Microsoft’s Interoperable Assimilation

What’s interesting in the war of words between Bruce Chizen of Adobe and Dan’l Lewin of Microsoft is that Dan’l used to work at Apple and has a perspective from Apple’s old days that Microsoft software was essential to the Mac’s early success. He cites several examples of interoperability leading back to Apple, including the Microsoft Office suite, but then he wants us all to think about Microsoft in terms of “Java, Linux, Open Source, IP access, open standards, and more.”

Ouch. Microsoft was once sued by the creator of Java, is now threatening patent litigation in exchange for deals with Linux vendors, and is certainly no fan of Open Source. Do we really want the company meddling with IP access, open standards, and more? As Dana Blankenhorn points out in Open Source (regarding a Harvard Study that explains Microsoft’s political problems with Open Source software), “Controversy and suspicion follow Microsoft wherever it goes in the open source world.”

Bruce Chizen of Adobe has good points. He cited Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer as examples of Microsoft products that are still being developed for Windows but have been ended for the Mac platform, and he suggests that Microsoft’s new Silverlight will suffer the same fate. (Silverlight is a recently unveiled browser plug-in that allows Web content providers to offer a rich video and interactive media experience from directly within Web sites. It leverages Vista’s graphics framework, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), and Microsoft is promoting it as a direct competitor to Adobe’s Flash.) Adobe’s Macromedia division knows interoperability, and developers (such as YouTube) have depended on this feature of Flash. I don’t want to champion or defend Adobe more than I have to, but Adobe has a far more illustrious history of interoperable solutions than Microsoft, dating back to PostScript, EPS, and the now ubiquitous PDF. You would have to go back 30 years to find a Microsoft that cooperated with the rest of the industry to build interoperable products.

Coincidentally, as I write this I’m unable to use my Mac to open a document sent to me by a normal business that tells me they are using Microsoft Word. I have in my arsenal the Mac version of Word, OpenOffice 2.0, NeoOffice, TextEdit, and on the Web, Google Docs — all of which open older Word docs and standard formats. Sure enough, the only program that would open this file is Word running on Windows XP, and only after installing some kind of unspecified converter from the original CD-ROM. Maybe this is just a glitch, or some form of temporary insanity while we all adjust to a world of Microsoft “standards”.

Peeking inside with BBEdit, I see that the document appears to be a variant of XML. This document was saved that way by a normal business that has other things to do than change default settings so that documents can be opened on other systems. And this is how Microsoft gets away with “interoperability” — co-opting proven standards (like XML) and turning them into Microsoft pseudo-standards, which are then set as defaults for the program while offering the real standards as options. Normal businesses don’t realize how these default settings — which keep them locked into Microsoft products — disrupt rather than unify our multiple-platform world.

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Microsoft’s Interoperable Assimilation — 3 Comments

  1. Tony,

    I just left a longer comment on AlwaysOn at my post about interoperability. It is feedback from the Microsoft Macintosh Business Unit on how to (currently) get Mac Office to open Office 2007 documents until the two version are in sych — soon, we hear.

    Hope this helps.
    thanks for the comments.

    Dan’l

  2. Dan’l, thanks for your reply and the info about the Word converter for the Mac version.

    FYI, I began typing this on an iPhone, but even with its keyboard in landscape mode (in Safari) it was tough going. However, it’s cool to be able to even do this with a pocket phone. My Mac word processor of late is NeoOfficeJ, which reads and writes Word doc files fairly well and offers most of the formatting capabilities of Word. Why? Because it’s free, and updates are free — an important consideration for small businesses and professionals. TextEdit is also free and opens Word docs. It opens fast so I can get my ideas down without waiting. I also use Google Docs because I like the way it makes HTML links and lets me copy unadulterated HTML-formatted text directly to a web page or blog. It’s also free (and updates, obviously, are free as they occur on the server). And I use the free version of BBEdit for quick conversion of text to ASCII code, quick find-replace for things like tabs and returns, and hard-core HTML formatting — such as adding Amazon.com affiliate frames, widgets, etc.

    I think Microsoft has a lot to learn from these approaches to word processing (especially for Mac users) and maybe even something to learn from iPhone “word processing”. With multiple tools — all free and most offer free updates — I have a very rich word processing environment that offers more functions than Word. What’s more, the applications are all interoperable, relying on HTML, RTF, and the established Word doc format to remain so.

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