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Plea for help: The detriment of using Microsoft products

On Thu, 11 May 2000, Paul Lussier wrote:

> >Currently, you run Linux, because you recognize that MS products have
> >serious issues.  Do you plan to change your mind suddenly when MS releases
> >Outlook for Linux?  I didn't think so...
> I'm not saying *I* will change my mind.  What I'm saying is that the current 
> argument for *not* using Linux on the desktop is "Lack of apps" which loosely 
> translates to "Lack of MS Office".  One Office is ported to Linux (which is 
> like to happen fairly quickly if MS is broken up) we may see many large 
> companies with many ingnorant/dumb users moving Linux to the desktop with 
> Office/IE/Outlook on it.  When that occurs, then these types of things can and 
> will happen.  The fact that it's an application problem and not an OS problem 
> will be entirely ignored by the media, and greatly played up by the MS pr 
> folks.  Linux is currently a shining star in the market right now.  This is 
> all it will take to shoot that shining star and have linux-based companies' 
> stock plummet.

OK, I was tired and irritable when I wrote the original. The point is
there's a certain mindset behind running Linux. As Linux spreads, the
mindset does too.  We, as the "unix people" need to continue to educate
people as to why it is we run Linux, and as to what is wrong with MS
products, both from a stability and from a security standpoint.

Granted, with many corporate types this is an uphill battle.  But it's one
we CAN win, if a) we are dilligent and b) the desktop apps available for
Linux come up to snuff.

Unfortunately, for right now, this means they need to be Microsoft Office
compatible, because 80-90% of Corporate America has allowed themselves to
be duped into thinking they are dependent on Microsoft Office proprietary
document formats.  This is the single largest frustration for me in my
occupation.  We need to educate people at an early age as to why
proprietary data formats are detrimental. Some of the most important

  * They lock you into using one vendor's products

  * They INVARIABLY use up considerably more computing resources than 
    non-proprietary data formats, which drives up the expense

  * They make it difficult to communicate with associates who have chosen
    some other proprietary vendor.

As we have seen with Microsoft products, the defacto standard of the day,
there are added concerns:

  * Their products ship configured insecurely BY DEFAULT

  * Thier products are prone to attack by viruses because of a lack of
    security measures

  * Their networking products are prone to attack by a variety of means,
    not the least of which are well-documented "back door" passwords and

  * They introduce RIDICULOUS amounts of bloat to your data

  * Their programs are themselves ridiculously bloated

  * They are absurdly expensive, especially considering there are free
    replacements for all of these applications, some of which run on
    Windows as well as Linux.

Microsoft does not seem to take the value of your computing resources or
the security of your data very seriously. Given these things, I can't
imagine why business leaders have allowed these conditions to persist.  
The obvious answer is not to use this junk, especially for day-to-day
business-to-business communications. Ok, so what are the alternatives, you

  ASCII Text

	Ultimately portable and lightwieght. Nothing beats it.  For 
	standard day-to-day business communications, this should be 
	the standard.


	Need a basic presentation, or need to be able to display data
	in tables?  Then HTML is for you.  It's nothing more than
	ASCII text formatted using plain ASCII text tags.  And you
	don't need to know how to write HTML, because all of the better
	wordprocessing programs will save their documents in HTML. 

	Admittedly, I don't know very much about XML.  A lot of the OSS
	office suites seem to be using it a lot for their data format.
	I gather it's a lot like HTML but more extensible.


	For documents which include graphics and do not need to be
        modified, either of these will suffice, though PDF is a bit more


        For heavy duty presentations that require lots of flair and flash,
	shockwave is the answer.  It runs on all major platforms,
	including Windows, Mac, and Unix/Linux via web browser or
	stand-alone executable. It is also far more lightweight than
	Powerpoint, though it can do far more impressive things than
	Powerpoint, at least from what I've seen.

I recently created a 3-line e-mail message in MS Office 2000.  I saved it
as ASCII text, and it was about 230 bytes.  I resaved it as HTML, and it
was about 3kB.  I edited the HTML by hand and halved that to about 1.5kB
since Microsoft can't do ANYTHING without introducing serious bloat.  
Then I saved it as a word doc, and the thing went up to over 19k!  That's
almost ONE HUNDRED TIMES LARGER than the original ASCII text!!!  Is there
any doubt that using Microsoft attachments for e-mail is a gigantic waste
of resources?

