he didn't change his mind about Microsoft's offensiveness

Story: A Mile in Someone Else's ShoesTotal Replies: 3
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Oct 22, 2005
8:25 PM EDT
And for that I am glad.

The bit about the Open Document plug-in for Microsoft Office users was absolutely great, a good lesson for many FOSS advocates. As Brian wrote:

"I don't mean to sound cynical," I wrote, "but what is the advantage for Linux or open source if OSV enables MS Office users to handle the OpenDocument formats? Isn't that taking away a pain/pressure point for them to switch to OpenOffice.org or another OD-compliant application?"

That is so not the point, and I am glad that Con Zymaris has the wisdom and insight to recognize this, and that Brian does too. Pain is the Microsoft way. Linux and the FOSS world have long been the leaders in interoperability and usability- no one else, with the exception of Novell, even tries. (And poor ole Novell just can't seem to acquire any traction, which is such a mystery to me.)

What, you cry, usability? Linux? Pish tosh! Yes, usability, and I mean it, but not in the sense of pretty buttons and sleek menus. Those are nice, but they are worthless without meaningful underlying functionality. I mean it in the sense of being able to cobble together a network of practically any combination of platforms, and everyone will be able to share files, do email and other messaging, share printers and other peripherals, access databases, get authenticated, get firewalled, get tunneled, and whatever else is needed.

I mean it in the sense that users have easy access to tens of thousands of software packages, so that whatever need they have chances are they'll find an application to meet it. If they can't, they can modify or create one. Giant obvious examples being Google, Pixar, Amazon. Microsoft sure couldn't take them where they wanted to go, no matter how pretty the menu buttons.

Microsoft's strategy is based on making it too painful to use anything else. Never mind what sort of bizarre contortions it forces into product design. We don't need to emulate that- it doesn't work, and it does not serve users. It's funny how FOSS advocates are often derided as idealistic, dreamy hippies- I think it represents the ultimate in pragmatism. The dreamers are the ones who think that punishing people and making their lives more difficult is a good way to win them over. (other folks have made this very point here, but I'm too lazy to look them up.)

Oct 23, 2005
12:39 AM EDT
tuxchick, you have said that so well!

I've come to realize this year that a big thing that drew me to GNU/Linux and free software was that it was complete. Microsoft and proprietary vendors, despite their talk, offer only incomplete software. They offer the crust and withhold the rest of the bread. It's a wonder the pragmatists didn't reject them long ago.

Offering a way for MS-Word users to read and write a better file format is true to the heritage that free software comes from. Also, besides making it easier for someone "stuck" with MS Office to read the document I send her, it makes it easier for me, because I don't have to prepare and re-send a "special" version of the document.

A great quote that I've been wrestling with this month is from Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed." (_No Future Without Forgiveness_)

There are no doubt many good descriptions for free software; I don't think there's a better one than this.


Oct 23, 2005
2:07 AM EDT
Freedom is a meme, a virus if you like. It spreads by contagion, not coercion.

Think Samba. Think Firefox. I can share from my own experience and observations hanging out on the LyX mailing list.

LyX is a visual document processor mainly built upon LaTeX (but nowadays featuring also DocBook export). Traditionally, it has been available for the Unixes only. There was a CygWin version that allowed Windows users to use it -- Ruurd Reitsma was originally behind this -- but it was never easy, though a lot of work was done recently on the installer.

The latest version 1.4 will make it easy. It is based on Qt noncommercial for Windows, so no more CygWin or X required. Several people especially Angus Leeming, have been polishing the Windows version to make it really easy to install and use.

Also on the LyX list, there was a debate on whether it was really a good idea to "help" the Evil Empire in this way.

Experiences up till now are

1) Don't expect the Windows users to be of much help in your development effort. They take and demand and complain, but rarely give back. So from this viewpoint, supporting Windows isn't worth it.

2) A review in a German on-line magazine tested the Windows version and came to the conclusion (freely rendered) "if you really want to use LyX, for the same trouble you could install all of Linux", referring to the large number of extra packages (MikTeX, ImageMagick, ...) that you must install, that on Linux come naturally.

3) Supporting older Windowses (9x) is *hard*.

While I had at the time the same gut reaction as Brian ("Why support those lazy bastards instead of making them switch"), I do realize this is completely wrong and counterproductive. It is wrong because of the thing called "collaborative use".

OOo allows collaborative document authoring. It reads the legacy formats near-flawlessly. It is available for many different platforms, anyone can install it for free. Well, almost... it does consume disk space, installation effort and getting-used-to effort especially if you use both OOo and MS office side-by-side. This is where the plug-in comes in: to make easy collaborative work easier still.

For LyX, collaborative authoring has been a problem. It has difficulty reading Word documents and doesn't preserve their formatting (inevitably because the paradigms are so vastly different). Outputting to Word format is even impossible in any simple way. So no roundtripping. (Well of course text transfer over the clipboard works.)

One would hope that at least collaborative authoring by people using LyX on different platforms would be possible... and it is. But then, LyX should be available on different platforms. I am envisaging this situation, of a number of colleagues in different places preparing a manuscript in LyX. Only, one of them is stuck in Windows and cannot easily switch. See my point? A single Evil Empire hostage holding everyone back.

This is why Ruurd's and Angus's, et al. work is so precious, ungrateful as it is.

[Edited] So the point I wanted to make is, tuxchick got it precisely right. Inflicting pain is so... legacy.

Oct 23, 2005
7:05 AM EDT

Completely agree. I have been using Lyx (on linux) exclusively now for about 5 years. Before that I used Scientific Word on Windows. A lot of scientific colleagues I know are users of either Windows or OS-X despite using unix/linux to run numerical models. They don't want to be bothered with the klutzing around that linux often involves. Because of all the work put in by the lyx developers over quite a long period my impression is now that it is actually better and easier to use than Scientific Word. If you have a Windows version it will inevitably attract that crowd of people.

Bottom line is that open source software takes a long time to mature but when it does it is better than the proprietary product because of the community feedback process. So the strategy for FOSS advocates should be patience and also making things easier for people who might wish to switch. In the end you will win because FOSS is free (as in beer) and if it is better why would you bother with proprietary stuff?

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