t any extension mechanisms in HTML. Word used XML Data Islands, which were (still are?) non-standard elements invented by the IE team.

    I suspect the specification of this feature in Word only ever mentioned support for viewing in IE.

    Word got lambasted because of the non-standard HTML produced, not because it wasn’t human friendly. One of the most popular web development tools of the time (NetObjects Fusion) was hardly human-friendly and that didn’t get flack.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Why stop at Office for Linux? How about Pocket Word for the Palm? 🙂

  7. Anonymous says:

    RichB: Direct creation of PDFs. Word doesn’t support that w/o a 3rd party tool. Not that it’s really innovative, but OO does it and Word doesn’t natively.

  8. Anonymous says:

    While I have an appreciation for what you and MS do with regard to understanding the market and producing a product to meet the needs of the market, much of the negative reaction you get is due to real misbehavior on Microsoft’s part. Some of this behavior has been judged to be illegal by the US court system (as well as the EU, although I disagree somewhat with the EU’s conclusions), while other misbehavior may not be illegal but is considered unethical by many. Are you or anyone on your team guilty of this misbehavior? Probably not, but MS as a company is.

    Some examples:

    – testimony in the DOJ hearing that MS threatened withheld licenses to OEM vendors if they did not toe the MS line. The MS line included the requirement to not install Netscape, back when Netscape was still considered to be a better browser than IE, which was in its infancy. This effectively closed off a marketing channel for Netscape, as well as revenue, ‘shutting off their air supply’. Some would argue that this is just competition; I would argue that it is in fact avoiding competition, something only a monopoly can do effectively.

    – testimony in the DOJ hearing that MS wanted to modify Java to blunt the threat of cross-platform Java. In the words of Mr. Slivka, "Screw Sun, cross-platform will never work. Let’s move on and steal the JAVA language". This is the main reason for the recently settled Sun-MS suit, in which MS will pay Sun $1.6 billion.

    – Tons of marketing material saying why the Java platform was a poor solution, and then basically producing a Java clone with web services added on. This is certainly not illegal, just duplicitous. Hey, its just marketing, right?

    – Stealing compression technology from Stacker electronics and incorporating it into DOS

    – Jim Allchin, in DOJ testimony, showing a video demonstrating that a computer slowed down substantially when IE was removed from it, only to have DOJ personnel notice that the before and after video were shot with different computers. Given a chance to redo the demo with only one computer, MS was unsuccessful.

    – Also Jim Allchin, during the DOJ penalty phase, testifying that revealing the MS source codes, desired by some to determine interaction protocols that were incompletely documented such as SMB, had so many security holes that it would create a national security crises to reveal them, possibly hurting the war effort in Afghanistan. Nine months later, this same source code was revealed to China and other governments that were concerned that the code might have backdoors.

    – The growing amount of marketing against Linux that relies on skewed and very misleading TCO studies.

    I’ve never met you, but I would assume that you are a person who I could sit down and have a beer and good conversation with. However, your company also has many people who have been less than honest or honorable in how they conduct themselves. As long as you associate with them, you’ll have to accept that some of the antipathy toward them will visit you as well.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Chris, these articles/posts were great. I think it was a good look into how software should be built from the user perspective. I was able to take away a few really good points from them. I enjoyed them thoroughly, keep em coming. At the end of the day it seems one thing Microsoft is guilty of is really understanding and striving to understand its customers and their needs/requirements. Unfortunately i think a lot of software is designed/built in the industry with preconcieved notions of what the customer wants, those efforts don’t go so well.

  10. Anonymous says:

    What’s nice about OpenOffice is its price.

    You seem to discount the app because it simply tries to clone Microsoft Office. However, when I can download an office app for free that does 90% of what Microsoft Office does at 0% of the price, then Office is not very attractive to me.

    I realize the price of Office may have come down drastically. However, given the current market it’s still very overpriced.

  11. Anonymous says:

    <i>What’s nice about OpenOffice is its price. </i>

    That’s the problem, the goal seems to be making a free version of Office. There is no way a free version of an old copy of your main competitor can in any way be good for anyone except people who want a cheap word processor.

    I would be much happier if OO.Org were a competitor in the market, not just a free version of and old product.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Chris, I posted this in yesterday’s comments section, but after you had posted today’s entry/response. So I’m re-posting an edited version here, if that’s okay:

    As someone who has spent a substantial amount of time helping people to use Chinese in Office on the Macintosh (see the link), I was wondering two things:

    1. Why was the Chinese bug in Excel 2001/v. X never fixed by Microsoft? I never could understand that decision.

    2. The Chinese version of Word for Windows is a strong product, and I imagine it is the result of roughly the same sort of no-nonsense development effort you describe for Japan. Why hasn’t there been an effort to fully integrate Chinese features into Word for Macintosh, like there has been for Japanese?

    Microsoft reps at the Mac expos, for example, have said that there is not enough demand for full-blown Chinese support in Office:mac. But, given the size of the Chinese community around the world, that really doesn’t ring true. So what’s the story? You seem to be the right person to ask!

    Leaving the past behind, I would like to plead for a full set of Chinese proofing tools in future editions of Office:mac, now that it will support Unicode. Judging from the limited information I have, we will only get very basic Chinese support in Office 2004 on the Macintosh. While that will be in itself a substantial improvement, would it be so hard to then take the next step and finish the job?

    Thanks, Eric

  13. Anonymous says:

    It’s interesting that the statement is made that StarOffice is merely a clone of Office 97, but yet MS TCO studies say that there is a training cost in moving from Office to StarOffice/OpenOffice.

    I’ve used both products, and I think that StarOffice IS different in many ways from Office97 and other MS Office versions. To say that it is a clone of Office97 is stretching things.

  14. Anonymous says:

    You should not knock OO until you try it. Open Office is a great application and it does things that Word does not. Do not get me wrong, I like Word fine but your blanket dismissal of OO just being an uninteresting clone is just short sighted MS bullshit. Word is not number one because it is great, Word is number one because of MS marketing and business practices. Period.

    People jumped on Word for HTML because you did not do it correctly. Maybe just bugs or maybe that whole extended HTML thing you mentioned?

    And even though I have no proof I have run up against documents that are different between releases of 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003. So I cannot produce proof but I really think you are full of it when you say the format has not changed from release to release. Maybe I am the only one who ran up against this?

    I am glad about WordML though and think this is the way to go for further versions of Word, not that my opinion counts.

    I do think that your company is a bad company with bad business practices. Maybe you are just a lemming like me in the corporate world, but you are a lemming for the bad guys. The story about not having a backwards compatible save is funny. How you could have gotten to code complete and not had someone on your team ask for that feature is beyond me. Perhaps it was a decision that came from above you? Maybe not. Maybe a real honest oversight.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Chris,

    I posted this comment on your last entry. It was at the end of a long list so I am re-posting it.

    Whats your take on projects to reverse engineer the Word file format? Like Apache POI and wvware. Do you think they are a good thing because it helps programmers work with the format? Or a bad thing because it encourages programming outside of the Word COM model?

    Also, what do you see as the future of the file format. Do you see it going completely to XML? (That would be great by the way!)

    -Shay

  16. Anonymous says:

    Your last two posts have done more to sell me on Word than any Microsoft marketing materials! Good work, and you obviously put a lot of thought and time into your writing.

    While you mentioned the bundling of Word into the Office Suite, another big sales move was the release and wide distribution of Student and Teachers Edition. Available for $130 on Amazon and available at most retail markets, this version accounts for most of the Office sales to home users I know.

    Word’s use as an editor within Outlook was also an interesting change.

    Hidden data, or versioning, is becoming a bigger and bigger issue in Word and other apps. Instead of a downloadable hidden data removal tool, Word should do a better job of preparing a document for distribution. Make read only, would you like IRM with that, publish to a server via HTTP or FTP transport, and only one version stored to file.

    On-screen formatting of text intended for copy and paste to another source would be nice as well. I often open Word to compose an e-mail or weblog entry, but need to cleanup little things like the apostraphe and quotation mark differences between Word and plain-text mail. Highlight the text you are interested in, right click, and select the text type you would like to see on your screen. Change all characters to ISO entities, or change special characters only? Conform to standard ASCII?

  17. Anonymous says:

    I hated OO, it was one of the worst software I have ever seen. I agree that it is trying to clone office, but very badly I should add.

    Regarding the slashdot, it is a complete idiot magnet. All the losers visit that site and try to come up with these conspiracy theories. They love it because they don’t have much to do. Some of them are kids, many of them are apple users who always conflict in what they say. For example it is ok for Apple to use DMCA, but not Microsoft, Apple can hide the file formats, but not Microsoft, Apple can bundle everything they want, but not Microsoft, and they are trying to base their arguments on some legal, technical stuff that they don’t even know about. They twist the legal decisions totally, etc…

    Even though one can easily understand that these accusations are completely stupid, by simply looking at the accusations, it was hard to refute them because I just didn’t know what the real intention was. So your article was extremely useful to understand what is really going on.

    I hope we can see things like this from others too.

    Thanks a lot

  18. Anonymous says:

    A difference of opinion:

    Alex: <i>I hated OO, it was one of the worst software I have ever seen. I agree that it is trying to clone office, but very badly I should add. </i>

    PC Magazine: <i>To say the least, Microsoft has no lock on capabilities or usability. In fact, we found StarOffice more intuitive than Redmond’s product, and the competitors from Sun and Corel have excellent features not found in Microsoft Office, such as the capability to directly export to PDF and SWF (Flash) formats. /i>

    Yet more proof that StarOffice is not an Office97 clone.

  19. Anonymous says:

    re: The Net Thug BloggersAnonymous

    According to PC Magazine Slashdot is one of the most credible web sites!!!!

    According to PC Magazine you should switch to Apple or Linux. When people do not switch one of the authors of the PC Magazine came up with the idea that it is the games that keep people in windows.

    PC Magazine is out there giving credit to Net Thugs, and you are saying that we should trust them?

  20. Anonymous says:

    Chris – if you have time, I’d be very interested to know how Works came about, and why it hasn’t gone the way of Microsoft Home yet.

  21. Anonymous says:

    IMHO, what LaTeX still has over Word (at least Word 2000) is in distributed document creation (multiple people working on the same document), and in creating documents from multiple source files (one or more for styles, one or more for content).

    In LaTeX, if you change a style, all you have to do is recompile your documents for the change to take effect. In Word, it seems like you have to manually go into each document and change the style, even though the style was supposedly taken (I guess it was actually just copied) from the template or other document.

