Why I Dislike Microsoft Word (et al)

Reasons for My Stance

  1. Word documents are not very portable. They really prefer to run on Windows 95/98/NT and (a distant second) Macintosh MacOS systems, and while there are Word systems for my system of choice, Unix (e.g. StarOffice), there is not much consistency. It is also difficult to extract the information content from a word document into alternative formats (see below). I've even had trouble reading Word documents produced on the same platform, but from different versions of Word -- no backwards compatability!
  2. Word documents are in a proprietary format. Because only Word uses the .doc to save documents, no other software can be used to maintain them. There are some systems that do attempt to handle them by the use of reverse engineering, but these quickly become obsolete as Microsoft releases new versions. The rtf is more open, but it too suffers from lack of third party software.
  3. Lack of interoperability. People often ask me why I am so anti-Microsoft. I'm not. I'm anti-non-interoperability. One of the most fundamental lessons learnt from the early days of computing is the importance of portability (see above). Interoperability is akin to this, and lack of it greatly restricts the development of computing. But -- there are signs that Microsoft is hearing the message, see http://www.microsoft.com/interop/
  4. Word documents are not backwards compatible. Each new release of Word locks the user into an upgrade path, because once a document has been updated by a later version, it cannot be read by an earlier version. Or worse, it can, but generates incorrect results.
    1. Another comment in similar vein:
      Hi all. Whilst I loathe Microsoft's methods as much as anyone, there is no way we can drop IE. We get stacks of calls to our help desk from users at home (students mostly) and they all seem to have IE installed by default and only know how to use that. Plus there's so many sites out there now that won't work with anything except IE. We had to use one recently that wouldn't work with IE 5.00 and had to be IE 5.01 or above.
    2. And again, this time from a colleague who is a Word devotee:
      ( I couldn't open the .docx file you sent <other colleague> ).
      (added 20090512:172344)
  5. Word documents are bloatware. The size of word documents is out of proportion to their contents. A good (bad?) example I had was of a document sent to me which had just 4 lines of text, but consumed 22KB of disk space as a Word file!!
  6. Word does a shonky job of converting to other formats. For example, I frequently find myself dealing with Word documents that other people have sent to me as HTML (because they know of my feelings on this matter ), and if I want to publish them on the Web, HTMLTidy has a fit! Mismatched closing tags, inappropriate use of embedded style tags, all the things that are deprecated in W3C HTML specifications are there!
  7. Word is unreliable. I now use Microsoft Office under MacOS/X. It works, but guess what? It is the one program under Mac OS that crashes, and it does that regularly, particularly when trying to read files sent to me from other systems. Under Mac OS9, it would take down the entire system, but now, thankfully, under Mac OS/X, it only kills itself. How come other people can write software that works reliably, but Microsoft cannot??
  8. What You See Is Not What You Get. Here's a classical example! (From a student assignment)

    (added 20090512:155627)
  9. Word (well, MS software in general) encourages inappropriate use of the internet. Here's an example from my own institution:

    I have just received an message requesting me to forward on to "interested members of my department" an email which had attached some 41 pages of documentation. As I have not yet install MS-Clairvoyance I was unable to determine who the "interested members" were, hence, the message (but NOT the attachments, which were place on a file server) was forwarded to all members of the department. The message was originally sent to another member of the department who would have forwarded it on to ALL members of this department but for the fact that a combination of them still insisting on using POP mail and a Mac combined to prevent them from forwarding the message.

    The problem I had with this was that the original message came from the [University Group] and was sent to a number of recipients for forwarding to "interested members" , and, as one could imagine, this has the potential for creating a huge volume of mail traffic. Surely a link to a web page would be a much more efficient way of distributing large amounts of documentation around this organization.

    Is there a policy covering this situation ? and if not why not ? If there is a policy covering this perhaps it is time for an All-Monash message pointing this out. Let's face it even the most robust of mail systems could be brought to its knees with distributions of information as mentioned above.

  10. Microsoft has what I regard as an unethical approach to selling its software. This link explains it better than I can. A more recent posting identifying a similar position can be found on this ZDNet blog page.

What to Do about Microsoft

I've written a procmail script that filters out Word documents arriving in my mailbox, and sends a politely worded response to the originator. If people wish to waste my time by using non-standard, non-portable document formats, I'm not averse to reflecting the inconvenience upon them!

Yes, well that was before. Pressure was placed upon me to remove that device ... it was "unprofessional". Rather ironic, given that my stance was in response to behaviour that I considered to be far more "unprofessional", don't you think?

I think people (particularly professional computing people) should take more of a stand against Microsoft, and tell them that they just don't cut the mustard. Visit the link above, and better still, add it to your pages, so that as many people as possible can understand the issues.

Use Open Office (added 20070228:101458)

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