The transition away from Microsoftness

It has been months now and I'm still receiving letters about my first rant. The basic thrust of the rant is that Linux developers should be focusing more on innovation than on mimicking what is already on Windows. I stated what I thought were good arguments, and I had many more that wouldn't fit into the space available for my column.

Most readers applauded that column. Some disagreed, and they had some pretty good arguments, too. The best argument revolved around desktop productivity software. They argue that Linux office suites must mimic Microsoft Office to some degree, but mostly with respect to document format. It is undeniable that most business desktop users are running Microsoft Office. It will be impossible to woo these people away from Windows and Microsoft Office unless a Linux suite can make the transition away from Microsoft Office an easy one. You can't do that unless the Linux office suite can read and write all those legacy documents seamlessly.

Put another way, the only way a Linux office suite can beat Microsoft Office is to (essentially) be Microsoft Office, at least until the the Linux office suite has gained enough market share and momentum to unseat Microsoft Office. This is an excellent argument, though not a perfect one.

Let's go over a little history. Once upon a time, WordPerfect owned the word processor market and Lotus 1-2-3 owned the spreadsheet market. They had no credible competition. Then one day, we woke up, and Microsoft Office had taken over the world. Okay, so it didn't take a single day, but it sure felt like it at the time.

How did Microsoft accomplish this mighty feat? Did Microsoft make its products so much like WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 that the transition was seamless? No. Microsoft added lots of compatibility features in its products to make the transition from WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 less painful, but the transition was in now way seamless. Word never worked like WordPerfect (to the dismay of many), and Excel never worked like Lotus 1-2-3. Microsoft provided some similarities, but is far more similar in look and feel to Microsoft Office than Word and Excel were to WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3.

I can sum up the way Microsoft beat the competition in just a few words. Microsoft won the market by leveraging its virtual monopoly on the desktop. Microsoft could co-develop its office products and Windows to play nicely. The competition couldn't. This is one reason why WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 couldn't make the transition to Windows easily. The developers weren't privy to the APIs (and their quirks) as early as Microsoft, and the WordPerfect and Lotus developers couldn't tweak the Windows API in order to make their products run better. There were other factors, too. For example, Microsoft sat on enough cash that it could undercut the competition until it won the market.

No pain, no gain

Here's the moral of the story. Microsoft did not provide 100% backward compatibility with existing WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 documents. Microsoft did not provide perfect look and work-alikes to WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. Granted, Microsoft had the edge in integration and (to a degree) stability, because Microsoft owned the API. But overall, Microsoft did not win the market by providing applications that were superior to WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. I would argue that the WordPerfect of 10 years ago is in many ways superior to Microsoft Word today, but that's neither here nor there. The point is that to one extent or another, people were willing to "downgrade" from some of features of their favorite applications, retrain their users, and suffer the transitional difficulties in order to migrate to Microsoft Office.

In short, history shows that people do suffer transitions. They do retrain. They do migrate from one document format to another. While pain may not be necessary, people are willing to suffer pain in order to get enough gain.

Therefore no Linux office suite has to "be" Microsoft Office for any period of time in order to displace Microsoft Office in the market.

What have we learned?

So what will it take for a Linux office suite to displace Microsoft Office? One or both of the following:

  1. Linux has to gain a virtual monopoly on the desktop
  2. The Linux office suite has to be compelling enough to motivate people to migrate away from Microsoft Office

Linux has arrived on the desktop. There's no reason why anyone needs to run Windows. But let's face it. Linux won't monopolize the desktop anytime soon. So there's no way to leverage a desktop monopoly to get people to switch away from Microsoft Office.

However, there are ways to make an office suite compelling enough to draw people away. Here are those factors that I find compelling (your mileage may vary):

  1. The office suite runs equally well on Windows and Linux to ease a transition
  2. The office suite looks and functions (UI, reads/writes documents) enough like Microsoft Office to take most of the pain out of migration
  3. The office suite avoids or corrects all the design errors in Microsoft Office
  4. The office suite provides compelling innovative features that you can't find in Microsoft Office

We already have a couple of good office suites that satisfy items 1 and 2. runs as well on Windows as it does Linux (some might say it runs as badly on both platforms, but that's a matter of tolerance and taste). EIOffice runs quite well on both Windows and Linux. Both products read Microsoft Office documents well enough to make a transition possible with only minimal pain.

That leaves us with points 3 and 4. These are the points that motivated the original rant that drew both praise and criticism. The most compelling feature of is that it is free. Beyond that, duplicates many of the brain-dead design errors you find in Microsoft Office. This is not the way to draw people away from Microsoft Office. You draw people away from Microsoft Office by eliminating those features that Microsoft Office users find frustrating, and providing features that Microsoft Office users wish they had.