    And Word has the "master document" concept which is great in theory, but in practice it still needs some work. If I recall correctly, you can’t modify any of the included documents from the master document, and again you have the styles issue.

    I do like (and prefer) Word’s Outline view. I just wish more people did, because if someone who doesn’t know how to use styles modifies a document, he/she can really screw it up.

  22. Anonymous says:

    The background spell checker is also my all-time favorite Word feature. There are lots of people that complain that no one learns to spell any more with spell checkers, but I always counter that the red-squigly underline taught me how to spell. I was a terrible speller until I started using Work 95, but the instant feedback it gives made me look at each misspelled word immediately and figure out what was wrong with it – instead of my normal lazy self where I would leave it misspelled or casually run through a spell check when I was done writing.

    I worked on the background spelling in Visio 2003 and it was great, kind of like I was givng back. I’m super pleased it’s become a standard feature in editing applications.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Interesting that you see TeX and co as your competetor 🙂

    raj

  24. Anonymous says:

    Chris, I am very curious about the lack of a WP-style "reveal codes" feature in Word. My biggest frustration with Word is the frequent need to "wrestle" with it to get it to do what you want. Questions like "Why does it keep right-justifying itself after I keep telling it not to?" would be easily answered by that function.

    Can you address this please? It’s something I’ve wondered for years.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I appreciate your articles, Chris. This has been some of the best free reading available anywhere, on industry, marketing and engineering topics.

    Regards,

    Robert

    (one of the less fanatical Slashdot readers)

  26. Anonymous says:

    Chris, thanks for these posts. I am feverishly wondering about one question:

    Why, oh God why, doesn’t Word for Windows put the word count in the status bar, or have any sort of live-updating word count feature, like Word for Mac does? That one feature (and the Mac UI, but that’s neither here nor there) keeps me bellying up to my Mac, not my Windows box, when I need to do serious writing.

    Will a live updating word count feature ever grace WinWord? Please please please please please?

    Oh, and you mentioned that you also deal with Publisher. As a professional graphic designer and ad manager for a college newspaper, I have to wonder: why is Publisher an island? When we get .pub files from advertisers, there’s absolutely NOTHING we can do with them. But worse, there’s nothing they can do from Publisher to make their files work for us, because Publisher can’t export to ANYTHING worthwhile.

    Why is this?

    So add a please please please for PDF support from Publisher. As it is I’m now at the point of having to add a giant "We Don’t Accept Any Ad Copy From Any Microsoft Programs — ESPECIALLY PUBLISHER!" to our rate card, which kinda sucks.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I always thought Word could covert to PDF. I mean, all I do is go to print and select the print to PDF option. Apparently that is not standard?

  28. Anonymous says:

    "Anonymous with good reason" wrote:

    > Stealing compression technology from Stacker

    > electronics and incorporating it into DOS

    Ah, this old piece of bullshit.

    It was patent infringement – both MS and Stacker had patents on the same compression algorithm due to a screw up at the USPTO.

    Stackers’ patent predated MS’s patent.

    Read up on this – you can find it all on Ross Williams’ web page.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Niall Kennedy wrote:

    "Hidden data, or versioning, is becoming a bigger and bigger issue in Word and other apps. Instead of a downloadable hidden data removal tool, Word should do a better job of preparing a document for distribution. Make read only, would you like IRM with that, publish to a server via HTTP or FTP transport, and only one version stored to file."

    How about it, Chris? Under File… you could have a Publish… button. It’d do the same thing as Save As…, but it’d save the document in a sanitized form designed to be viewed and not edited.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Hi Chris,

    yours is one of the best MS blogs I’ve read and I’m not just saying that ‘cos you can do something for me…

    Office 2003 was worth the buy for me as the editing and reviewing features are simply the best and make it easy to do basic editing tasks.

    One of the things I’d like to see is a history of revisions in a nicely presented way. For example at the moment, a bunch of balloons end up on the right hand side, but it would be nice to have heavily edited text have like a tiny timeline slider in a single edit balloon, so you can slide revisions backwards and forwards and see how the text changed, when, and by whom.

    Another thing that would be very handy is in master documents – forcing styles in the master document on the child documents without having to explicitly use the Style organiser which is now quite heavily buried and in need of some TLC.

    I like the ability to grab a style, modify it to my liking and then force it upon other non-conforming styles (I often get documents with "Heading 1" wrong, for example).

    It would be nice to be able to easily force a style not inherit from another style so you can then use it to influence other styles without picking up the attributes. Think of this like the format painter (which I use heavily), but please provide us allow us to paint from Style and Formatting task pane, not just text we happen to have handy.

    An eyedropper for the Style dialog would also be useful (ie it should become a modeless dialog, or become transparent during eyedropper operations).

    Andrew

  31. Anonymous says:

    Speaking as someone who dislikes Microsoft: The reason I oppose the use of Word is because I do not believe that <b>any</b> one company should control the format in which critical data is stored. This includes textual data (e.g. Word documents), spreadsheets (e.g. Excel documents), audiovisual data (Windows Media files), etc.

    <br><br>

    In 20 years, how will we open these bajillions of documents saved in these formats?

    <br><br>

    Imagine if Gutenberg’s printing press printed documents that you could only read by gazing at them through Gutenberg’s patented Document Reader Spectacles. That is what Microsoft is doing– taking a critical form of information storage and distribution (word processing files) and, rather than basing them around an open standard (HTML, or NON-PATENT-ENCUMBERED XML), basing them around a proprietary binary file format and (more recently) patent-encumbered (!!!) XML…

  32. Anonymous says:

    Jess – just use Word as the editor, and export them to rdf, or to pdf, or whatnot.

    However, I tend to agree with Chris on the reasons the format waas developed the way it was. SImply, it’s designed to be the most conveniant and fastest way for Word to save the data needed for it to reopen the file in the same way it was closed.

    And as he said, if you want to liscence their technology, then you can get the specs and be able to use the native Word format.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Hi Chris,

    I don’t particularly cherish Microsoft in my heart having studied Computer Engineering, but great blog! You seem like a guy we can have a conversation with. Like Jessica says up here is my main gripe with Word and a lot of the stuff from Microsoft. Yes, like you say, it’s just business, you want to keep your little Word format secret, and a lot of other stuff too, but don’t you see that this is not ethical? I mean, the products from Microsoft are pretty good, that’s not the problem, the problem is, as a practical monopoly, don’t you think you have a responsibility for humanity? Do you really think people will accept saving all their important documents in Word format when they realize what could happen if Microsoft decides to do I don’t know what next, and they can’t read their documents anymore unless they pay 1000$ or break the law? Do you think this is fair? I don’t think so. And I don’t trust Microsoft. If, for example, the Word format was made public, Microsoft would be a much more loved company then it is at the moment. But for "98%" of the people (I didn’t take this number anywhere), it doesn’t matter, hell half of the population don’t even go to vote for their President or Prime Minister, and that’s why Microsoft keeps acting like they do. But it still doesn’t make it right.

    That is why it’s "ok" for Apple to keep their little secrets if they want, because it’s not critical. There isn’t 90% of the population saving their stuff in Apple’s formats, and having to use them to exchange documents, at least not yet. But it wouldn’t be right if they did in the same situation as Microsoft. I even know people that need to keep Windows and Word running, just to read and write documents, but otherwise work on Unix workstations! What is that?! Why does Microsoft think this is moral or ethical? The next thing we know, Microsoft will invoke the DMCA on the Word format against Sun and OpenOffice… (if it gets too good at it that is)

  34. Anonymous says:

    Chris, totally love the blogging activity. Keep on telling. Those Word 95 days were great times. Keep it up, you rock.

    ebbe

  35. Anonymous says:

    Hey Ebbe! There can be only one guy with that name! You da man!

  36. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for a fascinating blog. I switched to OpenOffice a couple of years ago, partly out of contrariety, and partly because it is better at handling long documents than Word 97, which would never print out an entire book for me without crashing. Word 97 was then and still is better at lots of things, but I needed to write a book. I do wish, though, that the managers at Sun showed half as much drive and sparkle as you do in this blog.

  37. Anonymous says:

    Ditto the Ebbe remark. Now there’s a name I haven’t seen in a while.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Erm, I’m curious to know where OpenOffice.org actually stated that their main aim was to create a clone of Office 97?

    Does it look similar? Maybe. Does it have similar feature sets? Quite possibly. Does it have certain features that Office 2003 doesn’t have? Definitely. Does it keep your documents safe within one version to another, quite unlike Microsoft Office handles it? Definitely.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Colin, I think you’re right. Although I have read comments from people who claim to work on Open Office that this is the goal (with support for features added beyond Office97 to come as needed), I do not think I have seen it written on any kind of official web site.

    I am afraid I don’t understand what you mean by "keep your documents safe within one version to another." Open Office changed their format moving from 5.x to 6.x, about 2? years ago. I don’t believe a 5.x user can open a document saved in the default format of 6.x, is that correct? Word, Excel and PPT last changed format 8 years ago (moving from 95 to 97). Or are you referring to something else?

  40. Anonymous says:

    Excerpted from my blog post at http://docbug.com/blog/archives/000124.html:

    Re: WordPerfect deciding to stick with DOS and missing the power of the GUI:

    I love a "techie bets the company on a radical idea" fable as much as the next geek, but this version leaves out the most important part of the story: WordPerfect wasn’t sticking with DOS — just like the other category-leaders Lotus 1-2-3, dBase and Harvard Graphics, they were spending their resources developing for OS/2, the new windowing OS being developed jointly by IBM and Microsoft. And the reason they bet on OS/2 is that both IBM and Microsoft were endorsing OS/2 as the platform for the 1990s: check out <a href="http://www.zeta.org.au/~julian/os2.wav">this quote</a> from Bill Gates at the Fall 1989 Comdex. At the time, Windows was seen as essentially an extension of DOS, and was touted as being for low-end computers (a 386 with 4MB of RAM, also known as next-year’s trash). Which is to say, Windows was touted as being "for novices and… basically toys," but the GUI and OS/2 were taken quite seriously. Now cut to Spring 1992, when Microsoft ships Windows 3.1 and signs a "divorce" document from the deal with IBM to develop OS/2 (much of the technology was later licensed for Windows-NT). Betting the company on Windows wasn’t just a big, big bet, it was also arguably the biggest bait-and-switch of the decade.

