no Word plz

This essay used to be a long and kinda angry screed against Microsoft (M$) and all the people who demand/insist that I use M$ products for university business. But over the years, I have seen the futility of trying to convert nontechnical computer users away from Windows+Word. So let me just outline a few of the reasons why I do not use Microsoft products. After that, I will provide a set of links to far more authoritative tech geeks explaining why people should not use Word for exchanging confidential business documents. Please read and form your own conclusions.

  1. Please be polite to your colleagues: please don’t assume that everyone uses Windows, Outlook, Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. I and the majority of my technical academic colleagues actually run Mac OS X or linux/unix OSes instead. I do not own a copy of M$ Office, so when you send me a Word file (.docx) I have to open it using OpenOffice/LibreOffice or convert it to a Rich Text File (.rtf).
  2. In my field, LaTeX is the standard for producing documents, and PDF is the standard for distributing documents such as scientific papers. Our editors of choice (TeXshop, emacs, vi, whatever) support syntax highlighting, tracking of edits, and so forth. Simply put: we have no need of Microsoft products because we already have better tools for free. LaTeX renders equations much more beautifully than any M$ product ever has (example).
  3. Word is a serious security hazard.  Most M$ Word users are blissfully unaware that any M$ Word document may include information that is not visible to the preparer but is readable by certain (very easily obtainable) tools. Information inadvertently included in a Word document may be confidential to the sender or their organization or both. Accidental release of confidential information can happen when the preparer uses a template from one Word document – i.e., erases the text, but keeps the formatting – to create another. All the previous text is still there, hidden in the bloated file, but it is not well enough hidden to keep things reliably confidential.
  4. Word is proprietary. It also keeps demanding more and more capable hardware in order to run, which renders it too expensive for many individuals and community/voluntary organizations. The files Word produces are also very bloated.
  5. So – what format should we be using to distribute documents at work? PDF  (Portable Document Format) is an excellent choice. Get your tech support person to install a “PDF printer” on your Windows box, like CutePDF or Bullzip, or use a free online service like Zamzar. This allows you to make a PDF out of any other file like a Word file. PDF files circulated electronically to colleagues will print on recipients’ printers exactly the same as on the sender’s printer, regardless of the kind of hardware, OS or software the recipients may use.
  6. Remember – many faculty members who receive Word memos from administrative staff members solve The Word Problem by just flushing the emails — without reading them first. Sender beware.

Last updated: 2013-04-17

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