We were having a discussion in IRC this morning about how promoting free software and open standards can sometimes end up restricting your freedom. Now tell me if I’m wrong here, but as I understand the idea behind OpenOffice is:
To allow you to use any document format, and in the end any application that works best for you. Preferably you use the open .odt format, but when its all said and done compatibility is the key here.
In other words, Open Office reads and writes to a large number of document formats. This allows Open Office users to read from many applications and write to many application. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what application someone uses, its the underlying format or compatibility of that format that is important.
Now fast forward to this years BrainShare, put on by Novell. A local contributor is going to present but they *require* slides be submitted in Open Office Impress format. His slides aren’t in Open Office Impress format. Now we’ve come to the point where promoting free standards and applications has actually ended up in a lock-in, removing the freedom from the end user.
Everyone has a browser. Everyone can view s5 presentations. Not everyone has Word or Impress or Powerpoint and not everyone can view or submit presentations in Impress format.
To be honest with you I don’t even have Open Office installed. I *never* use it. What is the point of a word processor other than to communicate ideas via text? What are you doing with your word processor that you can’t do with vi or emacs? If you’re doing fancy formatting why not use the web? Use html or, hell, even use Google Docs.
Google Docs is genious because it solves the whole issue. It doesn’t matter what word processor you have (or don’t have), it simply requires you have a modern browser. Done. End of story. (The fact that Google pwns your content is another issue for another time however.)
If someone out there can tell me why I should use a fancy (read:bloated) Word processor instead of vim, or can tell me why I should use Impress instead of the web I’m open to suggestions.
“Now we’ve come to the point where promoting free standards and applications has actually ended up in a lock-in, removing the freedom from the end user.”
In the past, before OpenOffice, at the BrainShare conference, did people have the freedom to submit slides in any format desired, such as s5 ?
My Google Docs being store on Google’s servers is a major show-stopper for me; as I see it, it’s violating congruent freedoms for my documents that the GPL tries to ensure for my programs.
Nonetheless, I agree that between plain text, HTML, and other marvelous tools like LaTex, I hardly use OO or anything similar.
Assuming that the organizers of Brainshare are doing some “post-processing” with the slide stack, requiring a specific format is perfectly reasonable.
But again, on the other side of the fence, people are used to dealing with data in non-native formats being a pain, and usually it is. So, they made a rule to make things easier for them. Maybe they have someone designated to setup the presentation who only knows how to properly handle OO.o. Requiring that format to make that person’s job doable and ensure the day goes smoothly is perfectly reasonable.
Any time you join a group (including OSS groups) you give up some amount of freedom for the health of the group. That’s just how it is. Being a presenter at a conference is agreeing to join the group of the conference presenters/organizers, and therefor implies some freedoms must be given up.
I think that is an important distinction to make. “Software Freedom” by its very nature, by providing these sorts of choices and allow people to do their own thing, creates a higher likelihood that someone you want to work with does something differently. At that point, the interface between two people or groups, concessions need to be made by one side or the other if the work is to move forward. Once you get outside of the confines of your own office, there is no such thing as perfect freedom. You will be giving something up to gain the benefit of being part of the group. That is another reason why open standards are so important, to make those interfaces and their concessions as clean and painless as possible.
Maybe their rule has a good rationale behind it, maybe it’s pointless red-tape. I don’t know enough to comment on that, but I do know enough that one shouldn’t be surprised to see requirements like that, and if someone is going to participate in with a group they should be prepared to work within the rules and norms of that group.
This post isn’t quite what I want to say, but I don’t have time to re-draft it more eloquently. Bottom line: Software choice is great, but sometimes you have to live with the fact that other people make a different choice.
This isn’t a question of freedom. Novell is putting on a conference. In order to participate in the conference, each participant must follow certain guidelines. One of them is for a standard input format.
They likely have a stipulation that presenters must speak in one or more well-known languages. Anyone wanting to present in Aramaic or Latin would be denied access.
That makes sense. They are likely going to make the slides available to the participants as proceedings. If that’s the case, they’ll need to be able publish them in a book, so they’ll want to be able to print them. Instead of chasing participants around to get the documents into a printable format, they want everyone to start with a standard format.
Similarly, if they want to make the proceedings searchable on their website, they’ll need to know the format to display.
Not necessarily. If the presentation is being done on a limited device (such as a slide projector with a built-in presentation software), there may not be an up-to-date browser available.