    Re: software "suite" hadn’t existed before Microsoft did it:

    That’s an impressive claim, considering when Microsoft Works came

    out in August 1996 (for Mac, the DOS version was 1987) there was already <a

    href="http://www.smartware4.com/Technology.htm">Innovative Software’s

    SmartWare Suite</a> (1983), <a

    href="http://www.atarimagazines.com/creative/v10n10/S4_Integrated_packages_a_cl.php">Electric

    Company’s Electric Desk</a> (1984 or earlier, later reborn as AlphaWorks and

    LotusWorks), <a

    href="http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1167680,00.asp">Ashton-Tate‘s

    Framework</a> (1984), <a

    href="http://www.ability.com/support/dos/abdos3.php?ln=us">Migent‘s Agility</a>

    (1985) and <a

    href="http://www.atarimagazines.com/creative/v11n2/88_Lotus_Symphony_a_fullbl.php">Lotus

    Symphony</a> (1985).

  41. Anonymous says:

    "Their [OpenOffice.org] stated goal is to clone Office97"

    This could not be further from the truth.

    OpenOffice.org is not about cloning MS Office97, or any MS Office suite, or any other suite for that matter.

    OOo is about providing a high-quality, open-source, cross-platform, fully-featured business productivity suite.

    OOo is not a MS Clone. It has features that MS Office has never had, and still does not have.

    OpenOffice.org has it’s own native file format, which has always been based on XML, (it did this BEFORE MS Office did, and does a better job I might add).

    And it can export to PDF, something that MS Office ____ cannot do without a 3rd party add-on.

    And it exports to Flash, something that MS Office cannot do, from what I have seen. And I have used MS Office 97, XP, 2003, and 98 for Mac.

    OOo is also free, both as in no-cost and in liberty. Something that MS Office can never be.

    Another feature that MS Office lacks that OOo has is autocompletion.

    And if you want to talk about Star Office, (OpenOffice.org’s propritary brother), then MS Office cannot hold a candle to the number of file formats that it can handle.

    OpenOffice.org and Star Office have been used to open MS Word format documents that the current version of Office could not handle. How’s that for a "sort of working" filter? MS Office could learn from OpenOffice.org’s MS Word filters.

    I am sorry to see that you so completely misunderstand OpenOffice.org. It is a wonderful program. Of course, I am sure that you are biased, due to your employeer.

    I just to dogmatically say, OpenOffice.org is NOT a clone of any program, especially not MS Office. And it is certainly NOT our "stated goal" as you wrote.

    -Chad Smith

    OpenOffice.org volunteer (note, not employee)

  42. Anonymous says:

    Chad and others: I guess I’m not really getting my point across about why I find OOo less than interesting as a designer. I can understand if you find that annoying, but I can’t help it – it is how I feel when I look through the product. Yes, there are a handful of features that OOo has that Word does not have – that’s not the point. Everything you’ve mentioned are file formats for import or export – as a user interface designer, this is not interesting to me. Note that I did not say "not valuable". Remember that I am a human being, not a corporation – I am simply talking about what I find interesting. I don’t believe that my employer influences my interest in this way – I have already said that I find the Mac very interesting due to its innovative designs, as well as other non-Microsoft products.

    The one feature you mention other than format converters is "autocompletion", a feature Word has had since 1993. (Check out Insert/Autotext, and the trigger is the first four letters of the name of the string you want to autocomplete). In fact, IE borrowed AutoComplete from Word and used it (more effectively IMHO) for URL completion, and then lots of people borrowed it from IE. It is possible that OOo has modified autocomplete to make it better – if so, that’s wonderful. Ok, what else should I be interested in? Again, I am seriously asking this – I am interested in innovative designs (not just converters).

    I have also said several times that people are free to favor whatever word processor they like – at no time have I said that everyone must prefer Word.

    I mentioned a few comments above this one in response to Colin that you’re right – there is no "stated goal" of being an Office97 clone. I have just seen it mentioned so often in public forums that I made an assumption. My apologies.

    BTW, it is interesting that you say OOo has "always" used XML for its format, For a version 1.x program like OOo, surely "always" is not terribly long? You haven’t even had to ship a new major release while staying with the same format yet. Before OOo came along, StarOffice used a different format every version, and the new format is again different – four formats in four versions. Just look at the file Save/As dropdown in OOo: one entry for all versions of Word 97-XP (and 2003), and a separate entry for every single Star Office version and then another for OOo/Star Office 6. So who changes their format more often? Until OOo has had to stick with the same format for 10 years, I don’t think its a fair comparison. XML didn’t even exist for the first decade or so of Word’s existence after all. You’ve also said that OOo supports XML “better” than Word. Who judges “better” exactly? Word2003 supports embedded XML schema that a customer can define and use within their document and XML files, but OOo only supports XML as a file format. So is this "better"? By what criteria? XML used merely as a file format is missing most of its potential in my mind. But that’s just my opinion – you’re free to disagree.

  43. Anonymous says:

    For Bug (Bradley Rhodes): I think you might be confusing "suites" with "integrated applications". I’m not an expert in this, but the term suite generally referred to a set of full-fledged applications put together in a set: SmartSuite from Lotus/IBM, WordPerfect Office, Microsoft Office, etc. Each of these had a full-fledged word processor, spreadsheet and presentation program that had a viable (or nearly viable) standalone business of its own. Works is not a "suite" because each of its modules is not competitive as a standalone application (in fact it is not sold that way), although there is a version that is called a suite, mainly because it includes a full version of Word as well. The other products you mention were not "suites" by that definition either (to the extent of my knowledge) – Symphony et al are all integrated apps in the league of Works.

    The point of my comment about the suite move for Office was not to brag about it – it was to acknowledge what some people commenting on my blog were saying. The idea of putting two or three things together in a bundle and charging less than the total for it has been around as long as there have been markets – that was not original. The reason it is interesting for the history I was discussing was that to make that move when the marketing team at MS did was an excellent strategic maneuver. Our competitors relied on their standalone business for their revenue, so they had to maintain a high price for their flagship products. Our strength in addition to competitive products was that we had three of them, not just one or two. So combining them meant a better deal than our competitors could offer without complex inter-company bundles.

    Regarding OS/2 and Bill Gates, I was not there, but that era has been written about extensively. I think the published, reputable accounts are a little more balanced than you are implying. It is letting WP and other companies off a little too easily to say they were just lemmings and couldn’t make decisions of their own – their customers after all were in fact demanding that they stick with the DOS UI and not abandon them – this was the bet they made. Also, Microsoft is not the first company in history to have a backup plan in case the main plan falls apart for whatever reason. Anyway, unless you were involved personally, we’re both out of our depth on that part of the story, and I don’t like simply reporting hearsay.

  44. Anonymous says:

    Copy/paste is one of those invisible features that you never really think about or notice until something goes wrong. It should just work, right?

  45. Anonymous says:

    The history of Word.

  46. Anonymous says:

    Chris,

    Parts of this blog article are excellent. But some parts are awful.

    Your dismissal of OpenOffice.org’s Writer gets my goat especially – it’s just as bad as reading the hordes of reviews of WordPerfect and other "modern also ran" products, which are full of errors and generalisations that quickly reveal how little time the reviewer actually spent using the application.

    From what you’ve said, I find it very difficult to believe that you’ve used OpenOffice.org’s Writer at all. Yes, it looks a bit like Word. But so do most wordprocessors, and they have for a long time now. Form follows function in this case, I feel.

    OpenOffice.org’s Writer is less capable than Word in many areas. But if you tried its Navigator window, you might be pleasantly surprised – it makes navigation within a long document far easier than with any other word processor, especially as you can give meaningul names to things like tables. It’s not that you can’t move throughout a document by objects like tables etc with competitors – just that they don’t have anything like as intuititive an interface. In fact, I don’t even see an easy way to name tables etc in the competition.

    When writing product specs and other long (and often heavily table-laden) documents, OpenOffice.org’s Writer is my tool of choice – not my usual WordPerfect.

    And then there’s that file format. OK, this isn’t a UI issue, but it’s well worth noting as you talked about file formats in your blog.

    OpenOffice.org uses XML, and everyone crows about that because XML is a cool buzzword. But for me, what’s far more interesting is that this XML is crammed into a zip file. (check this by renaming any OO.o file to .zip, and opening it. Nifty!)

    So it’s an XML file format that’s not huge (unlike all the others), although it can take a while to save as it’s being zipped. I’m prepared to wait a short while as I save those huge documents, however, because zipping all the XML files gives me one thing that no other word processor has ever done – a quick and easy integrity check. Mangled documents can now be blamed either on OO.o’s software – if the data is shot and the zip file is intact – or the transmission format (email, ftp or whatever). There’s no grey area anymore – this is a much more robust file format than anything I’ve ever seen before. I can’t see any company taking that kind of risk, as it would clearly point to faults in the software more often than they might like.

    coughsFast save!coughs

    That’s just two things that I like about OO.o. There’s plenty of things I dislike about it, too – its mimicing of the Word layout method (at least it does it better, though) and some performance issues come to mind, for instance. Oh, and data import/export is still a bit rough – they’ve done an excellent job on MS Office compatibility, but other formats (apart from StarOffice, natch) are lagging or just not even there.

    All of these observations come from actually using it. I wouldn’t compare Autotext to OpenOffice.org’s word completion as some here have, for instance – they’re subtly different, and OpenOffice.org’s equivalent of Autotext would probably be best described as its Autocorrect rext replacement feature. And it’s neither as complete nor as easy to use as AutoText. However, I’ve only ever seen a few people use AutoText, and I’m not one of those few – so it doesn’t bother me. 🙂

  47. Anonymous says:

    Very courageous to write about this, and mostly appreciated.

    Unfortunately, just like the comments found on slashdot are highly biased, so are yours.

    Your argument seems to be that since there are people out on the net writing about false allegations against Microsoft and conspiracy theories, all allegations ever made against Microsoft are a laugh. Despite the many lost court cases.

    You certainly hit a point when you say: "To me this is a fascinating example where doing the actual fact checking is hard, so people never bother."

    Indeed, fact checking is incredibly hard in many of these cases.

    That’s why it took an expert like Andrew Schulman (see http://www.undoc.com) to find the encrypted anti-DR DOS code in Windows, which was, as you know, something like this:

    if (RunningOnDrDos())

    {

    CrashWindows();

    }

    But thanks to Andy this is now a proven fact, and not the highlight in the Microsoft history.

    But of course we are here talking specifically about Word, where you deny the importance of undocumented Windows functionality in Word:

    "The Office team barely talks to the Windows team."

    Isn’t it a fact then, that certain parts of the Windows source code (for example related to hyperlinking) are (or were at some point in the past) "owned" by the Office team?

    In other words, the Office teams can (and do) tailor Windows to the specific Office needs.