It is easier to point to what EIOffice did right than pinpoint the flaws in EIOffice made it ridiculously easy to create live links between documents and document types. If you want to plug the result of a spreadsheet calculation into a document or presentation, all you have to do is "copy" the spreadsheet cell and "paste as link" into the document or presentation. Once you create the link, it is nearly impossible to break it. You can cut the formula in the spreadsheet and paste it to another location. You can add rows or columns so that it moves the location of the formula. It doesn't matter. You can change the data in the spreadsheet such that the results of the formula change. EIOffice maintains the link and instantly updates the results everywhere.

At the time I wrote the rant (and as far as I know this is still true today) there is no easy way to create live links in or Microsoft Office. When you do create live links, they aren't nearly as robust.

Something you can't live without

The key here is that once you start using the live links in EIOffice, the linking becomes a feature you can't live without. This alone would provide a compelling enough reason to migrate away from Microsoft Office. Unfortunately, Evermore Software (the company that produces EIOffice) isn't pushing its product well enough to give me hope that enough people will try EIOffice, get hooked, and adopt it. And there's the issue that EIOffice, while a bargain by any standards, isn't free. And it isn't open source. These may be reasons why EIOffice will never replace Microsoft Office, but these issues do not detract from my point - that EIOffice had the right idea by offering innovative ideas and avoiding the problems inherent in the Microsoft Office design.

Ironically, EIOffice is an almost perfect duplicate of Microsoft Office in terms of the user interface. So Evermore Software is focusing a lot on taking the pain out of migration. But I still think its most compelling feature is its approach to live linking.

That is why I stand by my original assertion. Linux developers should be working on imitaing what Evermore Software did. Sure, minimalize the pain of migration. But focus on avoiding the pitfalls of Microsoft office, and on providing the compelling features that make people want to use the Linux office suite instead of Microsoft Office. Instead of prompting people to say "It's free, and it's good enough", make people say "It blows away Microsoft Office and, oh, by the way, it's free, too."

Do that, and you'll find that people will migrate despite the minor incompatibilities in user interface and file formats.



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BB G's picture

This' good article thanks.

Strange that Microsoft does not compete with Linux RAM based OS'

DavidR194's picture

Linux is light years ahead of Microsoft in terms of RAM based operating systems as opposed to traditional OS's that run from the hard drive. Strange that Microsoft does not choose to compete in this arena.

e.hanson34 AT yahoo DOT com

Linux vs Microloss Windows

Riverside Web Site Promotion's picture

I definitely think this is a serious issue considering many people have the sole purpose of making everything to mimic Microloss.

OfficeSuits. Microsoft Office versis a reall Office Suite

Anonymous's picture

I beg to differ with you on linking in Ooffice.
I've been using Ooffice since it was still new and marketed as Star Office.
It was difficult to use then as it was mostly in German.
I am still using Ooffice and I find the links are very easy to make in the documents and work just as you claim EiOffice does.
I just copy and paste as a link.
I have spread sheets that are linked to over 30 other spread sheets with reports made in Ooffice writer that have been working through several upgrades.
I'm not even interested in EiOffice. Probably just because as you say it resembles MicroSnot Office.
There are no words to describe how much I loath MicroSnot products.
My work load is about 1/6th what it was when I had a few MicroSnot products still running in my system.
Now that I am totally MicroSnot free with Linux desktops and certianly servers my workload is mostly upgrades and installs and my users love it.
Security is a major issue here and MicroSnot Security is an Oxymoron.

Pete G.
Pearland, TX


数's picture

I happen to know Don Marti. Don Marti is a good friend of mine. And let me tell you sir: you're no Don Marti.

The transition away from Microsoftness

Poul Cooper's picture

If you want to plug the result of a spreadsheet calculation into a document or presentation, all you have to do is "copy" the spreadsheet cell and "paste as link" into the document or presentation. Once you create the link, it is nearly impossible to break it. You can cut the formula in the spreadsheet and paste it to another location. You can add rows or columns so that it moves the location of the formula.


车载MP4's picture

There is one glaring problem with Nicholas's logic... the days when WordPerfect and Lotus 123 were at their peak, the market was young. There was tremendous growth still available in the market. There were a lot of people out there who had never used WordPerfect or Lotus 123 before.

No, you've got it wrong

kuriharu's picture

You contradict yourself, saying that MS used its monopoly power to sell Office, then claim that MS programmers tweaked the API to make it work better. Which is it?

The fact is that Word Perfect was just a word processor, and 1-2-3 was just a spreadsheet. These two companies did not join to make an integrated suite. MS saw the opportunity to join all Office products and pulled it off.

Word Perfect 5 for Windows was better than Word 6 for Windows. It was easier to use (much so) and more stable. When WP 6 for Windows came out, they used their own video drivers, and the program crashed consistently. Word 95 was then out and integrated (or stole) some of the ideas from WP into it. Hence it was easier to use and then more stable, and that's when a lot of people switched.

