Friday, May 9, 2008

Sharing documents (makeup post for last week of class)

When I first read the GNU FAQ, I was very unimpressed. The philosophy seemed a little elitist for suggesting that normal people should just drop everything and use free software. It's been a long time since cars were simple enough that people fixed their own; now people go to the shop even for an oil change.

But then I wandered around for a while and discovered a page (under Philosophy) about why sending .doc attachments in e-mails is bad for everybody. Again, it seemed a little too sure of itself, but the point is sound: sending a proprietary format attachment, which Microsoft changes so that programs like OpenOffice have a hard time reading it, is a little rude. It assumes that your recipient has Word, which some people don't want to or can't spend the money on.

So maybe this affects us all more than we think. Another corporation has hooked people on its product. But how is the average computer user supposed to resist buying the latest version of Microsoft Word when she knows that all her friends and colleagues will be sending documents she can't read, instead of text, rich text or portable document formats? It's a question I certainly can't answer, and it remains to be seen whether regular people who don't know what goes on inside the box will ever care about where their software comes from.

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