    Isn’t it a fact then, that Office developers have access to different versions of header files and libraries than we, regular developers, have? (I admit that i’m only assuming here, but maybe you can say if i am right or not.)

    Isn’t it a fact then that the Open/Save dialogs in Word do indeed use undocumented Windows functions, and that the same functionality can not be achieved without access to those undocumented functions?

    And just to indicate how hard it is to get the facts, i want to point out that while i have probably been one of the top experts in undocumented shell functions for several years, i discovered only recently that i have been overlooking some very important things for all those years. So what more facts are there to discover, for which there are no experts looking into them?

  48. Anonymous says:

    Philip, thanks for bringing to my attention another feature of OpenOffice. Keep in mind I was describing my personal reaction after looking through the product – I was not writing a software review. I have also asked people to enlighten me as to any features of interestig design, which you have done. Thanks. By the way, between document map and the object browser in Word, I am not sure that the ability to name tables is such a huge advance, although I agree it is useful. What I was referring to when I talked about interesting designs was things much bigger than that. Actually, (and I’m afraid this will annoy you more), the fact that people are only able to come up with small tidbits here and there as evidence that OOo has great original design in it is doing more to confirm my initial impression than change it, sorry to say.

  49. Anonymous says:

    Chris,

    I appreciate that you’re not actually writing a full review. Sorry if it sounded like I was getting at you for that – my comments about reviews were simply a parallel with your comments about products, and more of a snipe at IT journolists than yourself! After all, you’re a coder at Microsoft – we don’t and probably shouldn’t expect impartial and comprehensive reviews from you.

    (And when I re-read my comment, it does sound like I was getting at you and not the journolists. Whoops. Must proofread in future!)

    I suppose what I was more trying to get at was that as a Microsoftie, if you dismiss other products when it sounds like you’ve not actually used them for more than two minutes, then you’re going to get flak. It certainly does nothing to improve some people’s ideas of the attitudes at Microsoft. 🙁

    I think we’ll have to agree to differ on your evaluation of OO.o, though. 😉

  50. Anonymous says:

    Henk, you misunderstand my argument. I did not say that all criticism of Microsoft is unfounded. I think that is called a "straw man" in debating terms – that is, you outline a ridiculous position and then claim it is my position, then proceed to tear it apart. That won’t work I’m afraid.

    I am only peripherally aware of the DR-DOS thing and Andrew Schulman’s efforts. I can say categorically though that no one I work with would ever do that sort of thing, and if it was discovered, it would probably be a firing offense. In fact the Windows team in particular has hundreds of people dedicated to making sure our rivals’ software runs perfectly on Windows. Please research our app compatibility efforts if you are interested in understanding Microsoft as it is today (and in fact as it has been in my personal experience ever since I have been at the company)

    Office occasionally provides some code to Windows. I don’t think there is anything out of the ordinary about this – we are one company, and re-using code is considered a good thing. We don’t do it nearly enough in my opinion – in fact Office is famous for cooking up its own version of many things that Windows has, because the Office team (rightly or wrongly) felt the Windows-supplied stuff was not good enough, or not designed the way we needed it. (the open/save dialogs are a great example of Office doing its own thing because we didn’t like the Windows ones, and the Windows team is still sore about it). This frustrates the Windows team to no end, and leaves Office with a ton of code to support going forward, so we have an effort underway to start using more Windows services (all documented of course) where we can.

    BTW, since you are freely speculating, allow me to do that too for a moment. What gets left out of the "undocumented API" hoopla is the fact that Mr. Cowpland’s engineers noted: none of these APIs are in any way interesting or particularly useful. I.e. they don’t matter. If you don’t believe a direct competitor of ours who has every incentive to claim otherwise, then I am not sure what kind of rational conversation can be had on this topic.

    Please consider what made an API "undocumented" back in the early 90s. In the process of developing Windows, the Windows developers exposed a lot of APIs. All new APIs in Windows were initially undocumented, by definition – the documentation had not been written yet. In the old days, when things were not as clean as now, individual developers might expose several levels or versions of their API, while they work out what the "official" API design should be. In the meantime, anyone using the alpha code of Windows can examine the APIs it exposes (no documentation is even required as any decent developer can do this), and in some cases figure out how they work. When you are trying to write an app on top of an ever-changing API set, you pick things that work. Only later did the documentation get finalized. Back then, the Windows team only properly documented what they wanted people to use and what they wanted to support going forward (sensible at the time). It was possible that some Office developer (or even some non-Microsoft developer) had used a preliminary version of the API and it was never removed (and of course not documented since it was not selected as part of the official API). Time passes, and then people make a huge deal out of some devs being a little sloppy. Is there some argument you’re making that the handful of preliminary APIs that were more or less an accident of the development process made any difference in anything? These APIs were not magical sources of power after all. Mr. Cowpland’s remarks seem to bear that out.

    I should note that since then, as far as I am aware the Windows team has been very careful to remove all partial, preliminary or unofficial versions of APIs before shipping the product to avoid the appearance of impropriety and to document anything that has to remain in the product for compatibility reasons.

  51. Anonymous says:

    Philip: understood – I appreciate your candor. BTW, I am not a coder – I am a program manager. That means that while I could (at one time) write code, I now design the user experiences and other technical aspects of the program that get exposed to end users and in some cases developers. More specifically, if you read my bio, I now manage the teams of Program Managers that design Word, OneNote, Publisher and an internal group called Text Services. That’s why I am interested in the design of products, and particularly exciting new creative designs.

    As I mentioned in my post, it is fine for people to prefer other products than the ones I make – I find that a challenge, not a problem. And in the case of OOo, I was trying to objectively relate my subjective, personal reaction to it as a designer, and encourage people to provide examples where its has interesting design (not just functions) that I may have missed.

  52. Anonymous says:

    I am not saying that you or your team is doing anything like the anti DR-DOS code. My point is rather that practices like this have existed at Microsoft, and that’s where the myths are coming from, and why people don’t trust Microsoft so much. And yes, for every allegation that turns out to be true, there will be 100 that are not true, i agree with that.

    About the application compatibility: I am very well aware of this. This is done for all big applications that are considered "deal breakers": If that application won’t work on the new Windows version, people will not buy the new Windows version. This is the commercial vision of Microsoft as you describe it at it’s best.

    But for what Mr Cowpland’s engineer said: My point is that it is very hard to get the facts straight on issues like this. I do not believe him, because it is very unlikely that he had the means to find out. You find the quote so important, but to me it’s meaningless. When Microsoft had to document all undocumented functions used by Internet Explorer in the settlement, there were important parts missing. I didn’t know this myself and nobody else knew. Until i recently needed something, found out that it existed, and noticed that it was missing. This is most likely not intentional, but it indicates how meaningless the remark of an engineer about issues like this is.

    Although i agree with you that Word became the market leader because it was the best at the time, i don’t like the idea that Windows and Office are made by the same company, because this does make things harder for competitors.

    And i think Office needs a strong competitor to make it better.

    I also want to remark that am not "freely speculating". I have very good grounds for what i say and don’t consider myself a "net thug". But for one point i made i don’t have any hard proof so i want to be honest and indicate this clearly. I know there are two versions of the Platform SDK headers, and i am just wondering if the Office team uses the internal or public ones?

  53. Anonymous says:

    Henk, thanks for the thoughtful reply – I couldn’t tell from your first comment what your tone was. I find Mr. Cowpland’s remark interesting because it is possible to examine what APIs are exported and what APIs an application calls, without any documentation for those APIs.

    By the way, "practices" is a term used for an ongoing behavior or policy. The DR-DOS thing was, as far as I know, a rogue developer acting in a way they thought was right, but was in fact wrong. There was no "practice" of disabling competitive products.

    I agree it is hard to get the facts straight – finding out the truth is always hard – that’s why so few bother and instead repeat what they have heard, often as "fact".

    As for IE – that is an internal Windows component as far as the Windows team is concerned, so it may use any number of internal APIs that the Windows team does not consider part of the platform. When they were ordered to document even these, it is not surprising that some might get missed – the company is staffed by human beings after all. Were they subsequently documented when you pointed this out?

    As for Platform SDK headers, I have no idea, sorry.

    I agree about the competition. It is also more fun when there is robust competition.

    You shouldn’t underestimate the degree to which Windows treats Office more or less like any other ISV. Very often we find out about things because they are announced at PDC, for example. We also get sucked into various Windows initiatives that later get cancelled at least as much as external ISVs – you just don’t hear about it. (we bet heavily on Hailstorm for Office2003…). I understand that as an outsider it is easy to assume all sorts of crafty planning, but really we’re just not that well organized across the Windows/Office boundaries.

  54. Anonymous says:

    Just one more remark about this:

    You say it is possible to examine what APIs an application calls. In reality, this is not so obvious.

    Undocumented functions are usually exported by ordinal. So all you have is a number. Furthermore these APIs are usually dynamically linked. So what you have to do is look for places with code like GetProcAddress(273) where 273 is the ordinal of a function. Not so trivial to make sense of that.

    And this is ony the beginning. How about this function 273 calls a callback function, and this callback function passes you a COM interface, and this COM interface opens up a whole new world of other COM interfaces. This is how certain things are done in Windows.

    It is possible to examine this, that is true. But it is incredibly difficult.

    I assume your idea was just to take a dependency walker and see the names of the functions that are called. Which is most likely what the engineer did, but is, like i said, meaningless.

  55. Anonymous says:

    Oh sorry forgot to answer your question.

    I pointed out in the microsoft.public.platformsdk.shell newsgroup that the documentation for IShellFolderView is missing. This is an important interface that falls under the settlement (used by Internet Explorer). But the documentation has not been updated yet.

    I have pointed out many other errors and omissions in the documentation. The answer i get is always that this will be forwarded to the documentation team. But so far none of them have been corrected.

    I have to add that the support people who answer questions in the newsgroup are very helpful and do everything possible to solve a problem.

  56. Anonymous says:

    I’m an office developer.

    With regards to undocumented API’s in Office apps, I had to track down some down in order to remove them.

    One of the undocumented API’s used by Word was EndMenu(). It was used to cause the menu to close. I couldn’t figure out why we were using this API because it was undocumented and not that interesting. We certainly could have achieved the same results through other means. I went to my pre-Windows 1.0 documentation (which was public – at least in beta – in 1984 or 1985 when it was published) and there was EndMenu() – fully documented. By the time Windows 1.0 shipped, I assume they had removed it from the documentation. I never got newer Windows documentation afterwards. Now I just use msdn on the web for this sort of thing. Of course, Word was still using EndMenu years later because people don’t rewrite code that works just for the heck of it. No one on Word even realized it was undocumented because our code just worked.