MS Office isn't as good as it can be, but can anyone argue that the alternatives have better usage features? I've used it and OpenOffice. MS Office, although it pains me to say it, just works better.


上海数's picture

Ironically, EIOffice is an almost perfect duplicate of Microsoft Office in terms of the user interface. So Evermore Software is focusing a lot on taking the pain out of migration. But I still think its most compelling feature is its approach to live linking.

I happen to know Don Marti.

数's picture

I happen to know Don Marti. Don Marti is a good friend of mine. And let me tell you sir: you're no Don Marti.

Two users for each computer at one time

phi1meup's picture

I think the best way to increase the number of users is to provide value added solutions that Microsoft does not want to provide. Why not create drivers that let 2 people be able to use one desktop or laptop computer at one time. There are already duel monitor capabilities with each monitor able to run a program in a different window. All that is needed is the ability to assign a USB mouse and keyboard to a specific monitors activity. Maybe a special USB hub could be marketed specially to hook monitors, wireless keyboard and mouse and wireless Joystick. Sound connections could also part of the hub. It would provide a niche for a small hardware developer looking for a fresh market to do this.

This would be very popular in homes and also for offices where two people are in close proximity. I can see this being very big advantage for the gaming people.

Of course computer manufacturers and software providers would not like this. Maybe this is a niche that would put Linux on the desk and in the home.

Who's hurting now?

Rick Cook's picture

Think of it another way. Think pain.

Pain, relative pain, was the key to Microsoft's takeover of the desktop. Pain is going to be the key in the battle between Microsoft and all its competitors, open source or not.

In other words, when it hurts more to stay with Microsoft than to switch, people will switch. (Actually there's a 'pain plus ten percent' rule that applies to allow for the discomfort of moving away from the known.)

That's what happened in the early 90s when Microsoft outpaced Wordperfect and Lotus. There was pain involved in changing to Microsoft Office, all right, but it became less painful to switch than to stay with the old favorites. Staying with Lotus and Wordperfect hurt more for two main reasons. First was cost. By bundling Word, Excel and the rest into a suite, Microsoft could undersell companies like Corel and Lotus. We tend to forget how important that was in those days of sky-high application prices.

The second reason was integration. Microsoft made its products work much more like each other than its competitors did. Not entirely. not hardly, but if you learned Word, you had skills that carried over into Excel and the other parts of the Office suite.

There were other factors, including some mis-steps by Wordperfect and Lotus, Microsoft's sheer marketing skill and a dash of underhandedness coming out of Redmond, but ultimately it came down to pain.

Now, for the first time in years, there is the opportunity to shift the balance of pain. Microsoft creates pain in a lot of ways, but until now most people just had to grin and bear it. I finally had to put MS Office on my system a couple of years ago to ensure easy communication with my clients, even though I stuck to things like WordPerfect and Quattro Pro for my own purposes.

The major pain points with Microsoft are well known. Microsoft applications are expensive compared to the competition, especially open source. They are notoriously buggy and insecure and Microsoft constantly attempts to move the market in directions which benefit Microsoft rather then its customers. In spite of much code thrashing and loud proclamations from Redmond those things aren't getting better. Indeed with the idea of 'software as a service' they are getting worse.

Open source applications, by contrast, are rapidly decreasing their pain points. There's still work to be done. The most critical piece of it is the ability to seamlessly read and write Microsoft files. That's about 90 percent there, but there are still enough things that don't come across exactly to hurt. (Note that when I say exactly, I mean exactly enough that the average user will have no trouble at all reading and writing the files or using the software. Whether this is done within the applications, through add-ons or by voodoo is ultimately immaterial.) Beyond that being just like Microsoft is massively immaterial. We don't need Microsoft Office clones. We need software that will bring Office users across gently and then take them beyond what Microsoft delivers. But open source has to ease the pain of the transition.

Microsoft understands all this. That's why the company is trying to fight back with tactics aimed at convincing people that, say, Linux is actually more expensive than Windows in TCO and that you really can't move easily from Windows applications to open source apps. Of course in doing so Microsoft is relying on its key strength -- marketing, rather than on producing "insanely great" (to quote a certain Redmond uber-geek) software.

Open source desktop applications still produce hurt, but they're producing less of it all the time. Meanwhile the pain just continues from Microsoft and if anything is growing. The open source advocates have work to do, but the trend is in the right direction.

*whew* Thank you. I feel much better now.

Good points

Nicholas Petreley's picture

Very well put, thanks.

yes, excellent aricle. thank

thanks's picture

yes, excellent aricle. thank you

Why should we have to choose?

