debate about Free software for the ACT Government

Alex Satrapa grail at
Thu Apr 25 09:51:51 EST 2002

On Thursday, April 25, 2002, at 01:02 , Simon Fowler wrote:

> It'd be /really/ nice if it was possible to say "familiar with
> general word processing techniques", rather than "familiar with
> $wordprocessor"

I don't see that such a thing is really feasible.  When a company is 
already using WordPerfect, they want to employ administrative staff who 
already know WordPerfect.

Word processing techniques are vastly different between, for example, 
"toy" editors like AppleWorks and "real" word processors like 
WordPerfect.  Microsoft Word uses stylesheets, provides an outline view, 
has a revision tracking system, and allows comments to be inserted as 
the equivalent of "PostIt Notes(tm)" into the document.

I cannot see that there are any skills (apart from typing and knowing 
how to use a mouse) that are portable between AppleWorks, WordPerfect, 
Wordstar and Microsoft Word.

> ... And I think that's probably what we should be aiming for: not a 
> wholesale migration towards Free Software, but opening up the 
> possibility of using something other than MS software.

It's a catch-22 - how can employers choose to use another word processor 
(for example), when noone knows how to use it?  The greatest cost in 
moving to the new word processor would be training staff to use it.

The best thing any of us can do right now is list the products that we 
have experience with.  If you know WordPerfect, list WordPerfect as one 
of the products that you have experience using.  Until these alternative 
packages appear in people's resumes, how will employers know that there 
are alternatives?

Then you need to develop skills in other packages.  By allowing more 
options for your future employer to pick from, you make it possible for 
them to have options.

> Once that possibility is really available, the Free Software stuff will 
> win or lose on it's merits. As it stands, that's just not possible.

Another alternative is a publicity campaign to point out that, for 
example, AbiWord and KOffice are Microsoft Word analogues.  Publish 
information about how compatible they are, and evangelise.  That means 
using those products yourself where possible, and any time the question 
comes up about, "what real alternatives are there?" - you can suggest 
the real alternatives.

I've picked on Microsoft Word as the example, however the same rules 
would apply for Gimp vs Photoshop, Paintshop Pro, etc.  IIRC, the 
interfaces of The Gimp and Photoshop are quite different.

Having great spelling, grammar and typing skills doesn't mean that you 
can easily adapt to using Emacs vs. vi, for example.


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