  57. Anonymous says:

    I like all the comments about OpenOffice.org not being good for anything because it is free, and free doesn’t help build the economy. On the other hand, Microsoft argues that consumers are demanding more functionality be integrated into the operating system (IE, WMP), which is not "free" but "included." Clearly either Word, Excel, and the other parts of Office should be integrated into the operating system since consumers are demanding this innovation, or IE and WMP should cost money to help build the economy.

  58. Anonymous says:

    First off, responding to Alex (http://blogs.msdn.com/chris_pratley/archive/2004/04/28/122004.aspx#122211), you claim that Apple users and Slashdot readers (I have the dubious honor of being both, upon occasion) are favorable to Apple (ab)using the DMCA, but not to Microsoft using it. I don’t recall, personally, seeing any favorable comments about Apple’s quashing of PlayFair on Slashdot, and quite a lot of criticism. While a lot of idiots, and trolls, and kiddies gather on Slashdot, give credit that there are also those who have more pragmatic, less zealous, and generally more consistent viewpoints (and I would hope I am one of those people).

    Regarding “net thugs”, yes, there are those, and they embarass me (just as Chris is undoubtedly embarassed by some of Microsoft’s less-than-competent marketers ;). But I am not them any more than you or Chris are the marketers, or the IP lawyers, or the monopolists. We–or at least Chris and I; I have no idea what your profession is–are engineers, and we both understand, I suspect, using the best tools for the job. For me, that is not currently Windows, or Office, or any other Microsoft product (again, in my evaluation, though I’ve heard even Microsoft fans admit that Windows Server may not always be the best tool for the job ;).

    So I don’t know about you, but I think I am perfectly capable of having a mature discussion about this, and I am actually quite pleased that Chris is capable of this as well. But to those who see this as anything less–politics, ideology, or what have you–its not. Business is business, so long as it isn’t illegal–and hopefully, at the moment, it is not–and engineering is engineering. Both are, to me, far more interesting in this context that ideology and propoganda.

  59. Anonymous says:

    Anyway, I think I got so caught up in trying to urge people to have a rational discussion that I forgot my rational contribution in my earlier post.

    What I wanted to ask was about Word XML. My recollection–bear in mind that I seldom use a word processor and when I do happen to need one, for opening other people’s files and so forth, it tends to be something other than Word (why pay that much money for something I use maybe once every few months?)–was that Microsoft ultimately chose not to have Word save in XML? Chris, you mention that the conspiracy theorists were angry when the XML formatting was announced, and had to twist it to match their delusions, but I remember thinking that this had to be a good thing for interoperability (like I said, I don’t really use word processors–LaTeX suits me for the few documents I need to prepare–but being able to open .docs flawlessly would still make my life easier by a fair stretch, especially considering that antiword isn’t really all that good). I can’t speak for the conspiracy theorists, but the only time I saw a hint of anything sinister was when I read (perhaps mistakenly?) that the XML format was likely to be abandoned.

    But that must be old news? I Googled to try to find out, but all I found were articles about and utilities for conversion from Word to XML. So does Word now do this itself, or not? Anyone care to enlighten me?

    While we’re on the topic, I may as well as if there are any plans to incorporate something to allow those of us more comfortable with TeX and such to do similar stuff in Word. I remember Word’s (and OO.org’s, to my distaste 😉 ability to automagically insert bullet points, header indices, etc. What I truly like about LaTeX–aside from the ease of typing mathematical formulae, which OO.org’s equation feature doesn’t match–is that it truly lets formatting and appearance (that is, document structure and structure representation) be completely independent. Aside from the benefits for standardizing templates, distributed authoring, etc, this is really, in my mind, an ideal way to construct most formal documents (obviously this is poorly suited to certain forms of document creation, like layout formatting, as done in Quark XPress, or poetry, where the appearance and construction are closely entangled) such as reports, journal articles, technical documents, and so forth. Is a feature enabling this sort of thing in or likely in the future to be included in Word?

    Finally, I wanted to ask about your apparent lack of interest in OO.org. I largely agree with your evaluation; while there are some innovations in OO.org that you have surely missed (export to PDF, the equation editor (a less-than-perfect replacement for LaTeX), and word-completion), it is seemingly most-devoted to being a clone of MS Office. But while it may not be an innovative challenge, it–for price–and Corel Word Perfect are still as close to competition to Word as exists in the marketplace at the moment, I would guess. Do you have coworkers who devote more time to studying the competition, or is Microsoft development more introspective, focused only on the product and the market, and never the competition (something I would find rather surprising)?

    Again, thanks so much for the stimulating articles, and as always, for keeping the discussion at a high and, shall we say, civilized level.

  60. Anonymous says:

    There’s zealotry on all sides of the fence. People seem to lose this even when they are capable of acknowledging it in situations that they don’t sit in the middle of.

    By that I mean that a Linux zealot will always wear an anti-Microsoft tin foil hat and an anti-Linux zealot will always cry foul.

    I know smart, respectable individuals who say that open source software will put all programmers out of a job. Well, frankly, that’s hogwash. IBM made close to $10 billion the 4th quarter of 2003 on PC software. Their consulting division made $17 billion. The demand is for customization, installation, and administration of software as much as it is for prepackaged software.

    I also know smart, respectable indidividuals who scream that proprietary software is evil, that everything Microsoft does is to better Bill Gates and only Bill Gates, screw the world and the world economy! Everything should be open and free, make your own way in the world. What a load of hogwash as well. As this post, and other Microsoft employee blogs, shows… a Microsoft employee is normally an extremely smart and talented individual who was picked to do a job, and does that job.

    Do they sit in their chair and say "How can we screw over Sun or Novell?" No. They’re probably like you and me — just trying to get their job done, much less throw in a few immoral activities to tick off the world at large.

    Why is Microsoft successful? I went through their interview process. I’m not sure if it was a normal process or not — 9 interviews, 3 locations, multitudes of people. I did not make the cut, although as I understand it I did hold the position at one point in time. 9 interviews of grueling, digging questions. Not just about my knowledge but about my methods, my thought processes, and was I afraid to speak out against the party line. (No, I wasn’t, although I think in some instances that hurt me a great deal.)

    That process would cull the idiots quickly. If you populate an entire company with that method you’re going to have an amazing team. And amazing teams — whether Microsoft’s or the world wide team that produced the Linux kernel or the GNU utilities — do amazing things.

    One other thing that proprietary software has — in general — is exactly what Chris does. A program manager. Someone who has a decisive say in what direction a product takes. Open source takes a more democratic approach, which absolutely kills the natural flow of an application. In an OSS project if a project manager isn’t liked you take the source and you fork. DO NOT GET ME WRONG: this is NOT a bad thing, generally. However, if you splinter a diamond in hundreds of shards there isn’t enough substance left in any one shard to be of value to anyone. And THIS is the problem.

    This is turning into something I should post on my blog… and it seems to have little to do with the actual post above except to try to explain to Chris and other reasonable individuals from both sides of the fence that we should not be judged by those of us who are most verbal, whether that means a sweaty, overactive Steve Ballmer or a screaming Slashdot Net Thug.

    Office 2003 vs. Open Office, pleasing graphics wise, I’m voting for Office 2003. Cost wise at home, to get things done, goes to Open Office. Cost wise at work, to get things done, goes to Office 2003. (Sorry guys. I deal with more non technology folks and I have to be able to send and receive flawlessly.)

    Disclaimers: I am an MCSE seeking my MCAD, I read Slashdot daily, I use C# and .NET every day in my day job, I run Gentoo Linux on my desktop and Red Hat Enterprise Workstation on my laptop at home, Windows XP 64 bit at work, I signed a petition to have Microsoft broken into multiple companies (I still believe that would have been better for the industry as a whole; horrible for Microsoft and shareholders, I admit :)), as mentioned above I have interviewed with Microsoft but didn’t make the cut, I have a low five digit UID on Slashdot, and I consider myself a zealot for neither Microsoft or Linux. I am simply a user of technologies that wants the best he can get.

  61. Anonymous says:

    Hi Chris

    Interesting posts, <insert various phrases of approval>, etc.

    However: you say

    "We make the documentation available to partners, governments, anti-virus vendors, etc. Some people ask why we don’t make it public, often in a tone that implies we are somehow required to do this ethically. We don’t do that because it is our intellectual property. People who want to work with us can get it by contacting us; people who want to compete with us need to work harder. That’s business."

    I am one of the people who says such behavior is unethical. Back in the early 90’s, when few people were using Word for anything of importance – keeping the format closed was business, and you needed every advantage you could get to claw your way into the market. But today, Word is big. It’s the informal standard. A vast amount of information is created, stored, and viewed in its format. Today, we can’t cut you any more slack for making unethical business decisions.

    So what’s unethical?

    Keeping information inaccessible.

    You perfectly justified in charging me $300 for using the Word GUI (it’s quite nice). You are not justified in making me pay $300 for the privilige of reading a book. You are especially not justified in making me go on an archaeological expedition in 2050 to find a machine and binary software to read a document I wrote in 2004.

    The Word97 undocumented format is slightly unethical. Anyone is free to reverse-engineer it. With a massive enough investment of my time, I can avoid the $300 fee. Of course, in 2050, with the basic assumptions about file formats being completely different, the time investment might be quite large.

    The new WordML format is, if I understand correctly, patent-encumbered XML. (If it’s not patent-encumbered, please accept by apologies.) That can be classified not just unethical, but evil. For the next few decades, you are depriving me of the right to reverse-engineer what is looking to become the most popular way of saving documents. Of course, by grandchildren would be free to reverse-engineer it, and XML is much easier to understand than Word97, but that doesn’t give me much comfort.

  62. Anonymous says:

    Another big reason for choosing OOo over Office: Office tracks your name, and the name of every other person that has edited a document. OOo doesn’t. This has led to some pretty interesting revelations from some companies (including MS).

  63. Anonymous says:

    AC wrote:

    > Another big reason for choosing OOo over

    > Office: Office tracks your name, and the

    > name of every other person that has edited a

    > document. OOo doesn’t.

    Isn’t that a rather large hole in Open Office’s feature-set? I mean, if it doesn’t support revision tracking, that’s rather lame, isn’t it?

  64. Anonymous says:

    Dan, WordML is not going to be abandoned – not sure where you read that. Word2003 can be set to save in the WordML format by default if you wish.

    You can separate formatting from structure in Word using styles, which can be defined for characters, paragraphs, tables, lists, etc. This styling capability has been in Word since its beginning. Are you saying you are familiar with this and it is not adequate or are you not familiar with it? Most people don’t care about structure and format separation – it is really only valuable for longer documents, or ones that may undergo significant revision. But for shorter, one-off docs, there is little value.