Anonymous's picture

We can do both. If you think of something new and cool, put it out there, into the forums, wiki's, etc. Even if you cant code, you can promote your idea, and if it is really cool, people will pick up on it. I don't understand why we are being asked to pick either "innovation" or "duplication". Both aspects are necessary and desired, and the pool of open sourcers out there is big enough that both can fit nicely.

You are plain wrong Nicolas

David Tangye's picture

Yes, Microsoft beat Wordperfect and Lotus without building very similar products. but that does NOT mean open sourde software can succeed using a similar strategy. In fact it will fail. Why? Because Microsoft had the clout to pick off each app in isolation with its bundled stuff that each user got anyway, often whether they liked it or not. That scenario is not an option for anyone taking on Microsoft today. Today the computing environment is completely different to that of when Microsoft was invading the computing world. It seems you simply do not understand those differences. Your argument is not very well researched. It makes me wonder if you were even there then. Your opinion as per the Moral of the Story section is worthless, so I did not even bother to read the rest.

Not so

Anonymous's picture

Microsoft won these wars for two reasons:

1. They hid or misrepresented the Windoze APIs, making the competitor product appear buggy or hamstrung in performance.

2. Reluctance by competitors to adapt to Windoze methods.

For example, the WordPerfect 6.0 printer drivers bypassed the Windoze drivers, and ended up rendering every page as a graphics file. Slow? You bet! And who took the blame? WordPerfect, because MS Werd performed muvh better. Forget the fact that MS Werd was much less reliable and less predictable - at least you could print using it.

Is this related to point 1? Of course it is. It's tough to adapt to unknown methods.

I WAS there, witnessed it and fell for Micro$oft's machinations.


Island in the Net's picture

I agree with all your statements regarding desktop productivity software for Linux. Unfortunately, most of my friends, family and colleagues use Windows and Office so I need a way to exchange documents. For me the compelling reason for using OpenOffice is that I can read/write Microsoft Office document formats.
Now that Microsoft has announced the creation of the Open XML Translator project in support of the OpenDocument Format I may have additional reasons to stick with Open Office.

Forget Open XML

Anonymous's picture

Open XML is just another example of Micro$oft's triple E strategy: Embrace, Extend, Extinguish.

You need ODF. If your application doesn't support ODF you will find yourself locked in to proprietary formats just as surely as if you saved in .doc, .xls and .ppt formats.

Just watch and see if I'm right.

You're right

Nicholas Petreley's picture

And I don't have to watch, it's obvious.

I've written columns on this for various pubs. XML does absolutely nothing to open anything. That's why it is eXtensible Markup Language. It describes stuff. That's all. It can describe virtually anything. It can describe a string of characters that only Word can untangle into something meaningful. It can describe a proprietary object that you have no legal right to use in another word processor. And so on... Microsoft has done a brilliant job of convincing people (without actually saying this) that because XML itself is open, anything they wrap in XML is essentially open. Bzzzt.


Anonymous's picture

What you say is very true, but for me the way to make transition easy, is not by copyin or changing features in software, its by making, the loading of periferals easier, as in windows, I know a lot of possible migrants who have turned away from Linux for this reason, I think developers are on the wrong track, instead of trying to beat Microsoft by making better programs, work on making transition to linux easier. I know I am very close to going back to Windows full time, simply because I can't use the tools I have bought and can't get to work. Regards.

Incentive for moving away from Microsoft

phi1meup's picture

This is a Idea that most software and hardware sellers would not approve of.

Why not let 2 people be able to use one desktop or laptop computer at one time. There are already duel monitor capabilities with each monitor able to run a program in a different window. All that is needed is the ability to assign a USB mouse and keyboard to a specific monitors activity. Sound could be an issue but many things are done without the need for sound.

This would be very popular for homes and also for offices where two people are in close proximity.

Another huge benefit would be to have two person games on a computer.

Of course computer manufacturers and software providers would not like this. Maybe this is a niche that would put Linux on the desk and in the home.

Two at a time

Nicholas Petreley's picture

It's funny you should mention this. One of the comments about the ultimate boxes "why bother using SLI?" inspired me to write an article on how to connect 2 keyboards, 2 mice, and 2 monitors to a single Linux system so people could do this. It's actually quite easy with Xorg.

Yes, you can do this with a single video card. But my thought was that those who already have two cards for SLI installed (assuming they need the horsepower for 3D rendering at times) could drop out of SLI mode when they want to share the computer with another user. Both users would get the full benefit of each individual 3D card, so you really could have two 3D-intensive games running simultaneously. Assuming they're using a dual-core processor, it's really like having 2 computers. Even if they're not using a dual-core, people rarely tax the CPU enough that another user would notice.

Anyway, I got busy writing my next column and another web article (half done - look for it soon), so I put it off. But I may write it up eventually anyway. There are already instructions on how to do this on some web sites, but I thought I'd try to make the process easier to follow.

