Academic Rebellion

Science nature microsoftScience is revolting! A revolution is underway and the battles are taking place on the Microsoft Office frontline. Science, the journal of the America Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), is ditching support for Microsoft format office documents. In its notice to authors it advises that:

“Because of changes Microsoft has made in its recent Word release that are incompatible with our internal workflow, which was built around previous versions of the software, Science cannot at present accept any files in the new .docx format produced through Microsoft Word 2007, either for initial submission or for revision. Users of this release of Word should convert these files to a format compatible with Word 2003 or Word for Macintosh 2004 (or, for initial submission, to a PDF file) before submitting to Science.”

There is also a warning that Microsoft Word 2007 is no longer acceptable in revision documents because of problems with incompatibilities with Equation Editor.

But, it is not just hefty Science magazine, Nature has also weighed into the battle:

“We currently cannot accept files saved in Microsoft Office 2007 formats. Equations and special characters (for example, Greek letters) cannot be edited and are incompatible with Nature’s own editing and typesetting programs.”

Thanks to An Antic Disposition for bringing the S and N issues to our attention. But, is this the only evidence of a rebellion? Certainly not. While Science and Nature are ditching the various Microsoft proprietary formats for technical reasons but staff and students at Imperial College London are truly up in arms over the imposition their institution makes on them to use Microsoft products.

The Software Freedom for Imperial College is hoping to persuade IC to implement a college-wide policy that ensures students are not coerced into purchasing M$ products in order to complete their studies. At present, many tutors and professors ask for Word format files, Powerpoint presentations, and Excel spreadsheets. All of which are infinitely more expensive than the Open Source equivalents of these Office products which are widely available and widely accepted in many quarters.

The movement also hopes to discourage the use of Microsoft products for email attachments and to preclude Microsoft’s awful winmail.dat (workaround here). They want IC to ensure that all web services are standards-compliant and fully functional in all major web browsers, not just the dreaded IE. And finally, they want to see the use of free and open source software for services when high quality and reliable alternatives exist.

Several top universities have already made the move to OS and ditched Microsoft either completely or partially. In fact, IC is the only one of the Top 20 academic centres of excellence around the world that still uses a proprietary web server that is not 100% standards compliant. This resulted, according to the site in 313 errors during testing compared to University of Cambridge: 0, University of Oxford: 0, MIT: 0, and Yale University: 1 error. SFIC hopes to negotiate with IC to rectify the problems. The main issue is probably inertia, even within academic science, Word, Powerpoint, Internet Explorer, Outlook, are all considered pretty much standard the world over.

There are viable and better, free alternatives to almost all Microsoft products, such as Thunderbird email, Firefox, Safari, and Opera web browsers, OpenOffice etc etc as well as countless non-proprietary server systems.

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5 thoughts on “Academic Rebellion

  1. Science and Nature are asking their contributors to use an old, proprietary version of the Microsoft Office formats instead of the newer, ECMA standardized versions.

    Why? They haven’t adapted their software, yet.
    Rebellion? I don’t think so.

  2. There are a few issues here. Personal preference, choice, availability, and enforcement of standards by journals. In an ideal world all software would be 100% compatible, the OS would be immaterial, and there would be no malicious programmers or script kiddies.

  3. I can’t give up using MS PowerPoint which, only, can produce professional and beautiful slides with so many templates for various topics. I have tried the counterpart product of OpenOffice for half a year but I just cannot bear it any longer. Up till now PowerPoint is the only choice for my weekly presentation in the group.
    Although other product of the OpenOffice is similarly ugly but I just have some third choices. I use Google Docs for document and spreadsheet editing. They meet 90% of my need. The rest 10% is when I have to make my dissertation which need additional features such as image aligning, hierarchical headings and automatic TOCs, for which MS Word is still my best choice.
    And I assume that only few people would switch their Word 2003 to 2007, and if they do it is still easy for them to convert the files into earlier version via the Save As dialogue.
    Another non-MS solution: IE = Firefox, Outlook = Gmail + Google Calendar.

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