(Unlikely, but possible)
Agreed, being forced to use a particular format is not good. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an Open format or not, it shouldn’t happen.
Do you think this was a case of the event organisers being over zealous in their approach to try and please/Impress [sic] the contributors and other attendees?
When you are putting on an event, you can’t always just support everything under the sun. You have to have some sort of guidelines. The fact they stuck with an open format means that anyone can create a presentation without having to shelve out big dollars for proprietary software. Even if you don’t have open office, you can download it, create the project, and then remove it. Or you can take your existing format, import it to Google Docs and then export in odt.
The fact they settled on an open standard as opposed to a closed one is the important thing.
Google Docs IS an application. The fact that it’s on the web instead of on your harddisk doesn’t change that. Besides, you need more than a browser to use it: Not everyone has a 24/7 connection to the internet.
You’re right that it’s better if conferences support all kinds of document formats. However you really overshot the mark here. There is definitely a market for word processors – not everyone is familiar with vi or emacs (apart from the fact that these apps won’t do formatting for you). And html is definitely not very good for word processing or presentations, latex is just so much better (but also not for the average Joe).
Interesting. Not everyone lives in Google land or is connected all the time to use Google Docs.
I’ve found people need OpenOffice because it’s familiar and the skillset to use it has been thought around since at least the first Word and WordPerfect for Windows versions. It’s still needed because many just don’t (and won’t ever) use vi. Some people still use WordPerfect in DOS emulators and they’ re doing just fine!
Personally I now use some variation of wiki editors + PDF for 95% of my document needs, but for many a word processor and a presentation tool are THE way to communicate.
No one is “forced” to use a format. Just don’t go to Brainshare. Or pass the inconvenience to them. OpenOffice.org, after all, can open HTML docs that your browser will generate, then save them as .od*. There’ s always the possibility it will end up looking like crap, just as when OOo started.
Looking back at Brainshare it’s so obvious they’ll promote their format… they should have just let people submit in *any* open/free standard.
Oh, I can think of a few reasons to use OO, Kword, or MS Word or whatever instead of vim, emacs, kate, or nano. In my opinion, it boils down to using the right tool for the right job. Plain text editors have their place, and are great when nothing but plain text is required. But they can not open office documents, whether in .odt, .doc, or .docx formats. Most documents I get from various people come in either of those three formats, and refusing to use a fancy/bloated wp would make me unable to edit them. End of story. Well, there are tools that can convert them to plain text but then the formatting is lost so that is usually not an option.
And google docs is not the answer. It is still a word processor, although one not running locally. Which, of course, has its own drawbacks. The main one being that you need to be online. While in my office, I always am. That’s not necessarily the case when I’m on the move.
A free software activist would not agree that “At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what application someone uses, its the underlying format or compatibility of that format that is important.” because the user’s freedom matters. A proprietary word processor can’t be modified as the user needs or shared to help one’s community.
While it’s convenient that OOo reads so many different file formats, the respect for the user’s freedom is critical. The user and/or the community can improve technically inferior free software programs to make them more powerful, and we can share the improved program so everyone can benefit. We are prohibited from doing this with proprietary programs.
Perhaps open source advocates see this differently; for them perhaps a proprietary program that gets a job done is just as good. That’s the big difference between the free software and open source philosophies.
I’ve been thinking about my comment nearly the whole day—it didn’t quite settle with me.
I see a lot of utility in being able to store your information on a system accessible to the internet. Running your own server, though, is not something most people want to hassle with. That leaves storing on somebody else’s computers in order to get that utility.
I guess it’s a matter of trust, both for your programs and your documents. Do you trust the program to act in only the ways you want it to? Do you trust the machines holding your data?
Also, I appreciated Quentin Hartman saying, “any time you join a group (including OSS groups) you give up some amount of freedom for the health of the group.”
“What are you doing with your word processor that you can’t do with vi or emacs?”
Typical elitism. I have no desire to use something as complex and keyboard-shortcut-laden as vi or emacs. Most users also do not.
I use Linux, and have been using it since 1999. However, I reserve my brain space for more relevant information, not 500 irrelevant and mutually incompatible keyboard shortcuts for marginal programmer’s tools that are mostly worthless to me.
Most regular users, and even power users, have no interest in the bloat of vi or emacs (in brainspace terms), when they could be getting work done faster in a non-programmer’s tool.
And anyway, formatting is important. Plain text is not always the answer. Typical programmer/techie narrow-field view.
