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Michael Meeks On ODF and OOXML 184

Posted by kdawson
from the down-with-clippy dept.
biscuitfever11 writes "ZDNet has up a great interview with Michael Meeks, the distinguished Novell engineer, who's currently deeply involved in open document format and OpenOffice.org. In the interview, Meeks takes Microsoft to task on its alternative format OOXML and argues that Microsoft should adopt ODF — but says that realistically they never will. He also mentions his favorite example to explain the benefits of open source software to a nontechnical person: the flexibility of open source would have allowed us to free ourselves from Clippy, the world's most despised paperclip, by changing a single line of code."
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Michael Meeks On ODF and OOXML

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  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @08:08PM (#20797239) Homepage Journal
    Given half a chance the OSS world would probably have neded up patching Office with:

    ' remove MS cruft:
    ' AssistantLoad "clippy.acs"
    AssistantLoad "Tux.acs"

  • Well (Score:2, Insightful)

    by El Lobo (994537)
    There is no need to change one line of code for that. My mom never could do that, nor could 3/4 of the population. That's why there is Options-Help-Don't use office asistent. Nothing is black and white. there is a lot of gray there in between and while OS is a completly good and fair option, commercial software is a completly good and fair option as well. Both have their advantages and disadventages, and OS id not the paradise, nor is commercial software the hell....
    • by MightyYar (622222)
      Your mom might never change one line of code - but she sure as heck could manage to download code from someone who CAN program. I don't use NeoOffice on the Mac because I was able to hack the OpenOffice.org code to run on the Mac - I use it because some other industrious people did.

      If, say, WordPerfect were open source I could very likely be using it today on OS X... instead, it's dead on the Mac, and so I have a painful time whenever I need to open one of my old WordPerfect files. Microsoft Office and Wind
    • by jbengt (874751)
      "That's why there is Options-Help-Don't use office asistent[sic]."
      I think you missed the point.
      I turned off the office assistant numerous times.
      It always managed to pop back up eventually.
      If someone could have changed a couple of lines of code and compiled it for me so the assistant would stay off, I would have appreciated it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Lennie (16154)
        It is an option during installation/setup, that solves the problem.
        • by jbengt (874751)
          At work I don't have the option to re-install or to set installation options.
    • ah, i see it. you've fallen victim to one of the fallacies about software the proprietary software world has been feeding you.

      you see, software can be copied indefinitely for zero cost. only one single person in the whole world would have to make the change you want and then you can benefit from it.

      see how that's different from the proprietary world, where everybody has to individually buy and own the product and is forbidden from sharing it with others?
  • by Gothmolly (148874) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @08:12PM (#20797273)
    I'll put on my Executive Hat here: "So Open Source is good for removing features, gotcha." Arguing about turning off Clippy not necessarily a shining example of why OSS is good. Things like zero-day exploits, internationalization, and no per server (or VM!!!) costs are what will make people adopt OSS.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by gbutler69 (910166)
      It's not meant to be a legitimate example. It is meant as an example your average computer user can understand and relate to.
    • "zero-day exploits, internationalization, and no per server (or VM!!!) costs are what will make people adopt OSS." You would think so, yet it doesn't. What makes people adopt something is marketing.
    • by atlep (36041)
      Clippy was just an example. Not chosen because it was so important, but because it was easily recognizable. Also by people who have no idea about what zero-day exploits are and doesn't care about per server/VM costs.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by marsu_k (701360)

      I'll put on my Executive Hat
      Aight, I put on my robe and wizard hat.
  • by bjourne (1034822) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @08:13PM (#20797277) Homepage Journal
    is the one Metacity uses. The patch to remove that one is also only a few lines, but I have yet to see a non-technical person manage to do that. The great advantages of free software aren't technical, they are social. People working together for a common good because it is fun is a more efficient economic system than the one in which you do it to get a paycheck. Imagine what would happen if the rest of the world where also structured like free software communities?
    • No patch needed (Score:2, Informative)

      by Mprx (82435)
      Set /apps/metacity/general/reduced_resources to true in gconf. Turns off the other useless eyecandy too.
    • The world would be knee-deep in shit, because nobody finds it fun to be a sewerage worker.
      • by Bert64 (520050)
        Only very lazy people would...
        Most people would clean up their own shit, and those who didnt would end up being cast out.
        I used to live in a house with no sewer system, everything went into a cesspool in the back garden, a good distance away from the house. Every few months a truck came along to remove the solid waste that remained in there, as liquid had mostly evaporated or drained away.
        • From the OP: People working together for a common good because it is fun is a more efficient economic system than the one in which you do it to get a paycheck.

          So how often do you reckon that truck would have come along if the driver hadn't been getting paid? People working together because it is fun is only efficient in a very narrow subset of work, for a very narrow subset of people. In general, it just doesn't work. People don't pump sewerage for fun, but they will do it for money.
          • by Bert64 (520050)
            Well, we had to pay for the truck every time it came... It wasn't a free service.
            It also wasn't essential, we could have shoveled the sewerage onto the bottom of the garden, where the waste water drained.. There were plenty of apple trees down there, and it did them good, especially during dry spells (when theres a shortage of water its illegal to pump clean water onto your garden, but waste water is another matter).
  • Clippy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SamP2 (1097897) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @08:14PM (#20797295)
    Last time I checked you can disable Clippy in 10 seconds from the Office Options menu, without the need to find the right line, remove it, and recompile. Anyone who is not capable of clicking Tools->Options and checking off a checkmark would not be capable of editing the code either.

