Open Office and Windows 7, Part One

Cyberdash (AKA Charlie Lowe) doesn’t post as often as some Computers and Writing folk, but when he does, it’s usually something I’m interested in. His latest post is no exception–one of the so-far unheralded features of Windows 7 is limited native support for Open Office’s .odt files through Wordpad. Buried in Ars Technica’s review of Windows 7 (something I never would have read without Cyberdash’s link), they note that “WordPad is considerably more useful, due to its new ability to both read and write Office Open XML .docx (Word 2007) files, and Open Office .odt files. Though obviously it does not support all of the features of these formats, the decision to support these standards makes it much more useful.”

Even as someone in the midst of switching completely to Apple for home and office computing, this is significant. For the foreseeable future, I will continue to teach in Windows-based labs and I will also continue to use a pedagogy that privileges open source solutions over proprietary ones. For me, the foundation for developing technological literacy in my students is to, if only temporarily through the assignments given in my classes, have them lose the transparency that word processors, browsers, and other workhorse software has for them and think of those programs in terms of functions instead of trademarked names. For example, most students translate “getting on the computer” as using Internet Explorer. They do not think of it as a browser, especially as one of many they could choose from based on what functions they need. The idea of downloading software boggles them; they use their computer configuration as given and view alternatives as suspect, something not having the brand name seal of approval.

That said, my university is ahead of some in that it has a required computer literacy course that is taken freshman year. However, it translates technological literacy as learning the features and keystrokes of Microsoft Office. My goal is much closer to one of the goals in Stuart Selber’s Multiliteracies for a Digital Age (a book I assigned in my graduate level Digital Rhetorics and Pedagogies course), that of considering not only situational needs and appropriate functions within software, but also the rhetorical implications within an individual’s (or university’s) software choices, and the potential outcomes dependent on those choices. I want students to develop rhetorical literacy, a needed component of technological literacy.

Having my students use Open Office Writer then, takes away the easy familiarity that Microsoft Word lends for most students and allows them to not only see word processing differently, it enables them to re-see Word as having its own rhetorical stance rather than as neutral or default. Of course, it is not neutral; it definitely has a worldview–but that’s another post, one I’ve touched on before.

So, what does this addition of limited compatibility for Open Office within Windows mean? More about that tomorrow in part two.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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