RE: Incentive for moving away from Microsoft

KFitz's picture

> Why not let 2 people be able to use one desktop or laptop computer at one time.

Dude, you already can with either linux or windows. Linux - see "Desktop Multiplier". For Windows, see "BeTwin"

Driving Innovation

Inyoka's picture

I didn't agreed with Nicholas Petreley until I read most of the comments. If you just look at the amount of distractions Windows has caused in these comments is it any wonder it affects our expectations of software.

If you want to compete with open-source software you must do it by offering not just features, but a development path that will always keep you ahead. Its this aspect that has been missing from Windows and MS Office, which were originally doing this, they originally drove the market with features.

This is why I believe Nicholas is right to champion a program that has done this. In this way they keep people constantly striving towards better software, which is after all the environment that spurred Linux and many other Open Source applications.

stuck with windows

Anonymous's picture

if one looks at users are stuck becoz of lack of optios during formative years of the industry. its like childhood habit for some. our whole universe it seems was built around dos/windows world as mac/unix was too far out of reach for the commoners.

so windows has thrived on this. today i desperately want to move away from windows when i see options in linux etc but we are stuck becoz of the universe problem. our associates use softwares like adobe illustrator which currently run on windows basically and thus even if we have options to move we cant at this stage. i guess we have to wait for some more time.

but given the recent issues of WGA etc, Microsoft is surely digging its own grave.

"if one looks at

Anonymous's picture

"if one looks at users are stuck becoz of lack of optios during formative years of the industry."

No there was more choice then. There was Commodore, Apple, Atari, TI, Radio Shack and others. Some were better than DOS some not. When windows showed up both the Mac's & Amigas were way ahead.

Beta of EIOffice 2007 available for download

Evermore Software's picture

Thanks for the mention of EIOffice.

Migrating to Linux is a done deal as far as I am concerned. The time frame is open but if you are talking about what is going to happen in the next 10 or 15 years I think the writting is on wall. I already know of a couple of projects in China that are sourcing parts to build low cost Linux based desktop computers for sale outside of China. One of these will make a hit.

If at Evermore we have done anything special it is making the decision six years ago to redesign the Office Suite from the file and data system up, but still keep the user interface, as close as legally possible to something that people know and understand, and then give the user the ability to integrate data in documents as easily as possible.

I can understand Microsoft's reluctance at redesigning a succuessful product that is already on the market and making lots of money, but OpenOffice seems to have missed the boat.

Please don't send me rants on about how good OpenOffice is, it is good, but I am speaking from a design perspective and in that light I believe that they have been very conservative.

But I can't blame them, six years ago I laughed when I was told about EIOffice (then it was called EMO3). Still I see a tendency in the open source community to want to be different on the outside, but still make the same design choices as Microsoft or Sun. Some of those are not bad by the way.

Yet if Linux is to succeed, as I think it will, we have to give the user the experience they already understand with code that gives him a lot more choices in what he can do with whatever data they are working with.

If you have not used EIOffice and the Paste Link command then you can download a beta at

Been using Windows since 3.1

Anonymous's picture

Been using Windows since 3.1 and Linux since RH 4.2. Let me tell you why I switched to MS Office after typing my thesis in Wordperfect 5.1 and using Multiplan -- because it was easy and intuitive to use, but mostly, because I could copy-paste stuff between Word and Excel. And I switched to Windows because it was WYSIWYG, like MacOS, while it cost a lot less (read: nothing at the time... :) than MacOS. I even tried AmiPro and then WordPerfect on Windows and found both awkward to use. Why? I don't know. Maybe the "trick" MS used was simply, don't imitate, just find out what users want and give it to them.

There is one glaring problem

Anonymous's picture

There is one glaring problem with Nicholas's logic... the days when WordPerfect and Lotus 123 were at their peak, the market was young. There was tremendous growth still available in the market. There were a lot of people out there who had never used WordPerfect or Lotus 123 before. The people who were new to computers didn't need to make a transition. Times have changed. I would be shocked to meet anyone who hasn't had at least minimal experience with computers (at least when we are talking about developed markets like the US), and those people have used Word and Excel. This wasn't true back in the days of WordPerfect and Lotus 123. Why do you think developing countries are finding the shift to Linux much easier than developed countries? In many cases, there are still a lot of people who have had only minimal experience with computers. The market wasn't already saturated.

God point, sort of

Nicholas Petreley's picture

I don't want to pick nits all day, but even though you have a good point, it doesn't really address what I was trying to say.

Believe it or not, there was a time when people who were in publishing and other businesses were basically required to submit their work in WordPerfect format. It was so ubiquitous (given that the market wasn't yet saturated, this is relative, but that's not the point) that they could get away with this requirement.