    Not being anti-OOS in any way, and there are many instances when editing a few lines WOULD make a difference in the usefulness of software (Windows Firewall sure comes to mind), but this is not one of them. Sorry.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      > Last time I checked you can disable Clippy in 10 seconds from the Office Options menu

      Young padawan, this is an option that has been added after several *years* of impossible to disable clippy.
    • here are the appropriate instructions clippy [microsoft.com]
    • by sco08y (615665)
      Last time I checked you can disable Clippy in 10 seconds from the Office Options menu...

      Or just close him several times and he offers to get rid of himself.
    • by atlep (36041)
      The point is, if Windows Office was open source, there would be available a version with no clippy in it. You wouldn't have to do change the code yourself. Someone else would, and you could download it.
  • Clippy! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2007 @08:15PM (#20797299)
    It looks like you're writing code to remove me!
  • summing up OSS (Score:4, Insightful)

    by abigsmurf (919188) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @08:21PM (#20797351)
    "the flexibility of open source would have allowed us to free ourselves from Clippy, the world's most despised paperclip, by changing a single line of code."

    This is also a prime example of where OSS fails too. How many basic users would be able to even compile a version with the altered code, let alone alter the codes themselves? Heck even finding a specific "no clippy" version among a variety of differently configured distributions could prove too taxing. Microsoft's approach to clippy is that if you hide it 3 times in general usage it'll present a user with an option to turn it off and it'll never appear again (provided you've a well configured server). An "if you don't like it, change it" approach simply isn't as effective as good interface usability testing when you're dealing with a userbase comprised of vastly different skill levels.
    • by BokLM (550487) *
      How many basic users would be able to even compile a version with the altered code

      A better question would be "how many linux distribution would ship a version with the altered code". It is the job of the distribution to fix minor annoyances like this depending on what its users want.
    • everyone doesn't compile OSS software themselves
    • by Vexorian (959249)

      This is also a prime example of where OSS fails too. How many basic users would be able to even compile a version with the altered code, let alone alter the codes themselves?
      1 for each 1000.

      Then this guy just releases a binary package with the fix. The other 999 guys use it. Congratulations!

  • But couldn't you free yourself from the Evil Clippy with a single click of a checkbox? He could make that analogy better and more current by saying "You know the 65535 issue? Programmers could find that and help fix it rather than waiting however long for an official patch"
    • by jbengt (874751)
      I turned it off several times.
      It always managed to eventually pop back up.
      • by xrayspx (13127)
        See, told you I'm not Capt. Office. Oh well. I guess "We could have figured out why the checkbox turning clippy off didn't work". Doesn't have the same ring to it.
  • by KiloByte (825081) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @08:43PM (#20797511)
    The format war is the main reason why most people stick with MS Office. And well... let's take a look at Microsoft's balance sheets [microsoft.com].

    So, "Microsoft adopting ODF"? Or even "Microsoft not sabotaging ODF plugins"? No freaking way.
    • Is there any chance of a class action lawsuit against microsoft for monopolic practices regarding ODF?
  • by Zombie Ryushu (803103) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @08:57PM (#20797613)
    As much as I'd love an injunction saying that MS must make its DOCX File format readable by other Office suites, and it must produce a plugin for OO.org to open it NOW. We are screwed. MS already has Office 2007 out in the wild, and I'm starting to get .docx files I can't open in OO.org. There's only one reason this was done, OO.org is so good at opening Docs it started to threaten Office. It doesn't matter if whether OOXML gets certified, its going to be up to OO.org to reverse engineer it as fast as possible or it will make everyone cry blood.

    By the way, what do you think the result will be in a year when we start seeing Samba 4 AD? MS will attack again with even harsher resolve/.
    • By the way, what do you think the result will be in a year when we start seeing Samba 4 AD?
      I wouldn't be surprised to see a patent lawsuit. It'd be disappointing, but not surprising.
    • When you get a .docx file you can't read, you say the same thing Office 2003 users say... "I can't open DOCX files, send it in DOC". The only difference is that Office 2k3 has Office 2k7 format plugins, but really, only the people who already know about them are probably going to be finding and using them.

      Furthermore, considering that OOXML is basically Office 2k3 formats converted to plaintext and zipped up, I'd have thought there would ALREADY be support in OO.org by now... at least, soon. OOXML was m

      • "I can't open DOCX files, send it in DOC". This won't last forever.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Chemicalscum (525689)
        The Novell OOo group have already produced a plugin in for docx. The reports on it are that it doesn't work very well yet. Currently it is supposed to only work with the Novell hacked version of OOo, but the Novell people as part of OOo are working on a filter as part of the next official release of OOo.

