Computer 'Standards' and the effect on SCD

John Chambers

Message 14998 · 8 Dec 1998 04:53:50 · Fixed-width font · Whole thread

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| On Mon, 07 Dec 1998, Alan Paterson <xxxxx@xxxxxxx.xx> wrote:
| >This morning I received, by e-mail, [...]. This document was in the
| >format Microsoft Word 6.0. While this is widely regarded as one of
| >the worst word-processing programs available, it is simultaneously
| >one of the most commonly used (if not THE most commonly used).

In another forum, I learned a lot about the problems caused by MSWord
documents by (innocently ;-) asking about the availability of Unix
software that could decode MSWord email messages. It may be commonly
used by MS customers, but the file format is a trade secret, and not
even the linux hackers have managed to do a good job of cracking it.

It might be some consolation to know that it causes nearly as much
problem for MS users as for the rest of us. MSWord documents often
can't be decoded sanely by a different release (or the same release
with fonts installed in a different order) on Windoze systems. This
is used as the usual sort of arm twisting to persuade people to pay
to upgrade to the latest release, and then they find that it makes
hash out of some of their older documents.

| Speaking as an employee of a vendor of operating systems and
| applications: Yes, it would be nice if all this stuff were
| standardized. You can even claim it *ought* to be standardized. But
| it *isn't* standardized, and the world is a big place. Please be
| conservative when formatting stuff. Plain text is boring, but
| currently it's the only format that everyone has.

On the contrary, there are lots of standards for document formats.
For instance, 8859-1 (Latin-1) is a very well-defined standard. So is
HTML (three standard versions by now), and lots of software uses it.
Postscript and PDF are well-defined, published standards that can do
rather arbitrary pretty pictures embedded in text. And so on. Lack of
standards is no excuse at all. The problem is the MS attitude. They
have no intention of making it easy for their users to communicate
with people who use competitors' products.

It's fun to think what English spelling would be like if printers and
typewriter manufacturers had taken this attitude in previous
centuries. Every printer would have had their own character set. We'd
have English documents written in Greek and Hebrew and Arabic and
Sanskrit fonts and we'd all be expected to read them all.

OTOH, maybe we'd also have a standard character set that includes all
the Pilling symbols ...

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