    There are people who examine our competitors in detail in Office. But please don’t mistake my lack of excitement regarding OOo for ignorance – I already knew about the functionality people here have mentioned. I did not dispute that there are a few features there that are not in Word. My point has always been about creativity in design, which I see little of, that’s all (saving in additional formats is not creative UI design, although it is handy)

  65. Anonymous says:

    I find your notes about who Microsoft reveals file-formats to very sensible. The only problem with it is the mockery you showed towards 80’s companies who acted exactly the same way, in the previous article.

    Also, for the record (about non-changing file formats): Hebrew Word 97 unconditionally crashes whenever it tries to open a document produced by any later version of Word (needless to say, OpenOffice failed to clone this feature).

  66. Anonymous says:

    Shurik, content in Word documents is not inaccessible – I think I could find at least ten programs that can read Word files quite well, most of them not from Microsoft. As this situation proves, the documentation on the file format is not necessary for people to be able to see the content of Word files. It simply makes it easier for some competitors. As I noted, the documentation is available for institituions, governments, etc. specifically to assuage this fear. I think "inaccessible" is a significant overstatement.

    For XML, I have to take issue with your use of "evil". "evil" is a strong word, and more than that, it is emotionally loaded, yet has no precision – what does it even mean in this context? All we have done is patent (and offer to license at no charge) certain innovative methods for converting XML structures of our own design into word processing structures of our own design. We have not patented "XML" or even the "format" of WordML. This is routine protection of our intellectual property.

  67. Anon, I re-read my post and do not see any hint of mockery. Are you reading something in my post that I did not intend? I have in there a purely factual statement that the format of files was carefully guarded information 10 years ago. (Microsoft and some other companies continue this practice of keeping certain formats as trade secrets)

    Regarding Hebrew (and Arabic) Word97, you are right that in our unification of the language versions in Office2000, we had to bring the Hebrew and Arabic versions into line with the rest of the languages, and this caused some file format changes in those language versions – to match the worldwide version. Also, unifying the code bases helped clear up some instabilities in certain language versions, as the testing coverage for these languages improved substantially.

  68. Shurik says:

    "All we have done is patent (and offer to license at no charge) certain innovative methods for converting XML structures of our own design into word processing structures of our own design. We have not patented "XML" or even the "format" of WordML."

    Are you saying that I am free to develop a WordML reader? What about something like OOo – could it open/save WordML files (and turn them into word processing structures of its own design) without infringing on MS patents? If it can’t, do you think MS would license the patents for free to its competitor? Would such a license force OOo to change its distribution model (GPL and free-as-beer)?

    I am genuinely interested.

    (Sorry for my use of "evil" – I just have strong feelings about this subject.)

  69. Nick Wilson says:

    Interesting to hear from the other side about the development of Word. I do have to disagree with you about OpenOffice cloning an outdated app though. I see the newer versions of Office to be upgrading for the sake of upgrading, the only feature I can think of that Word 2.0a didn’t have that I would use would be typo-highlighting. Other than that, why would I pay for a new Office suite that doesn’t do anything new, except take longer to load? Word 2.0 starts faster than Wordpad on a 300Mhz machine running ’98 🙂

    Also, was there ever a fix for the floppy-save bug, I believe it was in Office ’97? As a lab tech in college I had more than one person lose their data because Word saved to the FAT (or equivelant) on their floppy instead of saving properly. Was there no patch, or was my school too cheap/lazy?

  70. Brian Ewins says:

    I really wasn’t going to comment until I read you describing IE’s autocomplete as being rooted in Word AutoText, as something other people clone, since ’93. I remember the nearly-identical ‘abbrev’ feature in Emacs well before then (see eg linked article from 19 /eighty/ 3, where it was already being re-used for autocompleting mail addresses)? The IE feature always struck me as an almost-but-not-quite attempt at copying the minibuffer history in emacs.

    But, since you’re interested in innovative features, you might want to go look for Anders Holsts "hippy-expand" for emacs (circa ’95) – which autocompletes from words you’ve previously typed in the current document. No menu setup required.

    -Baz

  71. Roger Aldrich says:

    "So feel free to tell me what you think needs improving."

    Since you asked, there’s one feature I’d love to see in Word, a "turn features off" button. By this I mean anything that Word tried to do to my text that I don’t explicitly type. No auto capitilization, no auto hyperlinks, no grammar or spell checking, no colored lines or marks or doohickies or paperclips cluttering up my simple text. The only way I know how to do this now is to hunt up each of these features one at a time in some twisty maze of menus and uncheck them. I usually don’t bother and just fire up notepad for most of my text editing needs.

  72. Greg says:

    Like Shurik, I believe Microsoft has an ethical obligation to openly publish documentation on the Word file format. A corporation with a monopoly market share in a product space should be required to compete on its merits, not on artificial lock-in, to the greatest reasonable extent. If legal authorities are not agile enough to effectively enforce this principle, then Microsoft is getting away with something. That may be good business, but it’s not good ethics.

    If interchange formats are good enough, or if people’s reverse-engineering of the file format are good enough, then what reason does that leave Microsoft not to publish the Word file format documentation? "It’s our intellectual property" is merely a legal justification for your ability to withhold it, not a reason to do so. From where I sit, the most plausible reason is that Microsoft knows that people will generally pass around documents in the native file format, so the existence of interchange formats doesn’t really solve the lock-in problem for most people. (If I’m the one guy out of 30 who doesn’t use Microsoft Word, who am I to convince the other 29 to change their habits for saving and passing around document?) Similarly, Microsoft knows that without documentation, reverse-engineered tools for reading the file format will suffer from imperfections so that, again, they don’t really solve the lock-in problem.

    Just business? Perhaps. But when you hold a monopoly position in the market, a lot of "just business" practices become unethical. It’s one thing if I buy your product because it’s the best thing out there for my purposes; it’s another when I can’t get a job if I don’t buy your product because most employers only accept resumes in native Word format.

    (A question: when you say that Microsoft offers to license the patent rights on its XML interchange format at no charge, are there onerous conditions attached to that license, such as ones that would prohibit an open-source implementation?)

  73. Shurik, there is already a free WordML reader (for IE: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=19676b18-1bcd-4852-93ba-0b5a203ea731&displaylang=en)

    , as well as a transform you can use to convert WordML to HTML for viewing in any browser or other HTML-capable application that supports XSLT. (and lots more stuff on MSDN)

    The WordML format is documented, and for OOo, it would depend on how the files were going to be used – there may be a way that does not require a license of our patents. The "(d)evil is in the details." 🙂 Otherwise a license would be required if our patents were going to be infringed.

  74. Nick, your needs may be limited to Word2 + backgroudn spelling, but many other people appreciate the ability to have gradient blend graphics, non-trivial tables, HTML, XML, collaboration capabilities, etc. It is easy to say that people don’t need new versions, but if you ask them to go bck to such a version, most people would complain right away because they don’t appreciate what they have until it is gone.

  75. Brian, thanks for the tip. I think I would find auto-completing words in my document based on what I had typed pretty annoying. We thought of this (I guess independently) way back when we did AutoComplete, but it just seemed too aggressive (and that’s saying something, since back then we were too aggressive with auto featutres ourselves)

  76. Roger, if you try OfficeXp or Office2003, you’ll find "smart tags" that appear when an automatic feature fires, and these give you the control you are asking for – don’t do that this time, don’t do that ever, etc. There are also handy ones around paste for example that let you pick how you want the paste to occur.

  77. Greg, last time I checked, MS Office was not a monopoly. It is certainly popular, and that carries some power, but there is reasonable competition from WordPerfect, OpenOffice and others, where customers evaluate these products and in some cases go with them rather than MS Office. As fans of OpenOffice never hesitate to comment, that product can replace Office for many types of people which means that there is competition. I am sure that some people will read this and scoff, but that’s the reality right now – many customers evaluate both or all three of these suites and each product wins some accounts.

    Actually, this whole question of voluntarily surrendering an asset is an interesting one. If we were 50-50% split in market share with a competitor, most people would say we are justified in keeping our formats documented only for our friends, gov’t, etc. At what point is a company expected to start to give away its assets? Is it when people become envious of a strong leadership position, or enough of them clamour for it? If so, how many people? Or should a company wait until it is ordered to do so because a court decided it must? If it is before that point, how do you know when that point is?

    There will be lots of opinions in the public, but our shareholders would look at us funny if we said "um, we think we’re doing pretty well these days, so we’re just going to go ahead and help our competitors for a bit". As the history of the market shows, "unbeatable" advantages can be lost in a year or two if things go the wrong way for the leader. Given that, what is the rationale for giving away assets you have as the leader before you absolutely have to – to buy goodwill? If so, this has to be balanced against the business lost. Certainly where I work we don’t think we have any guaranteed future – we have to re-earn each sale and work hard to justify to our customers the cost of purchasing our products vs going with the "good enough" competition. The idea that helping our competitors would be the "ethical" behavior is a little odd in this environment.

  78. Shurik says:

    Chris, you did fully not answer my questions, so I will answer them myself.

    MS grants its Office XML patents under the following license:

    http://www.microsoft.com/mscorp/ip/format/xmlpatentlicense.asp

    The license terms are incompatible with GPL (it requires prominently displaying a notice in a WordML reader source, documentation, and all derivative works – that violates GPL for the same reason as the Xfree 4.4 license). I am not sure, but some of the clauses might also violate the difinition of open source.

    I admire the MS legal department for crafting a license that sounds really friendly but that will be unacceptable to any open-source zealot. There probably are ways to get around the restrictions (for example, a separate WordML-to-OOo.xml filter executable) but MS is certainly putting some sticks in OOo’s wheels.

    Anyway, I withdraw my comment about "evil". The WordML format is merely bad sportsmanship.

  79. Dan says:

    Re http://weblogs.asp.net/chris_pratley/archive/2004/04/28/122004.aspx#130980

    Sorry, Chris. I was clearly wrong on the WordML thing. Like I said, I thought I read a rumor that MSFT had decided not to use XML after all–but this was a year or two ago, probably. And I Googled, but figured who better to ask than you 🙂

    Anyway, I haven’t used Office since Office XP. I have to confess, I now run Linux on my desktop, and own a Powerbook with OS X; when I mostly do Linux programming and work in a Linux and Solaris environment–with my desktop at work being Linux–it’s just easier to be homogenous at home, as well.

