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Encourage your friends to join the campaign

by Matt Lee Contributions Published on Mar 29, 2010 03:18 PM
Here's a brief letter you can send to your friends and family. Please only contact people who know you personally. Spam hurts our efforts.

Send the email directly from your mail client! or copy and paste the letter below to your friends.

I'm writing today to ask you to support the Free Software Foundation's OpenDocument campaign (

Don't you just hate receiving Word documents in email messages? Word attachments are annoying, but worse than that, they impede people from switching to free software. Maybe we can stop this practice with a simple collective effort. All we have to do is ask each person who sends us a Word file to reconsider that way of doing things.

Instead, we should encourage people to use OpenDocument! The OpenDocument format (ODF) is a format for electronic office documents, such as spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word-processing documents. The OpenDocument format is supported by free software applications such as, AbiWord and KOffice.

Most computer users use Microsoft Word. That is unfortunate for them, since Word is proprietary software, denying its users the freedom to study, change, copy, and redistribute it. And because Microsoft changes the Word file format with each release, its users are locked into a system that compels them to buy each upgrade whether they want a change or not. They may even find, several years from now, that the Word documents they are writing this year can no longer be read with the version of Word they use then.

But it hurts us, too, when they assume we use Word and send us (or demand that we send them) documents in Word format. Some people publish or post documents in Word format. Some organizations will only accept files in Word format: I heard from someone that he was unable to apply for a job because resumes had to be Word files. Even governments sometimes impose Word format on the public, which is truly outrageous.

For us users of free operating systems, receiving Word documents is an inconvenience or an obstacle. But the worst impact of sending Word format is on people who might switch to free systems: they hesitate because they feel they must have Word available to read the Word files they receive. The practice of using the secret Word format for interchange impedes the growth of our community and the spread of freedom. While we notice the occasional annoyance of receiving a Word document, this steady and persistent harm to our community usually doesn't come to our attention. But it is happening all the time.

Many GNU users who receive Word documents try to find ways to handle them. You can manage to find the somewhat obfuscated ASCII text in the file by skimming through it. Free software today can read some Word documents, but not all—the format is secret and has not been entirely decoded. Even worse, Microsoft can change it at any time.

Worst of all, it has already done so. Microsoft Office 2007 uses by default a format based on the patented OOXML format. (This is the one that Microsoft got declared an “open standard” by political manipulation and packing standards committees.) The actual format is not entirely OOXML, and it is not entirely documented. Microsoft offers a gratis patent license for OOXML on terms which do not allow free implementations. We are thus beginning to receive Word files in a format that free programs are not even allowed to read.

When you receive a Word file, if you think of that as an isolated event, it is natural to try to cope by finding a way to read it. But as an instance of a pernicious systematic practice, it calls for a different approach. Managing to read the file is treating a symptom of an epidemic disease. What we really want to do is stop the disease from spreading. That means we must convince people not to send or post Word documents.

I therefore make a practice of responding to Word attachments with a polite message explaining why the practice of sending Word files is a bad thing, and asking the person to resend the material in a nonsecret format. This is a lot less work than trying to read the somewhat obfuscated ASCII text in the Word file. And I find that people usually understand the issue, and many say they will not send Word files to others any more.

If we all do this, we will have a much larger effect. People who disregard one polite request may change their practice when they receive multiple polite requests from various people. We may be able to give “don't send Word format” the status of netiquette, if we start systematically raising the issue with everyone who sends us Word files.

To make this effort efficient, you will probably want to develop a canned reply that you can quickly send each time it is necessary. The FSF has some on its website. You can use these replies verbatim if you like, or you can personalize them or write your own. By all means construct a reply that fits your ideas and your personality--if the replies are personal and not all alike, that will make the campaign more effective.

These replies are meant for individuals who send Word files. When you encounter an organization that imposes use of Word format, that calls for a different sort of reply; there you can raise issues of fairness that would not apply to an individual's actions.

Some recruiters ask for resumes in Word format. Amazingly, some recruiters do this even when looking for someone for a free software job. (Anyone using those recruiters for free software jobs is not likely to get a competent employee.) To help change this practice, you can put a link to the campaign into your resume, next to links to other formats of the resume. Anyone hunting for a Word version of the resume will probably read this.

This email talks about Word attachments, since they are by far the most common case. However, the same issues apply with other proprietary formats, such as PowerPoint and Excel. Please feel free to adapt the replies to cover those as well, if you wish.

With our numbers, simply by asking, we can make a difference.

Read this in Russian.

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