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The Unraveling of a Monopoly

Microsoft as we know it is on the way out. Sure, you’ve probably heard about the lack of compelling features in Vista. Maybe you’ve even heard about the scary “trusted computing” “features” of Microsoft’s newest operating system. I know that I’m not going to be buying it anytime soon. It took me quite a long time (2004) to convert to Windows XP, and I believe it will take me even longer to, if ever, take the “next step.” I don’t want my OS to report anything to Microsoft. I don’t want to have to have genuine advantages on my software. I want to own my software, and do what I please with it at that point. You’ve probably heard these arguments before. But that’s not what this is about. This is about the Open Document Format. Specifically, it is about a spreadsheet I received tonight, a file ending in .ods, that threw me for a little loop.

The document’s author offered the following:

I assume most of you are using/have on your system OpenOffice, so this is an OpenDocument spreadsheet of my proposed database structure.

Well, he was wrong, at least about me. I don’t have OpenOffice installed. I’ve tried it; I didn’t like it; I went back to Office 2000 (the best it ever has been) and I didn’t look back. Until today. Until that .ods file showed up. I knew that Excel wouldn’t open it, but I tried anyway. I was right. So I looked for a viewer. None seemed preeminent or worth downloading. Then I thought about something — Google Spreadsheets. I tried it out, and sure enough it understood the format.

Sure, I was disappointed with the integration — I couldn’t open it right out of gmail (I had to save it and then upload it). And Google Spreadsheets seems to be rather slow. But its not installed on my computer. I only use it when I have to. Its free. Its easy. And it worked.

Most likely, Google Spreadsheets will only get better. Office? I’ve only seen it get worse for years. Microsoft has done many great, and perhaps many terrible, things. I personally think personal computing is much more advanced overall because of Microsoft. But I don’t recall seeing Microsoft innovate in a very long time. It seems poetic that this side of their demise will so closely foil their rise. This time, a document format forces me not to upgrade to a new version of Office, but to start using a different program.

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