Word’s Shell Game

When people say MS Word is a standard, I ask them to tell me where the document format is published — standards are published by standards bodies, right? So now MS is moving to something vaguely resembling XML for Office documents, and we’re supposed to celebrate the end of format tyranny. But as Andrew Orlowski puts it, it’s mostly a shell game.

“Well formed” means that the document will parse without errors – it doesn’t mean that the document will make any sense.

That’s exactly what I’ve always loved about Bob Dylan’s lyrics, but that’s a separate topic. Meanwhile (as Sun’s Simon Phipps puts it):

“We continue to live in a world where all our know-how is locked into binary files in an unknown format. If our documents are our corporate memory, Microsoft still has us all condemned to Alzheimer’s.”

In other words, Microsoft’s eternal survival is assured by our need for our data to remain accessible. If in ten thousand years Redmond is destroyed by mutant porpoises, archaeologists may still need to reverse engineer the Word document format before they can begin to read history.

Music: Bob Dylan :: I Shall Be Free No.10

3 Replies to “Word’s Shell Game”

  1. >Microsoft’s eternal survival is assured by our need for our data to remain accessible

    And lawyers use exactly the same principle to keep themselves employed, and keep noninitiates out of the power hierarchy.

    Defining an “inside” group and an “outside” group by reference to esoteric knowledge — it’s principle #1 of corporate (and totalitarian) control.

    An unfortunate side effect, for the 10,000-years-later archaeologist, is that the knowledge disappears with the group in power. Which is a really good argument the group can use to help keep itself in power.

  2. This is exactly why I save all my documents in RTF format, and have been doing so for the past couple of years. You can set Word so this is the default, and the result is a more portable, open, and long-lasting file format. RTF files are much smaller than Word docs, too.

  3. This always reminds me of the times when the only book in town was the bible, and only the priest was able (and allowed) to read it.

    Luckily we now live in modern enlightened times, and nobody would think of introducing such drastic content right management policies…

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