Here's the point. They eventually had to stop requiring WordPerfect and migrate to Word, after which they started requiring submissions to be in Word format. They made the transition despite the fact that it wasn't a seamless transition.

That's proof that people WILL make a transition. Like I've said elsewhere, it would be wonderful if could read/write MS Office documents and display them with 100% fidelity. But I disagree with those who say this is the only way something like will become the dominant office suite. I think is more likely to become the dominant office suite if it makes peoples jobs MUCH easier by offering compelling new features (or compellingly different approaches to the same tasks) while maintaining enough compatibility to make the transition possible, even if it isn't perfect.

To sum it up once again, I think " blows away Microsoft Office, and by the way, it's free (as in beer and as in freedom) which is THE BEST type of software" will win more users than " is free, pretty compatible with MS Office and it's good enough."

Get this straight

Nicholas Petreley's picture

This was a follow-up call for OPEN SOURCE, FREE SOFTWARE DEVELOPERS to focus on innovating in the same bold way that Evermore Software innovated with EIOffice. This was not a column to push people to buy EIOffice.

I have no problem with people who feel so strongly about free (as in freedom) software that they would never purchase a proprietary program. I see the merit in this attitude, and for the most part, I agree. Ideally, I would love all software to be free as in freedom.

But I also have a pragmatic side where I believe in using what's best, within reason. If something is reasonably priced, and it's better than anything else out there, I'll buy it, and I'll recommend it. You don't have to take my recommendations if it doesn't fit your value system.

I think EIOffice is worth buying if you have the same pragmatic side. If not, then push harder for open source developers to imitate what Evermore Software did right. Regardless of what I use at any given moment, I always hope that free software developers one-up the proprietary software, and I would prefer to switch to the open source alternatives when they are the best. Why? Because open source is the superior approach. But I'm not a religious fanatic about it. I just want to get my stuff done, and I will use whatever is best to do it (like I said, within reason -- I won't pay a fortune, and I won't support monopolistic companies).

Why did I write this? Because I'm amazed when people have a cow when I say good things about a product like EIOffice. Chill. First of all, its approach to live links blows away the linking in every other office suite. It's the truth, and I'm going to say it. And not everyone is like you, whoever you are. Some of you will appreciate EIOffice and have no problem with buying it. Others will be offended because it's not open source and avoid it. Each to his own. To both sides I say, "Use it if you like it, avoid it if you don't, and stop pushing your agenda on the other guys."

Second, I can't help but see a little hypocrisy here. I seem to recall a time when even staunch open source advocates trumpeted how fantastic Applixware was, simply because (at the time) it was the only truly viable office suite that ran on Linux. I find it funny how the religion of open source didn't prohibit pushing Applixware when it was the best way to promote Linux as a viable alternative to Windows as a productivity desktop.

Fence sitting

AKosmin's picture

You value free-as-in-freedom software, but... you have a pragmatic side. To me, it sounds like you decide to value freedoms 0-3 only when you find it convenient to do so. This is typical "Open Source" mentality.

I've got news for you. There is NO justification for pushing non-free software. I could care less about its functionality and I object to you using this medium (a once great publication) to dilute the values of this community.

Fell off the fence

Anonymous's picture

Man, you must have fallen off the fence and hit your head on the pavement. This kind of rabid, myopic, insane attitude is what is killing any chance for Linux and Open Source to advance in the world. Blind "zealotism" is just as bad as proprietary, closed software monopolies. If AKosmin wants to see who is destroying Free Software and Linux all (s)he needs to do is look in the mirror.

Zealot? Try conscience.

Anonymous's picture

Your ad-hominem attack betrays the weakness of your argument.

RMS et. al. perform a valuable service by reminding us of the ideal of free software. Sometimes we must compromise that ideal (I use Windoze at work because of captive data in MS Excess) but that's no reason to forget that the ideal exists.

If we don't maintain the ideal of free software, we will soon be living in a world where DRM, IP and monopoly constrain our ability to create and innovate.

Would you like to live there? Not me!

features *do* change

Kevlar's picture

What I learned in the past few years is not talk about features as if they were unchangeable petrified qualities. So I must point out that it is unrealistic to say that product A is inferior, because it is missing features X,Y from product B, >especially< when we're talking about the future. Do you remember one of the strong points against IE: that it does not have tabbed browsing. Well, that didn't last long. In such a fierce (let's suppose it will get fierce anyway) competition, you can be pretty sure that Microsoft will have the guts even to copy features from OpenOffice if that's necessary.

Linux overtaking W*nd*ws?

CAS's picture

"Linux has arrived on the desktop. There's no reason why anyone needs to run Windows. But let's face it. Linux won't monopolize the desktop anytime soon."

Perhaps not in Western Europe and North America, but have you been following what's happening in China, India and other fast-growing markets?

