CyberTech Rambler

October 19, 2010

Takes Microsoft free license offer, but with caution

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:17 pm

It is unfortunate (but not unsurprising) that Microsoft got dragged in Russia’s pretenses at anti-piracy to seize dissidents computers. I deplore Russian’s move regardless of whose software were used as the pretext. That landed Microsoft with a PR disaster. While the real truth is the Russian or other authorities will simply move to the next most popular software (cue Photoshop), Microsoft decision to give out free licenses to NGO in several countries is a step in the correct direction.

Frankly, if you are a dissident in Russia, why on earth do you use pirated software? You are inviting trouble!

People like Marco thinks NGO should not take Microsoft’s free license and instead uses free and open source alternatives. While I share Marco’s view that NGO, like everyone else, should support LibreOffice and other open source software, I do not think outright rejection of Microsoft’s offer is appropriate.

My preferred view is to standardize on LibreOffice or other open source software, and keep Microsoft’s Windows and Office installation to a minimum. Like it or not, we still have government  or funding body  that stiill insist on using Microsoft Windows product, e.g. IE6 or one to submit in Word format. If a big entity like UK’s OfCom insist on Word attachment (see “(2) By Email“), what chances are there for smaller countries and less well-funded departments? If you insist on sending them items that does not meet their specification , e.g. sending PDF instead of Word for example, you just gave them a legitimate excuse for not considering them ignoring your funding request or response. Crucially, as in the case of OfCom who I am sure will not ignore PDF submission, you just got yourself on the wrong side of an important donor/body. Why take this unnecessary risk? Take Microsoft’s offer, but limit the use of Office and other software to a minimum. Prepare everything internally in ODF, then finally switch over to Word format before submission. That’s the smart thing to do.

Now, before you mention LibreOffice and other offering can also write to Word format, I have to tell you I had considered it and rejected the idea. Why? Your d0cument is likely to consist of charts, figures and other nice things to make a good impression. While other office software do a good job at preserving formatting, your final arbitrator is how is your document going to look on the recipient’s computer. Small differences in the way different software handles Word document means you cannot guarantee your nicely prepared document will not look strange on your recipient’s computer. You do not want that to happen. Moreover, in this day and age where submissions are normally in PDF or via online form, if your recipient asked for Word document, you can be sure that they are not the sharpest people in the IT, so better give them what they asked for.

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