    Anywho (sorry if I’m getting off track–I take great pains here to make it clear I’m no zealot), I wasn’t really aware of this feature of Word. I’ve used templates and such, but never really read up a lot on the advanced features, back when I had it. I might go hunt down a Windows box at some point and give it a shot, though, curious as I am about this.

    I did read your descriptions of WordML with some excitement, the ability to create a custom markup seems quite nice–almost like LaTeX on steroids, if I’m understanding it right. I suppose I understand the desire to push it only for professionals–home users probably don’t need that much power–but then I have to wonder, what do home users really use Word for? After all, the most important features–those that set Word apart from WordPad or Apple’s TexEdit (a basic RTF editor that I sometimes use when I need the ability to do basic formatting but don’t want to bother with LaTeX)–are probably not things that my mother will use when typing a letter, for example.

    I suppose this doesn’t bring me to a particularly concrete question, but I think at least an interesting observation is that Office–or at least some sort of office applications–have become pretty much de rigeur for home users, even though their value would seem to be dubious (or at least, I get by fine without an office suite per se).

    If people want a typewriter, Word is essentially overkill. So on the one hand, you’re creating features that are a godsend to professionals (honestly, if WordML and custom markups work well, they’d truly be, if not a killer app, still something even I’d be willing to put down $350 for), yet on the other struggling with questions like, “Do focus groups prefer a happy dog, or a sassy paperclip?” And while having a pro verseion and a home version at least allows you to use the puppy where focus groups prefer the puppy, and clippy where he is preferred, I’m still curious how, in general, this is handled. What do you see as potential goals for home users, for whom OpenOffice or WordPad or whatever are all sufficient (when I upgraded my mother’s PC from Word97 to WordXP, I don’t think she really noticed the difference)? Is there a pinaccle of development, after which point added features just complicate matters (given that most home users don’t use most features of Word)? Or to put it this way, would there be a point where you’d want–save for the fact that this wouldn’t be the best marketing, I suppose–to do a feature-freeze on home versions of Word and just say, “what we want to add from now on is only of interest to professional users”?

    I was at a lecture by Eric Raymond months ago–he came to my university–and he made a case that software would move from a manufacturing model to a support model (a very weak argument, in my opinion, but let’s not go there). And a professor asked, “What about word processors? Nobody is going to pay for support on a word processor; they don’t need it and they don’t want it. And as for newer and newer versions, pretty soon people are going to realize they don’t need them, either; after all, all they’re doing is typing. How much advancement can it really take?” And I have to say, I agreed fully with this sentiment; typing is typing is typing. I can’t say I have a favorite editor (vi versus Emacs? :P) but like I’ve said so many times above, I just sort of drift around. When I need something basic that can just do simple formatting, I use TextEdit. When I need to do a large document or mathematical expressions, I use LaTeX. When I need to write something short, I use Emacs. So where is the pinaccle of word processor development (when the word processor does the composing for you? ;)? Certainly development of such software must consist of a lot of pondering of what the possibilities are, and where the innovation can go, but do you ever wonder if there is an upper bound to that innovation, and if so, whether you are close?

    Thanks again.

  80. David Candy says:

    1. The Win 3.1 SDK defined the wri format. This is the same as MacWord 3 or thereabouts format and presumbably very similar to winword.

    2. I ignored Win/Word for years. You kept telling me it couldn’t do anything except look pretty. I was in IBM XEdit/Rexx withdrawal and had founf PC-Write ver 3 (Function key interface like WP and XEdit – I only know Ctrl + Y for wordstar and do not use Ctrl + keystrokes to this day). My flatmate has a 286 with Win 3.0, Excel 2.0 and Winword 1.0. I found Wordbasic and realised Winword was a great program.

    3. I no longer like word. In fact I hate it.

    a/ HTML CSS styles spoilt me. I can’t regard word styles as anything but a toy.

    b/ Word (and Excel is even worse) are POOR, VERY POOR windows programs. You need to start doing things the windows way not the office way (eg common dialogs). In fact Shell/Office/HTML (if they are still around) UI teams must coordinate so office fits into the OS version it’s bought for not the next unreleased OS version.

    c/ If cascading menus were such a verbotten thing on 3.1 why have they proliferated.

    d/ I’ve used word for database management, spreadsheeting (when Excel want to work like a windows program rather then lotos 123 for Dos I might use it), magazine production, and writing essays, I’ve released two macro products for it (ver 6 and 7 – you "stole" too many of my features to bother doing one for 97).

    I can no longer use it. I once had numbering explained to me. I just save as Word 2 then import so I don’t get any word inspired numbering but characters inserted. There would be no chance of doing a magazine (to do DTP you really need to do 1 page per document or go mad) unless I can understand exactly how to stop all scaling. I’m not convinced that Use Printer Metrics will give me exact control. Word is no longer WYSIWYG but more close to what you get.

    When I use a computer I visualise a conceptual model down to transistor, shift registers, (basically based on the 8080 or 4004 processor). When using WProcessing programs I understood ESCP/2 language. Since Text Boxes, tables in tables, drawing canvas (that I do not knowq what it is), layers, etc I can no longer form a conceptual model. I now use word as an RTF viewer like acrobat and use notepad and html code to do anything I have to do formatted. I can’t predict a single thing about it. I no longer have a conceptual model.

  81. mx says:

    Chris: Thanks for the history, and the clear explanations. It’s easy to forget that faceless corps are really blobs of humanity, in this case competant, caring developers. The movement to expose some of the cranial content, especially within MS, allows us outsiders to see how things tick (and gives us a chance to take of our tin-foil hats).

    /me tips his tin-foil hat to MS 😉

  82. Avery says:

    It is silly to even consider a file format to be an asset. Just pass a law requiring all companies to publish the saved file format used by their software, then there can be no whining from anyone and each product can compete on its quality not some hidden format intended to trap the customer.

  83. Kenneth Jakobsen says:

    [Some people ask why we don’t make it public, often in a tone that implies we are somehow required to do this ethically.]

    Generally you are ethically required to publish them, all software makers should do that.

    Not just you.

    [We don’t do that because it is our intellectual property.]

    It’s your what?

    What i think you mean is your Trade Secret.

    But hey your software is already proprietary closedsource software, so what difference does it make to open your fileformats completely?

    [People who want to work with us can get it by contacting us; people who want to compete with us need to work harder. That’s business.]

    That’s YOUR business.

    Business sures doesn’t have to be that way, or things sure does look bad for the businessworld in general.

  84. Kenneth,

    You state that we are ethically required to publish file format documentation, yet offer no reason why this is ethically necessary. "should" seems to mean "you want us to". That is not the same as ethics. There are many other companies who choose not to provide public documentation for their products.

    You are right that in addition to our file formats being intellectual property (there are a number of patents on parts of the Word binary format), in addition the entire thing (other than the patented parts) is a Trade Secret. Trade Secrets (legal term) are common and ethical in business.

    Making things less than *as easy as possible* for competitors is absolutely par for the course in business or in just about any competition. You make it sound like this is somehow unique to Microsoft with your implication that it is not normal business.

    Although sports analogies weary me, do you consider basketball to be unethical because the defending guards attempt to make it hard for the other players to shoot for the basket, and *gasp* actually touch the other player, even pushing them a little? Basketball, like business, has accepted norms in competition that do not require teams to stand back and allow the other players to have the run of the field, nor are taller players forced to shorten themselves to remove their "unfair" advantage, and likewise it is quite reasonable and ethical to maintain trade secrets in business. Where is the published Coca-Cola formula?

  85. Kenneth Jakobsen says:

    [Kenneth,

    You state that we are ethically required to publish file format documentation, yet offer no reason why this is ethically necessary.]

    First of all to make it easier to exchange documents among diffent users.

    My choice of wordprocessor, shouldn’t force others to use the same software.

    Second of because it really shouldn’t be necesary for you, to lock things up to survive competition or am i wrong?

    ["should" seems to mean "you want us to". That is not the same as ethics. There are many other companies who choose not to provide public documentation for their products.]

    Yes and i clearly sad, that my views were that all companies should do this.

    Not just you.

    You products should be good enough, for people to choose the without being force by compatability issues.

    [You are right that in addition to our file formats being intellectual property (there are a number of patents on parts of the Word binary format), in addition the entire thing (other than the patented parts) is a Trade Secret. Trade Secrets (legal term) are common and ethical in business.]

    First of all, intellectual Property is a silly term.

    Patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets and the like, are different issues with almost nothing in common.

    So therefore i avoid using it.

    About Trade secret; It can be perfectly ethical, and other time be a real pain not only to your competitors but also to us users.

    Here i ONLY address the fileformat issue, not sourcecode in general.

    Patents are bad, nothing else to said about them.

    Copyrights are perfectly fine, as are trademarks.

    [Making things less than *as easy as possible* for competitors is absolutely par for the course in business or in just about any competition. You make it sound like this is somehow unique to Microsoft with your implication that it is not normal business.]

    That was certainly not my intention, and i’m truely sorry if that was how it looked.

    I critisize everyone, doing those things.

    Not just Microsoft.

    [Although sports analogies weary me, do you consider basketball to be unethical because the defending guards attempt to make it hard for the other players to shoot for the basket, and *gasp* actually touch the other player, even pushing them a little? Basketball, like business, has accepted norms in competition that do not require teams to stand back and allow the other players to have the run of the field, nor are taller players forced to shorten themselves to remove their "unfair" advantage, and likewise it is quite reasonable and ethical to maintain trade secrets in business. Where is the published Coca-Cola formula?]

    Your analogy with sports and Cocacola seems out of place.

    Because it’s not only a question of competitors, but your policy on this issues also hurt your own customers.

    Compete on the program itself, not by who is best at locking things up.

    Every Office user i’ve ever spoken with, wouldn’t miss it for the world.

    Why lock people on hands and feet, when your users actually like and prefer you software already?

    What harm is caused, by other software being 100% compatible if you keep making better software.

    Which is were i think your focus ought to be, the same about your competitors.

    Focus on making better software for us users, instead of wasting time on working on cross compatability.

    Sorry for my imperfect english.

    And not trying to be too harsh on you… 😉

  86. Kenneth,

    IMO, both of your arguments are not ethical ones. If you choose to use software that produces files others can not read, you have the choice to use another piece of software if that is most important to you. This is true of any product – if it does not do what you want, use a different one. FWIW, like it or not, the most widely readable *editable* word processor file format, by a wide margin, is Word’s *.doc. If you choose another editable format, fewer people would be able to read and edit it – that’s just reality, not my opinion. That also holds true for any new format that is introduced – for many years it will be less broadly readable than *.doc – that’s a big reason why we haven’t changed our own format for so long (I discuss that elsewhere on my blog too)

    Your second argument, that our products are still competitive without keeping the format non-public, while true, does not mean we have an ethical obligation to make it public. Companies have the right to use every tool they have to compete, within the law. Business ethics absolutely allow and expect companies to use trade secrets to their advantage.

