Note: If you look around the site, you may have noticed that I haven’t updated this place in a long time. Check out my new project: Rockin’ Photogs, including this post comparing the Canon t3i vs t4i.
Or, take a look at my photography studio’s site: Olinda Gibbons Photography. Along with photography, we offer a handful of design and printing services, mostly for models, actors, and fashion designers. Our newest offering is the comp card printing, which starts at $60 for a set.
Finally, I’m working on a new website about edtech – Tech and Teaching. It’s been a little slow to take off, but I think it’ll pick up steam over the summer and be better by the fall.
Lately I’ve been on a real Open Source kick. There’s plenty of merit to the idea that schools should be using open source software, but here’s a specific reason you may want to switch over. What happens when the rest of the digital world upgrades, and you lag behind?
New Microsoft Office – .docx File Format
A student came into my classroom a couple weeks ago and wanted to print something. Printers, ink, and paper are rare commodities around our building. Finding all three in one place is like an oasis in the desert. [Note: We have since run out of ink, and we haven't refilled it yet. Doh.]
He popped his flash drive in, navigated to the file, double-clicked… and then looked confused. “Why isn’t it opening?”
Huh. Good question.
The computer was running Windows XP and the then-latest version of OpenOffice. I suspected the student had saved the document in an MS Office format, but this shouldn’t be a problem. OpenOffice can convert files from all the standard MS Office formats. In fact I routinely save my files in the old .doc format so that my students can open them elsewhere (at home, in the library, etc).
When I looked closer, I found out what was wrong. The student had a brand new version of MS Office at home, and he had saved the file in the default .docx format.
The latest versions of MS Office (2007 and 2008) include a new “Open XML” file format with a docx extension. It is completely incompatible with older versions of MS Office (like the old version on the school’s Macs) as well as other standard Office Suites (Open Office, Lotus 123, even the all-powerful Google docs).
Luckily, the latest major revision of OpenOffice changes that. Open Office 3 provides support for the new MS .docx format, so you can edit documents created in this newest version of Office.
[Note: If you don't want to switch to Open Office, you can try the docx converter. I haven't tested it myself, but it promises to convert .docx files to regular .doc files.]
One of the reasons I hate proprietary software (Windows, MS Office, etc) is that you are required to pay for updates. Windows ain’t so bad to use, but what happens when the next version is released and I’m stuck with the old one? Do I really want to pay $100 to upgrade?
In this case, you need to upgrade to MS Office 2007 (or 2008 for the Mac) in order to open the new file formats. This of course assumes that your computer is compatible with this new version. It also assumes your willing to shell out a couple hundred bucks.
I just looked at the price list for Office 2007, and I’m disgusted. $150 just for the basic version? $240 for the cheapest full version as an upgrade?
In terms of usability, it would have made perfect sense for MS to leave .doc as the default file format in Office 2007/2008. From a usability stand-point, the .docx format should have been made available as an option, but .doc should have been the default format in order to preserve backwards compatibility.
Instead, they opted for this route. Nice little scam to get people to upgrade.
What IS This Open XML Format?
It is a perfect example of how Microsoft mangles anything like a “standard” format, and how it insists on putting its proprietary stamp on everything it does.
XML is a method of storing information. It has been touted as the future of data storage, because it’s standard format can easily be read and modified by any program. It exists independent of platform and author. The RSS feed for this site is written in standard XML so that news readers can be written to understand and organize the information.
The greatest asset of XML is that it is a standards based format. Everyone knows how it is written, so everyone can write a program to parse it and to re-write it. Until Microsoft came along.
The irony here is that Microsoft championed the RTF format as an application-neutral document exchange file format in the 80′s, then later created a new, forward-compatible file format for Office 97, and now that this format is a de facto standard that most applications can read and write consistently, Microsoft is replacing it with yet another file format — yet can’t consistently implement that format themselves.
Not only has Microsoft turned an open format into a proprietary one, it has implemented it inconsistently across platforms. The Windows version (in Office 2007) isn’t structured the same as the Mac version (Office 2008). Imagine how tough it would be for other office suite developers to make .docx compatible with their programs.
Microsoft conveniently ignored the fact that Sun Microsystems had already developed a standard XML file format (.odt, Open Document Text) that several Office Suites had adapted. It was well documented, and simple. Oh, and it’s officially supported by the international organization OASIS.
Luckily, Microsoft’s ploy to force its competitors into obsolescence hasn’t been so successful. OpenOffice (my suite of choice) managed to implement the .docx format into its latest version. Some others are lagging behind.
Oddly enough, Google implemented Open XML insofar as you can view files in your search results as HTML. However, you can’t import a .docx file into Google Docs. Weird.
What am I going to do? Ignore the .docx format as much as I can. With OpenOffice I can open it up, and then I can deliberately save it in a backwards compatible file format (i.e. .doc or .rtf). It would have been nice if Microsoft just adopted the pre-existing XML standard, but I think it’s clear that that will never happen.
» How Do I Open a Docx File?
September 28, 2009
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