Why proprietary file-formats are bad for institutions

By Paul Downey

A growing institution that despite growth is somewhat strapped for cash has most of its staff on OfficeProduct 2006, it less than the latest thing, but does everything the staff need. New staff are employed (it is a growing institution) new laptops are bought, they come with OfficeProduct X an easily “upgradeable trial version”. So, of course, to keep things simple they run OfficeProduct X.

Now disaster strikes, OfficeProduct 2006 cannot read OfficeProduct X files and the whole institution must be upgraded to OfficeProduct X. Strangely the same institution runs OpenOffice (a standards compliant open source Office package) on the public access terminals in the library. They do not need to upgrade, for OpenOffice CAN read the OfficeProduct X files…

As a further bonus advantage OfficeProduct X uses strikingly different menu structures from its predecessors, that means staff will need training, or possibly will just suffer the frustration of wasting hours learning the new “improved” product by trial and error, and then more hours helping their colleagues who are slower at learning such arcane 21st century skills.

A further disaster, but one that in the past could not have been avoided, many staff still have files from OtherOffice 2.0, those files are now unreadable by almost every modern Office suite. Lost data :( Now in the past such disasters were unavoidable, now however, suppose the files were saved in Open Document Format (an open standard that non-proprietary office suites use). Guess what in 10 or 15 years if ODF 2.0 has come out there will be plugins available to read the old files.

Now remind me, just how does paying for Microsoft Office make economic sense?

3 comments on “Why proprietary file-formats are bad for institutions

  1. Mike Aubrey

    It’s slightly less dramatic than than since Microsoft has provided a free tool for comparability between .doc and .docx for download online

  2. David Ker

    I’ve been using OpenOffice for quite a while with no major problems (niggly little ones with layout on some Word docs). Now I’ve just upgraded to Ubuntu 11 and it comes with Libre Office which is a fork of the OO suite. Initial experience has been good. The FOSS community got nervous and upset with Oracle and decided that an office suite needed to be independent of them.

  3. Tim

    Mike, do they also provide a download to patch the problem of some edition of their Office product that saves what appear to be DOCX, PPTX files with the extensions DOC and PPT thus causing their own and other people’s Office products to believe the files are corrupt?
    David, I have heard LibreOffice is good, but trying to try it out broke my Open Office installation and I NEED that unless Libre Office replaces it for me, and I am not even sure LO has a Zotero plugin.