links for 2006-11-08

Open Source

OpenDocument Format (ODF)

One Comment

  1. My 11-year-old brought home some Geography/IT work home on his USB stick for completion yesterday.
    It went roughly like this.
    “Find a map of the school on
    Cut and paste it into Word.
    Annotate the Word document with an arrow as to where the school is.
    Below the picture, key in answers to questions (1), (2), (3).
    Find another map, paste it into Word, answer questions (6), (7), and (8)”

    Now, the school is using Microsoft Word 2003, and the on-disk reviseable form of documents is known only to Microsoft Word 2003; not to anything else in the known universe. And the school does not specify that we should purchase a copy of Microsoft Word 2003 (and a copy of Microsoft Windows XP, and a Lenovo-compatible personal computer. So I know that we are likely to run into problems. Of course I can go buy the things that will help him, but next year it will be Windows Vista and Word 2007. Probably Microsoft will give copies to the school, but they won’t give copies to me.

    We do our best with Microsoft Word 2001, and 2.0.4, but neither really understands the formatting controls that he has accidentally used in his cutting, pasting, and sketching. So what’s on the USB stick is only partially usable; generally a ‘failure to commuicate’.

    What should be a ‘Georgaphy and Infornation Technology’ exercise has become a ‘Geography and Microsoft Word’ exercise.

    Ideally, the school would divide the class into 3. One group would use pencil-and-paper; one group would use Microsoft Word with Microsoft Windows; and one group would use an ODF-compliant word processor in a POSIX-and-X11 environment such as under Linux. Or ‘KOffice’ under AIX, if they can persuade IBM to give them the use of a pSeries box.

    Then next day, the groups can change round and use different tools. The kids should learn how to use all of them.

    Microsoft Word is like a souped-up typewriter; if you want a new paragraph, you say ‘carriage-return, carriage-return, tab’. is like a souped-up dictaphone; if you want a new paragraph, you say ‘new paragraph’.

    Doing an OOXML-to-ODFXML translator is going to be hard. Recognising that you want to translate ‘carriage-return, carriage-return, tab’ into ‘new-paragraph’ is possible but not always correct; recognising all the idioms that a typist might use (mostly by accident, to achieve a given effect on paper) from that 6000-page specification, and translating them from what a typist would type into what a dictaphone user would say, is a challenge. You can transcribe from dictaphone to typewriter, but not the other way around.

    So, how did the school get into ‘delivering education in the use of Microsoft Word’ instead of ‘delivering education and using computers as a tool’ in the first place ?

    The kids are becoming slaves to the technology, rather than masters of the technology; and it ought to be the other way up.

Comments are closed