Whether ODF will wither or weather
depends on us as we work together.
The question is where we should go: whither?
The answer is clear at once.
The question of “whither” is not so dense,
and is easy to answer when we start with “whence?”.
Of the topic today
I will no longer delay nor dither to say
whether we will whither or weather
but will now give you my 2-cents.
Rob’s ODF-Next Rant
- The word processor and spreadsheet, as we have them today, are relics of the 1980’s, designed when the web did not exist and collaboration occurred predominantly by exchanging paper documents. If we were designing a document author and collaboration system to meet modern circumstances and capabilities, it would likely bear little resemblance to Word. So the question is how much do we let the sunk costs of yesterday continue to determine our future? How much longer do we paint speed stripes on a horse and pretend that it is a racing car?
- Products like Word and Excel have evolved via the uncritical accretion of functionality over the past decades to a point where the products are overly complex resource gluttons with a knack for having a critical security flaw reported in them every other week.
- Increasingly users are getting work done via email, wikis and blogs rather than using heavy-weight document editing solutions. Why is this so? Why is the modern word processor losing users rather than gaining them?
- WYSIWYG is a fine paradigm if you are doing all of your work targeting printed output. But it is a sub-optimal approach for creating documents for almost any other use.
- The revered Bold, Italics and Underline icons, along with the font selection drop down list, which define the modern editor GUI, should be forcibly removed from the user interface, stripped of rank, and put on trial for crimes against productivity. You are writing a document, not decorating a cake. You need to ask yourself “Why should this text be italics?” Is it a book title, a foreign phrase, a name of a movie, the name of a legal case? Then choose a named style that indicates why that text is special. Let the named style take care of how it is displayed.
- Unless you are designing a poster for a modern art gallery you should stick to the named styles in your template. Power users might define additional named styles. But direct application of random attributes to random text selections should be considered a form of data corruption.
- Few documents today are ever printed. The are born, live and die entirely in digital form. We should be optimizing for the most common cases, not just for what our parents or grandparents did with WordPerfect 1.0.
- The most common sources of reused content come from other documents and from PDF and from HTML. Current cut & paste mechanisms today make a mess of styles. Paste in the content with the styles of the source document? According to the styles of the destination document? Mapping to the nearest local style? All are wrong answers. The only correct answer is to give me the choice.
- PowerPoint is pure evil. It has elevated form over substance and turned every form of business communication into a “pitch”.
- I should be able to call spreadsheet functions using named parameters, like PV(rate=1%,periods=12,payment=$1000.00) rather than PV(0.01,12,10000) so my model is self-documenting and avoids errors from incorrect ordering of parameters.
- Security needs to be designed into the document authoring environment, including the format, not patched on as an afterthought.
- I want Greasemonkey for my word processor and my spreadsheet.
- Connections between documents may be as important as the documents themselves.
- The less control the user asserts over the appearance of a document during editing, the more flexibility he or she has over the final published appearance. In today’s multi-modal, multi-device world, it is essential that we do not prematurely commit our documents to a particular rendering. We need late binding of presentation to content, not early binding. If we had done this for the past decade, we would have perfect interoperability today between all word processors. If we start doing it now, we will have perfect interoperability among word processors going forward.
- Spreadsheets should have functions that access web-based data stores for common financial, economic, political and scientific data sets. Mathematica does something similar, presumably using local caching.
- Presentation should be a mode of displaying another document, not just document type itself. For example, I should be able to take a report and push a button to enter a slide-show mode, where all images are shown as slides, with their captions, and each top level section header becomes a slide with 2nd level headers as bullet items. During the presentation I should be able to seemlessly drill down into the real document.
- I want to be able to share data ranges, text ranges and presentation slides with others and to subscribe to theirs via feeds. I rarely write a document from scratch. Reuse, reuse, reuse. But the tools only support this at a scavenger level.
