Considerate Computing

This may cover a fair amount of ground, but here goes….

Today I was looking at a system to see just what software was in use, evaluating the possibility of linux as a replacement. Office, of course was a must (at least the ability to read .doc and .xls files.) This is something that can now be done a number of ways with linux, Kword, Abiword,, Gnumeric, Kspread all come to mind, as well as Microsoft Office running on Crossover Office. Frankly, I wasn’t too concerned about that. Publisher is another story, but on the linux side, I’ve tried Scribus as a replacement and it’s a maybe. It seems Kword has some of the flexibility of a desktop publishing program, but I may have to look further there. What caught my eye and prompted this update was a peculiar little file on the desktop. It was titled something related to a lease. I rightclicked to get more info. It was an executable file (.exe) I opened it. It was a viewer for a lease form which had been emailed. The building owner had appearantly emailed it in this format to the business owner.

Now first of, it’s a bad idea these days to email .exe files anyway. So many viruses use executables that many mail servers filter them out automatically. Not necessarily ISPs, but businesses. The other thought that came to mind was, “what if I had a Mac, or linux”….. I guess I wouldn’t be able to read the lease agreement. Now, I know …. only ~6 percent of desktop computer users DON’T run windows. The problem is, as long as there are mail attachments that CAN’t run in anything but windows, who would switch? You have no choice.

Fortunately, I haven’t run across too many programs like that. In fact, I remember congratulating paypal because they allowed downloading of data in so many different formats.

What does all of this have to do with being considerate to other computer users?

Well, specifically, think about the file attachments you send. Will the person on the other end have a hard time reading it? Here’s another example. A business I do work for recently recevied an access database they had to complete and return. Now only one person in the organization had a version of access that could read it. As I understand, they were the only organization this went out to, that actually were able to complete it and return it.

Another example, I’ve had several people receive a publisher file from someone else in email. But they don’t use publisher. In other words they have no way to read it, but to go out and buy a copy of publisher. That’s riduculous. That’s the equivalent of sending your friend a recipe book that’s written in Japanese and they only read English.

So how can you be “safe” in sending attachments? Pick file formats that are widely available. PDF for example. There are viewers for a number of platforms that are freely available. Ditto for HTML and plain text. Images, jpg/gif/png are probably safe formats and preferred over tif, and other uncompressed formats. I once saw a 7MB tif image stuck in an email server, can you imagine sitting on dialup trying to download that? Estimated download time….. 7 weeks, 3days and 22 hours….. (Not really, but I’m sure it would seem like it.)

At this point, I think doc, and xls files are probably safe to a certain degree. But when it comes down to it, when in doubt, ask. Be prepared to save your file in a format that fits the recipients needs. And if your software doesn’t let you save in any other formats, you might consider an alternative as you’ll likely have nothing but aggravation trying to collaborate with others.

One of the pet peeves I have with Microsoft Works is the inability to export to any format that MS Office will read. I suspect it’s due to the fact they target them to different markets, one home the other office. I suspect they don’t want any offices getting off cheap by buying works and saving as .doc or .xls, etc…. for their coworkers to read.
There’s a place I work for that has 3 machines with MS works, I’ve been trying to wean them off of that and into Office, just because from time to time someone decides to email a document to someone else. The recipient can’t read it and so they say, well can’t we just install works. Ok, let’s go out and buy another copy…… one copy might not be that expensive, $40 or so maybe. But multiply that over 20 machines? How about the latest version of Access so everyone can read that? How about publisher all the way around? Adobe Pagemaker? And I haven’t even started to talk about keeping up with the latest version.

I have office 97. It does all I needed it to do (and more.) I think that describes many peoples experience with office. I’ve considered upgrading though, just because of the hastle I’ve had with files sent to me in Office 2000 format. (Access is particularly bad about not giving options to save in a backwards compatible format.) I didn’t upgrade because the more I thought about it, the less I liked the vicious upgrade cycle. If Office 97 works for you – why change? Because a few other people have? So sink a couple hundred dollars to “Keep up with the Jones'” It just doesn’t make sense. And for business, it can be prohibitively expensive.

The bottom line is this: yes you may use OfficeXP on Windows XP, but that doesn’t mean everyone else has to. Keep that in mind and be flexible. If all else fails ask. Can you read excel documents?…. By the way, many spreadsheet and database programs can export/import from comma seperated values, csv is always a good lowest common denominator for spreadsheets/databases.

Look at open solutions. Not necessarily open source, but programs that give you choices in file formats as opposed to programs that only give you a proprietary format to save in. Not only will it make it easier on the people you email attachments to, but it might make your life easier when you decide to upgrade to a new machine, or move your data to another machine, or who knows, maybe even if you switch operating systems?

Ok, I’m stepping off the soapbox…. you may resume your regularly scheduled web browsing.

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