The word on Word

Microsoft might be a little poorer, but the rest of us will hardly notice the effects of the Word ban

The big news this week is that Santa won’t be able to put copies of Microsoft Word 2007 into anyone’s stocking now that a federal appeals court has upheld a lower court’s ruling that Word infringes on the copyright of a Canadian company in the way it handles Extensible Markup Language documents.

Microsoft has been ordered to stop selling the current version of Word by Jan. 11, 2010, and to pay the Canadian company a hefty fine of $290 million, a sum that not even Bill Gates probably has stuffed into his sofa cushions in this economy. Microsoft has already stripped Word from its downloadable version of the Office package, which means hardly anyone is going to buy Office anytime soon unless they really, really need that new version of Excel to track their holiday cookie intake.

But what will this mean for consumers, or government for that matter? My guess is not much. I’ve got a working copy of Word here on my desktop. And it’s Word 2002, not the 2007 version that is causing all the problems. In fact, for me, the world will get a lot easier. The copyright issue centers on how Word 2007 handles XML, which is why the file extension of the new Word documents end in that annoying .docx format instead of the standard .doc. Almost nobody I know uses the stupid XML extensions anyway, but I still get files from people with the .docx extension because that is the default with Word 2007. To even read them I had to download a conversion program. It’s automatic now but still adds an extra step to what should be a simple process.

Word processors are among the simplest and most useful programs on a computer and among the first most people are exposed to. I got through college with an old copy of Corel’s WordPerfect, and the GCN newsroom used to run on XyWrite. And there are many others. And everything worked out fine.

The truth is, those XML extensions were unhelpful, annoying and unnecessary for 99 percent of the Word-using population. Only Web developers got any real value out of the new format, and they probably already had a favorite program to work on the Web anyway.

Microsoft is pushing a patch to strip XML editing out of Word 2007 -- so don’t accept it if you want to keep those file types -- and is working on a new version of Word without the Canadian material. So it looks like my translator is going to get pretty lonely real soon.

In the end, not much will change. A file format that was unnecessary to begin with is going away and Microsoft is going to have to pay someone else for their hard work. Cry me a river. Instead of worrying about Word, lift a fresh glass of holiday cheer -- also known as eggnog -- and enjoy the season. The world, and your Word files, will be waiting for you when you get back.

About the Author

John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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