- We lack high level support for the compositing or assembling a document from fragments. Once I cut & paste, my new docment has lost all knowledge of the document I copied from. This is great if I am a professional plagiarist. But it is bad if I am a CIA analyst and my report has copied information claiming uranium production in Africa, and I never know when that information is repudiated, and I pass my flawed report onto the President. Very bad. When I cite an authority for an argument, my argument is only as good as the authority. I owe it to myself and my readers to make it easy to know whether the information I cited is still accurate and vouched for by that authority.
- Current tools are impoverished when it comes to the social side of documents. Review/comment reflects old, hierarchical thinking and doesn’t scale to the network. How can I have 100 people comment on my document? What if I want 100 people to jointly author a document? The Wiki knows where Word cannot go…
- Most user woes in modern word processor are caused by our attempts to remain compatible with the design choices made by Microsoft Office developers 15 years ago. It is time to move on and learn from past mistakes, but not perpetuate them.
- I want to use the same text editor to edit documents, web pages, emails, blog posts, discussion forums and wikis. Why do I need a different brand hammer for every nail?
- I want a spreadsheet function that can call a web service. It might lookup a book title by ISBN, do currency conversions, or geocode data. There should be thousands of such spreadsheet functions, backed by web services, interoperable based on standard protocols. Some might be free, others fee-based. Some might be both, e.g., 20-minute delayed quotes for free, real-time for a fee.
- Spreadsheet functions express a core analystic function and should be usable in all tables, in word processors and presentations, not just in spreadsheets. They should also be usable in fields in forms and in text passages.
- The inability of word processors to output clean, readable and valid HTML or XHTML should be an embarrassment to all vendors.
- HTML + JS + XHR + HTML DOM = AJAX. ODF + JS + XHR + ODF DOM = ?
- We must define power as in “power user” based on results, on productivity. Power is as much about what a system allows you to ignore as what it allows you to control.
- Today trust is based on digital signatures and classical questions of authentication, integrity and non-repudiation, all backed by a chain of trust traceable back to some well-known certification authority. In some contexts, this hierarchical, binary view of trust is adequate. But the network sees trust based on reputation, rating, scoring, voting, reverse citation counts and other non-hiearachical values. How do we account for these?
- Spreadsheets are unnecessarily dangerous, based on a muddled view of data types which leads to silent errors and inconsistencies. This might have made sense in the memory and processor constrained systems of the 1980’s. But today, with our better sense of the errors and the cost of errors, we need a spreadsheet system that is type-safe, aware of measurement units, and which enforces consistency and accuracy. We obviously can’t prevent someone from making a stupid spreadsheet model for subprime mortgages, but we can at least ensure that they don’t make stupid cut & paste errors when creating that model.
- Spreadsheets should have instrinsic support for image, sound and geographic data. Not just embedded media, but as an intrinsic data type, so a function could take an image as input, or return an audio clip as a result.
- A grid in a spreadsheet provides a logical addressing scheme as well as a visual layout scheme. But what if I want the former without the latter? Why can’t I do a spreadsheet calculation in a text document? Why am I always stuck in in a grid?
- Spreadsheets should have built-in support for sensitivity and risk analysis, perhaps via monte carlo methods. Yes, I know support is available via 3rd party plugins, but this should be a core feature in the repetoire of every user. We might not be in the global financial mess we’re in now if spreadsheet users all could easily “stress test” their models.
- The Holy Trinity of Word/Excel and Powerpoint is only a convention, mainly enforced by Microsoft’s definition of their office suite. It is not a law of nature. Other applications types should be considered to be part of the core desktop authoring environment, such as project management and mind maps.
- Outliners and other pre-draft tools have lagged far behind the core editing functions of a word processor. And what is the equivalent of an outliner for a spreadsheet?
- Microsoft is as much a prisoner to the predominent model of end user producitivty as the user is. Their need to support legacy documents constraints their freedom of action and has contributed to the relative lack of innovation in Microsoft Office over the past decade.
- An editor should allow a user to verify interoperability as easily as it lets them do a print preview.
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