debate about Free software for the ACT Government

Simon Fowler simon at
Thu Apr 25 12:21:40 EST 2002

On Thu, Apr 25, 2002 at 11:01:57AM +1000, Doug Palmer wrote:
> On 2002.04.25 10:43 Simon Fowler wrote:
> >On Thu, Apr 25, 2002 at 09:51:51AM +1000, Alex Satrapa wrote:
> >I admit it's been a long time since I used any commercial
> >wordprocessors, but are they really /that/ different? I know from
> >using wordperfect a bit that the basics are the same - the things
> >that 90% of users actually make use of, even in a corporate
> >environment. You type stuff in, do some formatting with
> >mouse/toolbars/etc, save, print, that kind of thing. How mnay people
> >actually /use/ things like stylesheets in word? And how long would
> >it take to pick up those differences when needed?
> I think that, conceptually, most wordprocessors are pretty much the same 
> thing. You have outlining, page layout, styles, indexing, cross 
> references, tables of contents, etc. Your point about "proficient in 
> wordprocessing" is well taken. And for someone like the archeologist in 
> the previous message, that would probably be enough.
> There is a difficulty when you get to the point where you want to be fast 
> and efficient. For example, someone who has to publish brochures and 
> flyers. At that point, you want to have a good knowledge of the shortcuts, 
> control keys and places where you configure things. At that point, 
> switching between WordPerfect and Word becomes a chore. It similar to 
> switching between vi and emacs in Unix-land. I use vi, because I've been 
> using it since 1980. I keep on planning to get proficient in emacs. But 
> every time I start using emacs I just wander away after a while. It just 
> takes so damn long to just get anything done. This isn't a comment on vi 
> vs. emacs; it's a comment on what I learned first.
Well, I could probably argue that using Word to produce brochures
and flyers is using a screwdriver for hammering in nails - whatever
Word might like to claim, it isn't a desktop publishing system, and
it's not as good for that king of thing as a /real/ DP program would
be . . . 

But yes, your point is good. I use vim for lots of little things,
but when I want to do some real work I go back to emacs, because my
fingers know their way around without needing my brain on the job.

Now, if the various file formats weren't gratuitously incompatible,
so that you could work on any given document in Word, WordPerfect,
Abiword, whatever, and still have things working properly, then it
wouldn't be necessary for people to standardise on one particular
app . . . That's where things stand with plain HTML, and things like
source code, and it's good - no one has to care that Linus uses
microemacs, and they don't have to use anything but what /they/
prefer . . . 

It'd also be nice to be able to teach kids about the /structure/ of
the documents they were creating in their computing classes, rather
than "this is how you write a letter with Word" . . . That's
something that the obsession with 'standardising' on a particular
program hides, and hides very much to the detriment of the user.

Not that I expect this to ever happen - it goes /way/ too much
against the grain of any commercial software company, MS in
particular. Word documents will /never/ be easily interchangable
between non-MS programs unless someone stands with a gun behind Bill
Gates and watches all the MS programmers at the same time . . . 


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