    You can certainly hold the opinion that Intellectual Property is a silly term, but essentially all industrial economies have recognized its importance, and the need to protect it. Patents are not "bad", they are flawed, meaning they have value but also some problems. Check out my next few posts after this one for a long discussion on patents.

    You are right that Trade Secrets can be a pain for competitors and sometimes customers. Any business has to weigh the pros and cons of keeping things a Trade Secret.

    I’m not sure the analogies I raised are as out of place as you think. If Coca-cola made its trade secret formula public, then competitors could make *exact* clones of Coca-Cola, and sell it for less, which you would argue is good for consumers, albeit bad for Coca-Cola. Yet nearly everyone recognizes and approves of Coca-Cola’s right to keep its formula secret, including its customers, even though they know it helps inhibit competition and keeps the prices of Coke higher than they would be if it were public. Our economy runs on balanced rights for all parties – customer, business, etc. As I discuss in later posts, if a company cannot protect its investment (in tangible or intangible propety), then the economy starts to break down. In fact, although you could argue that keeping things secret inhibits competition in the short term, in the long term, a system that allows business to keep things secret encourages the development of new products and hence competition, since the business knows it will be able to recoup its investment. This is the basic economics of capitalism, which, like democracy, is not perfect, but merely the "least broken" system.

    On the web it can sometimes seem that there are a lot of people who ask for our file formats to be made public and claim to ask this on behalf of our customers, but that’s the danger of believing that web denizens who care about this topic represent our customers, or even are customers themselves. In reality, our customers actually don’t really care that much about this.

    For example, when I visited a local plumbing supply company recently to find out how they were using our software and hear their issues, they did not mention that they needed the file format documentation, or that they wanted our documents to be readable and editable more broadly than they already are. They are typical of almost every customer large and small we talk to. They don’t care. The issue of the file format is really one for academics and government, and most especially our competitors and people trying to clone us – but very rarely one that our customers care about. When an institution, government or (in those rare cases when) a customer asks for our documentation, we generally let them see it. When a competitor asks, we don’t feel we need to help them. We periodically reevaluate this position, and of course may decide in the future that it is better for our business as a whole (taking into account customers’ needs) to make the format public – currently we have not decided to do so. This position is considered ethical in business and normal by customers, although I do understand that certain people may not prefer it.

  87. Kenneth Jakobsen says:

    [IMO, both of your arguments are not ethical ones. If you choose to use software that produces files others can not read, you have the choice to use another piece of software if that is most important to you. This is true of any product – if it does not do what you want, use a different one.]

    Well one can alway discus ethics, simply because everyone have they own view on whats ethical or not.

    My point is that it’s a practice we all should avoid in the future.

    [FWIW, like it or not, the most widely readable *editable* word processor file format, by a wide margin, is Word’s *.doc. If you choose another editable format, fewer people would be able to read and edit it – that’s just reality, not my opinion. That also holds true for any new format that is introduced – for many years it will be less broadly readable than *.doc – that’s a big reason why we haven’t changed our own format for so long (I discuss that elsewhere on my blog too)]

    While thats true in many aspects, i usually recommend people to save word files as Word 97 as a standard.

    And the same goes for Excell files.

    While that properly blocks using the latest nifty features, it avoids the comon problem when other people can’t read the files as they were suppose to look.

    I think we need a common standard for interchangable formats.

    Open standards that is.

    [Your second argument, that our products are still competitive without keeping the format non-public, while true, does not mean we have an ethical obligation to make it public.]

    Why not, if you don’t need to do otherwise?

    [Companies have the right to use every tool they have to compete, within the law.]

    Guess thats true.

    But whats the point?

    [Business ethics absolutely allow and expect companies to use trade secrets to their advantage.]

    Well business tends to define ethics, in they’re own favor.

    If it generates money, then it’s perfectly ethical.

    So normal i laugh when someone uses business and ethics close to eachother.

    Businesss ethics SHOULD be, that customer comes first.

    Making money is fine, but not by bugging your own customers.

    Therefore customer satisfaction first and foremost.

    But thats my opinion.

    [You can certainly hold the opinion that Intellectual Property is a silly term, but essentially all industrial economies have recognized its importance, and the need to protect it.]

    Again its the term thats bad.

    Why use such an ambigious word?

    Lumping things together, that are so different?

    Lets discuss things seperately.

    [Patents are not "bad", they are flawed, meaning they have value but also some problems. Check out my next few posts after this one for a long discussion on patents.]

    Patents are bad simply because, they could never function for software.

    You could never make a working patentsystem suitable for software, and therefore it should be rejected.

    Thats what we are fighting hard for here in europe, and i hope and pray for americans that it can be dropped there also.

    [You are right that Trade Secrets can be a pain for competitors and sometimes customers. Any business has to weigh the pros and cons of keeping things a Trade Secret.]

    Thats right.

    It’s the hurting customers part, that gets to me mainly..

    [I’m not sure the analogies I raised are as out of place as you think. If Coca-cola made its trade secret formula public, then competitors could make *exact* clones of Coca-Cola, and sell it for less, which you would argue is good for consumers, albeit bad for Coca-Cola. Yet nearly everyone recognizes and approves of Coca-Cola’s right to keep its formula secret, including its customers, even though they know it helps inhibit competition and keeps the prices of Coke higher than they would be if it were public.]

    If i was suggesting that all your tradesecret (sourcecode for instance), should be published then it would be suiting.

    Thats not what i suggest.

    I only speak of your fileformats.

    [Our economy runs on balanced rights for all parties – customer, business, etc. As I discuss in later posts, if a company cannot protect its investment (in tangible or intangible propety), then the economy starts to break down. In fact, although you could argue that keeping things secret inhibits competition in the short term, in the long term, a system that allows business to keep things secret encourages the development of new products and hence competition, since the business knows it will be able to recoup its investment. This is the basic economics of capitalism, which, like democracy, is not perfect, but merely the "least broken" system.]

    Well i’m not here for a proprietary vs opensource/free (as in freedom) software discusion.

    Companies have to choose, the model that serves them best.

    Which of them is, depends on many factors.

    There is many ways of doing business, and your way is just one of them.

    It simply wouldn’t work everywhere.

    [On the web it can sometimes seem that there are a lot of people who ask for our file formats to be made public and claim to ask this on behalf of our customers, but that’s the danger of believing that web denizens who care about this topic represent our customers, or even are customers themselves. In reality, our customers actually don’t really care that much about this.]

    Well

    That may be true, for several reasons.

    One of them is that the secrecy thankfully hasn’t worked completely.

    I for one uses both MS Office and Openoffice, and other software. (Because i run several OS’es)

    Another reason is that MS Office users, simply are puzzeled when people tell them that they cant read theyre files.

    Importfilters and converters are getting better all the time, which sound like the solution untill an open interchangable format arrives.

    [For example, when I visited a local plumbing supply company recently to find out how they were using our software and hear their issues, they did not mention that they needed the file format documentation, or that they wanted our documents to be readable and editable more broadly than they already are. They are typical of almost every customer large and small we talk to. They don’t care. The issue of the file format is really one for academics and government, and most especially our competitors and people trying to clone us – but very rarely one that our customers care about. When an institution, government or (in those rare cases when) a customer asks for our documentation, we generally let them see it. When a competitor asks, we don’t feel we need to help them. We periodically reevaluate this position, and of course may decide in the future that it is better for our business as a whole (taking into account customers’ needs) to make the format public – currently we have not decided to do so. This position is considered ethical in business and normal by customers, although I do understand that certain people may not prefer it.]

    Customers swapping mainly primaryly with people using +/- the same office version, will properly never experience any problems ever.

    Properly not the smallest customers you honour with a visit like that or?

    Well the formats are going public sooner or later, from the fact that opensource software will reverse engineer them.

    I guess they are ~90% public now.

    And that work will also help, companies making closedsource competitive software.

    So one might argue that the time spend, on making it harder for competitors is wasted.

    When that exact time, could be spend much better on more usefull innovation?

    Since you mention goverment.

    Both my goverment (Denmark) and the EU in general, has responded positively to our requests.

    That they should DEMAND, that all the software bought by them are with public formats.

    That are completly open to everyone.

    The new MS XML-like format comes close to our wishes.

    Not perfectly.

    Patents and licensing terms worries.

    But it is certainly a good first step.

  88. Kenneth,

    I think I see where you’re coming from on this. I don’t think we’re going to get any closer in terms of our positions.

    Some last comments:

    1. Business ethics – before you dismiss this, you might look into the academic research that has gone on regarding this area – it is not a joke as you imply.

    2. BTW, if, as you say, the customer really did always come first and was the sole consideration, then surely all businesses should reduce their prices to zero – that is what customers would prefer. Of course, the businesses would then go bankrupt and could no longer offer their products or services. This is an extreme example to prove a point that the issue is not black and white and is in fact quite nuanced: there needs to be a balance between the interests of businesses and customers.

    3. Word2003 uses the same format as Word97 – when you ask people to save as "Word97", they just need to do a normal save – there is no way to save specifically as 97 format, since the formats are the same. (later versions store more in the same format in a way that is ignored by earlier versions)

    4. A couple of times you imply that it takes some effort to keep the *.doc file format a trade secret, and that we should instead spend the time making products better. Actually, it would take more time to give away the trade secret. It takes no time at all to maintain it, so we are in fact maximizing the amount of time we spend on making the product better.

  89. 小说 says:

    I am afraid I don’t understand what you mean by "keep your documents safe within one version to another." Open Office changed their format moving from 5.x to 6.x, about 2? years ago. I don’t believe a 5.x user can open a document saved in the default format of 6.x, is that correct? Word, Excel and PPT last changed format 8 years ago (moving from 95 to 97). Or are you referring to something else?

  90. Customers swapping mainly primaryly with people using +/- the same office version, will properly never experience any problems ever.

    Properly not the smallest customers you honour with a visit like that or?

    Well the formats are going public sooner or later, from the fact that opensource software will reverse engineer them.

    I guess they are ~90% public now.

  91. Sam Smith says:

    Format compatibility is one of the MAJOR reasons you maintain your market share over some free alternatives. (Namely Open Office.) There are naturally going to be theories (given your company) that this is a tactic to impede the competitions success.

  92. MBA says:

    Helpful For MBA Fans.