Open Office and Windows 7, Part Two

In part one, I discussed why this change would be significant for my teaching in both writing classes and writing theory classes, positioning my use of open source software in writing classes as a technological literacy enabler, and within that use, a window into rhetorical literacy. In part two I ask the following question and seek some answers: Given that Microsoft has purposely excluded OO functionality in the past, what does this limited change within Wordpad mean?

Shooting for the obvious, it means that Microsoft can no longer pretend that open standard either doesn’t exist or is a dicey format that no one really uses. Their stance that an international open standard should be their (proprietary) standard is not altered by this new functionality, but the time is long past for noting that many power users use open standard. I suspect this is a move to staunch “Linux leak.” When Windows becomes too non-functional for power users, these users know that there are alternatives, and in increasing numbers, they are using them. Adding .odt and open-XML to Wordpad could keep those customers.

At the same time, most consumers will never use Wordpad (which, by the way, is a shame). A real commitment would have been for Microsoft to include Open Office compatibility within Microsoft Office, especially Word. After all, they include Wordperfect compatibility, and also include one-way Acrobat conversion. This is not about difficulty; they could do it. The problem for them is that easy Open Office compatibility within Microsoft Office will simply add more consumers to the Open Office user base, not to their own. After all, Microsoft is a proprietary company and is in the business of selling software. Wordpad is a program that is part of Windows, and thus has no separate cost. Adding .odt/open-XML compatibility to Wordpad doesn’t hurt the bottom line; in fact, by appealing to the power users who use Wordpad, they gain goodwill. However, Microsoft Office is a separate entity from Windows and is a huge moneymaker.

I’m happy about the limited compatibility for open standard added to Wordpad. At the same time, until my students can read and write Open Office files in Microsoft Office just like any other file format, my happiness will remain…limited.

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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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