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I’ve recently uninstalled the otherwise excellent free and opensource openoffice for a paid for, out of date copy of MS Office 2003 (the version covered by the OU’s work at home licence), so why did I back down from free and open source and side with with the monopoly that everybody loves to hate? Am I a traitor to the digital scholarship cause?
I adopted openoffice about 6 months ago when I bought a new netbook to work on, without realising that one reason for the low price was through unbundling MS Office, which I hadn’t bothered to check. So for mainly economic reasons I downloaded the openoffice suite, although I was also professionally interested in looking at the open source alternative.
To start with I was very happy with the product, there are some great features and it supported most file formats that I encountered (I had troubles with .docx files, which I don’t think will be solved by moving to office 2003 ), but the real problems started when I began collaborating with others.
I was working on a document with a number of colleagues who were using the track changes functionality in MS office and I couldn’t see their changes, and worse the wordcount was rapidly increasing due to double counting causing me to worry about a phantom 1000 words or so that disappeared as soon as I loaded the document into word and accepted all changes. On top of this my formatting was disappearing as the file was being saved as .odt, .rtf and .doc files (this also led me to submit an important document that I later learned looked a mess in Word).
I imagine that I may have been able to avoid these problems by taking the time to learn the differences between OO and MS Office, and I guess there are probably workarounds. I don’t mention these problems to have a dig at OO, but to raise the important point that swimming against the tide is tiring and problematic (just ask mac/ linux users! here is a mac oriented discussion about hating ms office) and at the first sign of trouble I reverted to the tried and tested de facto standards, despite my ideological reservations.
Is MS Office a benign, if expensive, hegemony or have I contributed to the profits and power of an evil global empire?
When using technology to collaborate you are constrained by the technological choices of others, what’s the benefit to being the first user of facebook? These network effects are well studied in technology, where the benefits increase with increased adoption (think about how entrenched the internal combustion engine has become, and how this is a barrier to the development and adoption of electric cars). However these network effects can stifle innovation and lead to natural monopolies.
Are some network effects too strong to fight? even when you know you are right? How can I expect other academics to adopt new technologies if at the first hint of bother I reverted to my comfort tools?