Laughed out loud at “Google pwns your content,” thank you! Insightful write-up, though. Linux (and OSS in general) does very much suffer from the problem of lock-in, it’s just that it’s competing vendors who refuse to adopt these open standards in making their software.
Open standards formats are still the best to have when you’re trying to ensure accessibility years down the line. But in the present, yes, they can be just as bothersome if not moreso.
You can, others might not. If you had to do it for tens or hundreds of slidepackages all in their own format other as well as you don’t want to do it. It’s simply a matter of time. Using one format makes it easy to handle and reduces the time needed to process them and a lot of the risks involved.
“If someone out there can tell me why I should use a fancy (read:bloated) Word processor instead of vim, or can tell me why I should use Impress instead of the web I’m open to suggestions.”
The users are accustomed to MS Word, you sure don’t want them to spend several years to learn vi/emacs. they wouldn’t do it anyway. If you want them to use open source software you have to give them something that feels a bit like what they already know. Also you know the thought about the right tool for the right job? HTML is not – not for word processing. LaTeX has it’s benefits as well as it’s drawbacks.
You don’t want to use the web because in a lot of cases the information you are trying to communicate is classified or sensitive or private.
Btw google docs is bloated as well, it just bloats their servers load and your internet traffic. To use it, you need a modern browser most of which are bloated too.
“If you’re doing fancy formatting why not use the web? Use html or, hell, even use Google Docs.”
“If someone out there can tell me why I should use a fancy (read:bloated) Word processor instead of vim…”
It must be some kind of joke… 🙂
Do you imagine someone writing books or technical reports (forget IT and engeneering) on vim, vi or gedit?
or taking to a costumer a presentation made in html?
If you have a firm, would you be confident in store your documents in Google’s servers (instead of yours)?
My friend, we still need “fancy” word processors. Not everyone think and work like geeks… they dedicate their lives to their specializations in order to let other people dedicate to other specializations.
If everybody could learn html, C++, python, keyboard-shortcuts or whatever we wouldn’t need programmers or IT professionals. Each one use his knowledge to make community’s life easier, that’s the way the society works.
A frequent fail of lots of IT professionals is the lack of empathy. They must think like the final user would think.
Humans use word processors. You know, the ones that got two legs and walk around. Sit down at a computer, type stuff, print, walk away.
“Now we’ve come to the point where promoting free standards and applications has actually ended up in a lock-in, removing the freedom from the end user.”
I feel like you’re mixing freedoms and assume that software freedom and open formats imply other freedoms (i.e., I can submit my slides in any way I want). Conference organizers have been telling people what format to submit material in for ages, the new thing is that it is an open format that gives you much more freedom in the software you use to create your presentation. You can also often convert between open formats. Simply put, your software freedom has nothing to do with some mythical “freedom” conference organizers are restricting. It’s nice to be able to submit things in any format but I don’t see any freedom that’s being restricted if I can’t.
Shouldn’t be that hard to make an import/export-filter for s5 in Impress? As an XML-filter?
I agree with you in principle, although many have already brought up the practical need of the conference hosts to limit the number of presentation formats. But what I find odd is this: isn’t this thing called BrainShare? Isn’t it by and for geeks? Is the typical attendee an engineer who has almost certainly used vi or emacs (I like both, but am currently in a vi phase), or Susie from marketing who thinks vi has something to do with a circle (no, Susie, that’s pi, but points for the effort)? Isn’t it hosted by a large tech company? Can they not figure out a way to accept any Open format? Wouldn’t such a solution be a valuable contribution in itself?
—- getting on soapbox —-
As for the remarks of some about geek elitism…
First of all, it’s l33t! Get it right. 😉
I am so tired of the arrogant attitude of some other “professionals” who think they’re god’s gift and that using the obscure jargon of their chosen trade makes them smarter than the rest of us; it’s quite enjoyable when they need tech support because they get a virus from an Office email attachment on their pathetic WinDoze box.
When I am dealing with humble, respectful people, I respond in kind and try to solve their tech troubles while providing a little education. But I love it when some smarmy lawyer, doctor, or CXX has the ‘deer in the headlights’ look on his/her face while I explain basic firewall setup.
—- getting off soapbox —-
Personally, I use OO.o to read and write Office formats when I must. My everyday editor is vi and LyX is nice for publishing.
“Google Docs is genious because it solves the whole issue. […] If someone out there can tell me why I should use a fancy (read:bloated) Word processor […] I’m open to suggestions.”
Decent spell checkers? 😉