        There is a port of the Novell plugin for Ubuntu Feisty at Getdeb:

        http://www.getdeb.net/app.php?name=OpenOffice.org+OpenXML+Translator [getdeb.net]

        I have installed it and tried it out on various random .docx files I

    • by Blakey Rat (99501)
      I heard from contact in Microsoft that the reason they didn't approve/use Open Document format is that it doesn't support all of the features of Office, and they would have had to make a ton of modifications to it to realistically make use of it. I don't know exactly which features it doesn't support that .doc does, but that's what I was told.
      • by smash (1351)
        Feature: unreadable by OOo... check

        That's the missing feature...

      • by Bert64 (520050)
        That's crap... They've been saying that along, but never really giving any serious examples.
        Also, when the ODF format was being created, Microsoft were invited to join the committee and would have been able to address any missing features at that stage, they refused repeatedly.
        • by Blakey Rat (99501)
          To be fair, if Microsoft HAD joined the committee and proposed changes, the shrill cries of "embrace and extend!" would have echoed across the Internet, and they wouldn't have been any better off in the long run anyway.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Bert64 (520050)
            That would have depended on the changes they proposed...
            Any proposed changes would have been evaluated, and if the different vendors reached a consensus that the changes provided a valid benefit, then they would have been accepted.
            Many of the garbage that microsoft put into ooxml would probably have been rejected, because it provides no benefit to end users or any vendor except microsoft. Similarly, any requirements without full implementation details would have been rejected.
    • There's only one reason this was done, OO.org is so good at opening Docs it started to threaten Office. It doesn't matter if whether OOXML gets certified, its going to be up to OO.org to reverse engineer it as fast as possible or it will make everyone cry blood.

      You're not correct. This is temporary situation. As writers of other OSS Office alternatives have said, it's relatively easy to write a *X (DOCX, XLSX etc) wrapper around their existing * (DOC, XLS) importer, since they're basically the same thing, e
  • Unfortunately this clippy example is more showing how open source could be great. Right now, in OpenOffice, there is by default clippy activated! (of course it's not called 'clippy', it's called 'help agent'.) So, no, even open source is affected by clippy. Either human kind is doomed, or open source community is very tricky to understand.

    Well, at least the OpenOffice clippy hasn't told me anything so far. It's just there, on the bottom of my screen smiling and cheerfully eating up a little bit of the mem

    • by weicco (645927)

      Unfortunately this clippy example is more showing how open source could be great.

      And another thing... When I was in business college our marketing teacher said that never, ever mention your rival at commercial or in fact try to avoid metioning at all! There's always the risk that audience remembers your competitor's name and not yours. For example:

      We had this car commercial in TV here in Finland. It was supposed to Chrysler commercial I think. In the middle of the commercial the guy was having a birthday

  • by Zebra_X (13249) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:39PM (#20798139)
    "the flexibility of open source would have allowed us to free ourselves from Clippy, the world's most despised paperclip, by changing a single line of code."

    Or.... like every other user in the world - just turn, clippy, off.

    Code changes are not always a solution.
  • Novell has apparentally signed an interoperability (mostly patents) deal with MS, yet it looks like it is more about Novell working with MS or something, I mean, see these declarations! "It is unlikely in reality MS adopts ODF" , shouldn't Novell be... asking the partner to help them, you only see Novell implementing OOXML and nothing else, why is this deal working in only one direction?
  • He also mentions his favorite example to explain the benefits of open source software to a nontechnical person: the flexibility of open source would have allowed us to free ourselves from Clippy, the world's most despised paperclip, by changing a single line of code."
    As opposed to say, just uninstalling clippy through the control panel? I'm all for open source and all - but seriously, it's worth checking out the options before busting out GCC...
  • ... I had never heard of Michael Meeks, but as soon as I read "ZDNet has up a great interview with Michael Meeks" in the summary, I knew exactly which format he supports. Slashdot can be so transparent sometimes.
  • For Microsoft to support ODF would require them to give up the monopoly that results from being able to write files that only Office can truly understand. Early versions of MS Word used to be able to import documents from all the popular word processors ..... just not export back to them. So MS Word ended up becoming the "default" word processing application because only it was certain to be able to read its own savefiles.

    The .doc format contains various tricks and hacks designed especially to thwart r
  • bulby? I despise it more than Clippy.
  • He's missing the point. The advantage of using an open, published standard with multiple implementations is that, twenty years from now when you really need to read the documents about the Jones contract, you'll be able to do so.

    If you're a big company in business for a while, you probably have some documents in Word Perfect, some in WordStar, many in PDF, and maybe some on 8" floppies from a Wang word processor. There's no uniform way to archive all this stuff. And, because there isn't, it's not in a

  • I'd love to see "alternative code" patches to apps, like patches that delete "Clippy", or replace it with a different character, or add an on/off GUI widget. Several different patches, each targeted to only that single feature/bugfix. Instead we get these bundles of several unrelated patches, just because they're all releasable at the same time, that keep a single bug/feature snapshot in a single version.

    So much open source SW could benefit from this. But instead we look for the topheavy "plugin" architectu

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