And if you MUST have office functionality, there are free tools that do
the same job.  They don't have ALL the features that MS Office and its
ancillary tools have, and they may not be able to read and write MS Office
formats, but they do work just fine, and compatibility with a random
proprietary data format is NOT something that people should consider

KOffice is an example of such a suite of tools.  It seems to be very
stable and has most of the commonly used features of the comparable MS
Office products.  It may not (or may, I don't know) offer MS Office
compatibility, but I still maintain that this should NOT be a requirement,
since you should NOT be sending such documents to your business partners.  
All communications of this type should be done using one of the
afforementioned INTERNET STANDARD portable document formats.

> >> Not true.  The devastating aspect of ILOVEYOU and Melissa was that it 
> >> replicated itself via e-mail and mailed itself to everyone in a persons 
> >> addressbook or corporate LDAP directory.  A simple perl script, auto
> >> executed could have severely damaging consequences. 

The point is that even commercial Unix vendors, who have been writing
software for Unix for 3 decades, don't ship products that do stupid things
like this by default, or in most cases, at all.  OSS developers are too
smart to do this, so I doubt you'll ever see it there.  They typically
emulate the LOOK of MS apps, because that's the one thing they do well.
But as for the design and implementation flaws, they just ain't there.


> >Well, if you choose to turn such a feature on, I'll have little sympathy
> >for you when this happens.  I might even consider "accidentally" losing
> >the backup tapes that have your files on them...  You'll probably figure
> >out fairly quickly that you shouldn't have that crap on.
> As a sysadmin, I'll have lot's of sympathy for you as you begin restoring not 
> only my files from those tapes, but those of all the other people in the 
> company whose file got blown away the same way.  And please explain how you 
> will turn to the CEO and tell him you "accidently" lost the backup tapes with 
> his files on it?  Or the CFO, who will probably turn to you and reply that,
> "Oh, your salary review was contained in those files, as was your employment 
> contract.  I guess you no longer work for us." :)

Sorry, BOFH moment... As I said I was tired and irritable when I wrote the
original, and I think you know that I wouldn't really do that.  Though the
thought would cross my mind, I'm sure.  Who was it that said "stupidity
should be painful."  Oh, yeah, it was Paul!  :)

> >I don't think it will happen so easily.  Unix people have had 30 years to
> >figure out that lots of people just aren't as nice as they ought to be...
> >ultimately it's current Unix people who will be teaching the future Unix
> >people, so that lesson will get passed on.  You learned it, didn't you?
> I am but one person.  And yes, as a sysadmin, I've learned lot's of lessons 
> that the average person hastn't. 

But the word is getting out.  All the tech rags currently have articles
about how microsoft's products ship insecurely.  People are taking notice,
and people are LEARNING.

> How many times have we had unix users come 
> to us to restore files because they had no clue how to properly use the tools 
> they were given to do the job.  

Actually, twice that I can recall, and it was the same guy.  It doesn't
happen that often.  In my previous experience where lots of restores were
being done, it was most often because of a careless system administrator.

If your environment is set up properly, there should be a minimum amount
of damage that a single user can do.  You should also have usage and
security policies in place that outline how not to be vulnerable to such
problems, and take disciplinary action against those who do not follow the
policies.  Your company's data is too important not to take this
seriously.  The time in lost productivity recovering from such a debacle
is to valuable to not take this seriously.

> >Plus, let's not forget that most people who run Linux on their PC
> >do so because they find MS apps unsatisfactory, and often the nature of
> >that which they find lacking is security and stability.
> Currently, today, right now, this is true.  Shoot forward a few years to when 
> Linux is just as popular as Windows, MS has been broken up, and Office 2001 
> for Linux is selling like hotcakes (granted, this will be sometime in 2006 :)
> We will see large companies moving desktops to Linux, and they will be
> running MS Office.  And it will happen quickly.

Not if I can help it.  And I will ask you all to help me educate managers
everywhere, and try to make them see that using Microsoft Office and
similar products is BAD for their business.  Use this post verbatim if you
would like, or just steal the good bits.

This is my plea for today.  :)

Derek Martin
System Administrator
Mission Critical Linux
martin at 

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