too many words

I received an e-mail from a loved one, asking me to help open a word processing file which she had received from a colleague. It was a docx file, which is what Microsoft (MS) Word creates in Office 2007. If you have any previous version of Word, you use the doc file format. 
If you use Microsoft Office and Word, and you’re tired of spending money on them, this long post will be interesting. Otherwise, surf on, MacDuff!… This post comes with a serious Geek Alert.

The Situation

Over the years, as I’ve gotten newer computers, I have elected not to purchase the new MS Office, which came installed on them as a trial version. I already had Office 2003, and I think it’s just great. So I use Office 2003 and I have a special program from Microsoft that converts docx into doc, if necessary.
Note: Word 2007 can easily make a doc file instead of its default docx. Or you can change the default to always make doc instead, and everyone could use your documents, and you wouldn’t have to worry.
Docx is really only needed by people who create pretty advanced XML compliant documents. XML meets broader worldwide standards, that have nothing to do with most of us. Microsoft was under pressure to meet these global standards, which is why they stopped using the doc format in 2007. They needed a Word format that’s compatible with XML.
Ironically, most modern computer systems can use XML, even if they don’t have MS Office and can’t use Word’s doc files. The program that has the most trouble with XML and docx is Word 2003. This is because Microsoft made doc so that you must have MS Office to use it, and you must buy MS Office from Microsoft. This is called proprietary software. 
I suspect Microsoft could have issued a service pack update to Office 2003, so it could open and create docx. Instead, it came out with Word 2007, made tons of money, and made a little converter called a compatibility pack. This free download lets Word 2003 open docx, but not create it.   
Anyway, I have the converter, so I was able to open the docx file my loved one received, make a PDF file, and send it back. Why PDF? Because that’s how you share a finished document.  
Word processor is to documents as food processor is to food. It’s not finished yet. Use a free PDF converter and send a PDF. Sending someone a Word file – unless you want them to work on it with Word – is like walking into a party with a big bowl of flour, sugar and eggs and saying, “Look! I made a cake!”
In a perfect world, there would be free software that would create both doc and docx, and whatever other format you might need, even PDF, and everyone would be happy. Does that perfect world exist now? … Yes! … But …

Free Software for All? This isn’t it …

On Thursday I received an e-mail from PC World magazine, with an article about how wonderful the new Microsoft Office 2010 is going to be, when it goes on sale in June. Let me show you how wonderful. Follow the arrows.


I have tried Office 2010, in the free Beta (test) version that Microsoft offered. It’s very cool, but it’s not necessary. The vast majority of people who need to create, share, and publish documents don’t need all the fancy new features. Just like we don’t need phones that run 100,000 different software applications.
Now don’t get me wrong, Microsoft is an excellent company making great products. But 500 Clams – more than half the cost of my very nice desktop computer – is just absurd. $500 software for an $800 computer is like a $50 bulb for an $80 lamp. And Microsoft’s proprietary closed system has just become a burden on us all. 
That $499.99 price is no doubt for the Professional version. You can get lesser versions like Home and Student for about $150, but it doesn’t come with MS Publisher, which I need. That’s another $150, so we’re back up to $300. And then you have to worry about how many computers the license is good for. Because MS Office is protected by licenses and lawyers, and long complicated product codes that have to match or you can’t re-install it. 
Here’s a scary thing. Office 2003 has been my tool of choice for 7 years and has served me well. I have my trusty Office 2003 Professional installation disc in my drawer. If I lose that, you’d think that I could replace it pretty cheap. It’s the old product. Nope, it’s still $289 – $489 through Amazon.

Why are we doing this?

Here’s a weird thought: Bill Gates has enough money. Do you?
I don’t, and I’m ready to stop. I say No. No more. Basta. I think it’s time to ease off the Microsoft hamster wheel. I paid for Windows with the machine. But I want free Office software without stealing it. Because you know that if you spend $300 – $500 for Office 2010, it will be obsolete before you know it. And the cycle never ends.

Happily, There Is A Solution

About a year ago, I got a new Office software suite. I didn’t pay for it, I didn’t steal it, and it’s been living nicely on my computers right along with MS Office 2003. I’ve been using for many of my writing projects.
OpenOffice is an office suite like Microsoft Office. It has a word processor like Word called OpenOffice Writer, a spreadsheet like Excel, a presentation program like Powerpoint, a program for scientific formula and equations which I’ve never opened, and a database program like Access. It even has a drawing program, like … MS Office doesn’t have.
OpenOffice Writer is what Word 2003 would be now, if Microsoft had kept making it better, and letting customers download improvements. Writer is fully capable of opening or creating Word’s doc and docx file types. So I can make whatever other people need. And its default odt (open document text) format is possibly a superior XML file to docx. Some people say so. 
So Writer makes Word files if I need to make one for someone, and it creates PDF files with the click of a single button
This isn’t a secret tech writer thing. OpenOffice has been downloaded over 100,000,000 times. That’s one hundred million. People all over the world use OpenOffice and other alternatives to Microsoft Office. Big companies, even governments, use it too.
Again, it’s free. Gratis, which means the same thing. And every time there’s a new version released, or updates, you get them free too. So it’s always new.

Perhaps just as important as being free like free lunch, OpenOffice is free like free speech. It’s free to download and use without a license. Take as many as you need. Plus, the underlying structure – the programming called Source Code – is open for software people to download and tweak and experiment, and improve. It’s sponsored by Oracle, and several other companies, who have a mission of open sharing and collaboration. I think ethically and socially, that’s very cool.

I like Writer very much. There are a few little things I like better about Word because I’m used to them, but mostly Writer’s great. So I’m making a gradual transition, learning as I go. I have open projects in both Word and Writer, and existing documents that I don’t want to convert to Writer just yet, though I could if I wanted to. I have more to learn about Writer first.

I’ve been using Word 2003 for all these years, at home and on the job, and I’ve still got a lot to learn about that. I’ll keep using it too, and I’ll be careful not to lose that old disc.

So if you think you paid Microsoft enough for the Windows license that came with your computer, and you’re tired of playing monopoly with Bill Gates, you can get OpenOffice too. It’s an easy download and install. 

2 thoughts on “too many words

  1. Well, I don't see any kneed to bake your dough unless you're going to share it. I mean if you want to attach a writing to an e-mail, I'd use PDF instead of Word. PDF creates a stable file where all the fonts, spacing, line breaks, margins, etc., will come out the way you want them.PDF (Adobe Reader) is universal and free to all. I think that's it, but I have not had nearly enough coffee yet. :o)Vive le Revolution!

  2. I have Office 2007 and its version of Word. I've been saving all my files as .doc files by selecting from the pull-down menu. So thanks for the simple fix alert to make it default in the options, which were initially not that easy to find, by the by.Now on to the "cake" thing. I didn't know that. I thought you brought eggs, milk and flour and everyone made their own. PDF is the finalized? You mean I have to render thousands upon thousands of .doc files into PDF because I'm happy with the final results? Oy veh!Maybe just if I send them to folk. Yes, I see that so no one can change anything. I will re-read this post and attempt to "grok" the significance and practical application it has to my world. You may well be right, but I need to see if it truly matters to me. I mean there's only so much time in the day and it's all I can do to take some of it for the actual writing.I have found other word programs: CreaWriter and Write Monkey, both free. I've downloaded them but have yet to actually use them. I'm sure there are others.Thanks for your geeky insight and cheeky instruction nonetheless, amigo.;-)

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