Tasting Microsoft’s strategies : Part I
This is a cliche. The topic of Microsoft and its strategies has been discussed enough times all over the Internet. Too many times, we’ve seen ardent loyalists pour their fury out on Good ‘Ol Billy Gates. But this is not about bashing. This is about “de-Microsoftizing your PC” to the point where it can chug along smoothly for ages. This post was also a result of the many problems I saw during my term about Linux and windows compatibility issues, and the strong preference of my peers for the scarce Windows computers. Most compatibility issues were due to not using the right formats or because the relevant software was not installed on the Linux machine. I will suggest some methods to get rid of this.
Admittedly, I am not a Microsoft-hater. I do not belong to band of fanatics for whom an operating system is a religion of sorts. But one does get the idea that Microsoft’s basic strategy is to make life difficult for people, and then come up with a product that simplifies the whole deal. Naturally, most people would rather buy the product rather than arrive at a fix for the problem (this is human tendency, however stupid it may be in the long run). Of course, being Microsoft, to use their product you MUST have a range of their other products and so on.
This has given Internet Explorer the large user base it enjoys. Most people simply use IE because its already there. And the only thing that comes to mind for most people when a document has to be drafted is Microsoft Word, or Excel for spreadsheets and so on. Want to chat with people, one thinks of MSN Messenger. Perhaps some people may be surprised that I have used neither of those for quite some time, and in the following post I will detail a few things that will help users get the best out of their PCs.
1. The latest version is often but not necessarily the best version.
2. Different software from different companies can do the same job. Do not relate the job to any particular software. Familiarize yourself with what you are doing rather than what you are using to do it. For example, if I ask someone to start a spreadsheet, they stare at me blankly. It takes 30 seconds for them to realize, and then they say “Oh, you mean Excel, why didn’t you say so.” Same thing with playing MP3s (Winamp), drawing (Paint) and so on. Don’t do that.
3. Avoid bloated software and file formats. The leaner the software the better your PC will run.
4. Choose your antivirus program wisely and under no circumstances should you be having Norton Anitvirus running. I have no doubts about its protective abilities, but it interferes too much with the system to keep it happy.
5. A firewall is an absolute must if you are on an “always on” connection.
So now that I have said that it may not always be best to use Microsoft Word for processing and IE for browsing and so on. Here are a few less heard of programs and formats that can make life easy for you :
If you use Microsoft Word just to write a few letters, with not too complex formatting, there is a small and efficient open-source alternative called Abiword
Abiword is updated frequently and is available for Windows, Macintosh and Linux/UNIX based systems. This means that if you can install it everywhere (or convince the system administrators to do so, you will have seamless portability when switching between operating systems.)
It can handle tables, pictures in documents and supports macros and scripts too. On Windows, several plug-in enhancements such as automatic translation etc are optionally available.
Abiword can read most formats including the Word document format(Windows), OpenOffice Document format (Win32 & *nix) , Staroffice document(Win32 & *nix) format and a few more. Information regarding this will be available on the website.
Of course if you need a complete office Suite , Openoffice is a wonderful alternative. It is also available for Windows and Linux both and as long as you use this on both, there should be no problem switching systems. As will be detailed later, the Openoffice document format is more advanced and completely transparent allowing easy compatibility.
I quite like this office suite since it offers all features/programs included in MSOffice, its free and its always improving.
The Microsoft Document format (*.doc) is constantly changed for, ahem, *improvement*, but almost always ends with other programs not being able to read it. A simple Google search will show you the tricks Microsoft plays with this. Microsoft Word files are un-readable to other programs by design. It has nothing to do with the quality of the alternative programs.
Let me quote Openformats.org :
MS Word documents (DOC)
MS Word document format is a semi-transparent proprietary format developed by Microsoft. Part of the data it encodes are accessible, while most of them are opaque.
The same formatting and word processing capabilities of MS Word documents are supported by the “Ooo” open format – an XML-based standard developed by the OpenOffice.org free software suite, which satisfies accessibility criteria established by the W3 Consortium. OpenOffice.org format – because of its portability and compatibility – aims at becoming the reference standard for formatted text documents.
If the text is not aimed at edition by the recipient, the best solution is to use the HTML open format, readable into any web browser, and editable into any text editor. In case a precise page formatting is needed (for instance for documents that will be printed), the PS and PDF open formats are the best solution. For scientific texts, suitable open formats are TeX and DVI.
As an alternative solution (although not optimal, it is still better than the MS Word document format), for co-authoring documents is the semi-proprietary RTF format, which, in its native form, has a specification, and can be read by almost every word-processing software.
Self Explanatory. Use Rich Text Format (RTF) to save files by selecting it in the Save As dialog. It should work fine even if you are using MS-Word on a file and then shifting to another system. Better yet, use Openoffice.
For people who are not aware : there is an effort on the Internet to make sure everything works and programs follow some kind of standard. This is the aforementioned World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Microsoft rarely makes its programs standards-compliant, resulting in the compatibility issues.
This is a long one, and end of Part I. Part II will include alternatives for spreadsheets and formats that are suitable for them.
Suggestions/Criticisms/Questions are welcome.