Too often the people who live in the top-left-hand corner of the world map seem to think that their small bit is the whole world....!

away from Microsoftness

George Rogers Clark's picture

Agreed, Nicholas.

I haven't seen EIOffice, but I've used OpenOffice for several years. I believe that with some new, smooth features (not found in MS Office), continued improvement in the database, and in SQL database linking, the OpenOffice suite will be better than MS Office.

There is no reason why a really good office suite with some "not found elsewhere" features couldn't help push Linux on the desktop.

No one OS platform is best for all jobs. Presently, I believe corporate networks would be best served by running both Windows and Linux. They could do this better if they ran an office suite that was the same on both platforms. Sounds like OpenOffice to me.


gorb the gobber's picture

this isn't a direct comment on the MS Office thing- it's a comment on the premises of the idea in general. Microsoft is copying Linux. NOT vice-versa. Sun's Project looking glass was around long before MS's aeroglass... and before microsoft can even release it.. novell turns around and puts out a demo for GLX- which does basically the same thing... but alot easier and isn't nearly such a hog on system resources. MS's new filesystem for Vista that died -was just a failed attempt to copy reiserfs and try to 'one up it.' heck- even MS's current file system is just a rip off of an old -nix filesystem. user administrator accounts are as old as dirt for -nix. i could go on and on. thus the problem you state is actually backwards. Linux has lots and lots of great & innovative ideas... it's just that if you go hog wild on them all at once we'll end up with an OS that is very strange and foreign to people and will stay that way due to constant improvement by the community.the trick is to stay innovative- while trying to make something that is either familar enough or common sense enough- for outsiders to use. And anyways- their's no great secret formula to how microsoft got to where it is today... it worked like this... bill gates swindled and tap danced- & got lucky... then microsoft poured a ton of money into the propaganda machine to keep the whole farce up and running. nintendo pulled the same trick back in there hayday.

Sort of...

burntfuse's picture

I agree, half the features coing up in Windows Vista are ripped off from Linux or OS X. (Mostly Linux, though) So for the "under-the-hood" stuff, it's definitely that way around. In the area of user interfaces, though, people seem to like to copy Windows a lot - I've seen a lot of mockups and ideas for KDE 4 (not official ones or anything, just people with suggestions) that seem to be directly copied from Vista. Come on, we need to come up with something BETTER than Microsoft's broken interfaces!

Good point, but it fits my premise

Nicholas Petreley's picture

Yes, I think Microsoft copies a lot of things. In fact, when I started the column, I had originally thought of pointing out that it's usually the competition that drives what Microsoft does. Someone above pointed out tabbed browsing, and that's a great example. Remember NetPC? Zero-Administration Windows (as if that isn't an oxymoron)? They existed only as long as there was a threat to move to a network computer.

That supports my point, though. What Linux does best is innovate in such a way that it threatens Microsoft and forces Microsoft to respond. WHY, then, should Linux developers waste their time focusing on mimicking the features of Windows when it comes to things like office suites? I have no problem with making the transition a smooth one by mimicking the user interface to a degree. But, dang, don't reimplement the worst parts of MS Office. Instead, add things to that blow away Microsoft Office. Instead of playing catch-up to everything Microsoft does (with respect to Office), make Microsoft play catch-up.

I simply gave ONE possible example: Don't reimplement OLE or VBscript in order to make live links work. Do what EIOffice did, and make live links as simple as copy and paste, and then make them unbelievably robust. But that's just an example. There are tons of ways to blow away Office with better approaches to getting work done.

why ppl stay with windoze...

Anonymous's picture

"Linux has arrived on the desktop. There's no reason why anyone needs to run Windows." -- whilst I agree that in a world that doesn't need to interoperate with windoze, there is no reason not to run Linux, the inability to write to NTFS partitions is, however, to my mind a MAJOR stumbling block inhibiting migration. Without this capability users are prety much tied to ms unless they're prepared to shell out cash for additional storage, to backup their data for transfer to Linux compatible partitions, or to lose data. Given that *most* home users cherish their data but neglect to back it up, they effectively don't have a Linux migration path. Solve this, and the world's your penguin!

Writing to NTFS partitions

Anonymous's picture

Writing to NTFS partitions works just fine in Linux. It's been stable for at least a year (and unstable but working for quite a while before that).

I risked *once* writing to

Anonymous's picture

I risked *once* writing to the ntfs partition from Linux on my dual-boot box and, after having to reformat that drive and reinstall Windows, there is no way I am trying that again.

Windows user considering migrating?

Ian (UK)'s picture

I am a windows XP user, who has for a long time been indoctrinated into the World of Microsoft. I am an end-user, with no programming skill at all, however I understand what an Operating System is, and why it is there. Most people who are end-users don't. They just know that it works, and they don't want to know anymore than that.

As a regular user of my laptop and desktop, I am married to the system, yet it wasn't until my motherboard failed this week, and I had to re-activate Windows, that I started to think about upgrading, but then realised that I would probably have to spend a lot of money on buying an OEM version of Windows. It was at this point that I started to research into other operating systems, hence my decision to now migrate to SuSE. I made the choice after careful consideration and rationalisation of my computer use. Most people who are end-users won't want to make these choices, but would prefer someone to make that choice for them - hence why Microsoft are so succesful - it is pre-loaded.

If Linux is to become a force to be reckoned with in the home PC market, then there needs to be a concerted effort to emulate Apple and Microsoft. Most people "feature-buy" in a store, sometimes through colour, sometimes through big numbers, and sometimes through style. The dogma that Mac's are for designers and PC's are for basic home computing needs to be broken, and Linux has to become mainstream insofar that it is an accepted standard, and just another choice in the market. Most people don't even know about Linux for a Desktop, therefore they are unable to even choose a pre-loaded Linux PC.

Thus Linux needs to have a Unique selling point, beyond cost, in order for people to be compelled to buy it. They also need to know that it works. If the "buyer" is convinced that it works, then it is likely that people will use it. Just like I did when I first bought an AMD machine rather than Pentium. As soon as it was explained to me, I was comfortable.

For me the USP of Linux was that it worked, and it didn't cost me anything, but moreover that I could migrate my existing client files without pain.

Currently most people are buying Desktop pc's for home use in the "tower" format, but soon PC's, disguised as furniture i.e. coffee tables, will be mainstream. Ideally Linux developers should be targetting these type of manufacturers to pre-install Linux OS onto them, so that people can actually buy it in a fully operational format - you don't buy a washing machine without the software installed to operate it, and nor would you do the same for any other electrical item. Thus emulation of Apple and MS is paramount if Linux is to be a real compeititor.

If future Linux distros just

Anonymous's picture

If future Linux distros just imitated Windows and Mac OS, they would end up as only a free alternative with all the same problems as their competitors. The way to get Linux accepted by the normal "power users" (not the kind of people who are told to close a window and look at the wall - they're much better off with MS's dumbed-down interfaces and phone tech support) is to get some major computer manufacturer or store to preload their PCs with a good user-friendly distro like Ubuntu. For example, Best Buy could buy systems from Alienware and install Linux themselves, or even better, a company like Dell could just load Linux in the first place, making sure all the drivers are available for their hardware and stuff like that. An in-store demo where people could try out Linux for themselves would help a lot with this, giving them a chance to try it before buying and destroying outdated stereotypes like "Linux is only for servers and programmers's desktops". Seriously, the mainstream OSes have some seriously broken features and mindsets - why should we settle for playing catch-up and annoying users in the exact same ways when we know we can actually produce something better that can make the system easier to use / increase productivity / introduce completely new applications / etc.?

If future Linux distros just

Gerard Kennedy's picture

Most popular Linux distributions are comparable to windows in terms of usability (at least to me), despite some programs and utilities may be better. We only need to say everybody that Linux is not hard to use any more. It's true that you can use it typing commands in a shell, but it is optional, not necessary... unless you have a piece of hardware not working out of the box, which is very likely.

That tank video will still ruin us.

Anonymous's picture

I happen to know Don Marti. Don Marti is a good friend of mine. And let me tell you sir: you're no Don Marti.

You're right.

Nicholas Petreley's picture

I'm a big fan of Don Marti. We are different, however, as you have observed.

What we can learn from *Microsoft* (!)

Andrea D&#039;Alessandro's picture

I do not agree with the idea that Microsoft won over Lotus and Wordperfect only because MS owned the API and desktop environment, and because the cash that allowed a strong marketing, etc. etc.
First of all, Microsoft in the mid 80's was a more or less the same size of Lotus and WP.
Second, I perfectly remember the first time I saw Excel, running on a Macintosh (for which it was designed for in the first place). Being a 1-2-3 (text-based) user, I would have given ANYTHING to use Excel. Excel won because was a better product than 1-2-3 (or Lotus Jazz, if anybody remember it) really before it was ported from Macintosh to Windows - Stop. And it could load 1-2-3 sheets.
Word was a good product, and year after year was consistently given "best product" awards from many respectable magazines. And it could load WP documents.
What really won the war at the end was the Office suite. You wanted to use Excel (or Word), and Microsoft convinced you that your could have it, with all the other product given nearly for free. So a Excel user became a Word user, and viceversa. No other competitor was able to put together a similar offer.
The same happened with Visual Studio. I bought it for Visual Basic, and I found myself writing Visual C++ applications only because VC was in the pack.
The moral ? To win, you must have a well balanced combination of 1) a superior product; 2) backward compatibility with competitors, 3) innovative marketing.
I do believe OpenOffice is on the right way (just provide me an Access -compatible database module !)