An Educator's Tribute to Microsoft Word(s)

As a free software advocate misplaced in the academia, I reluctantly force myself to write a paper or two each year in order to keep my presence acceptable to this arena, even though I know that time invested in a non-academic article would have a far larger attentive audience and a far greater impact on the society. Still, I would like to indulge myself in a little advocacy endeavors even as I write academic papers. I decide to take on the topic of K to 12 education in recent years. So it was very exciting to find 3 calls for papers related to this very topic landing in my mailbox on the same day.

  1. The Third Conference on Computer and Network Technology in Education
  2. Forum of Information Technology and Humanity Management Education
  3. International Conference on Computers in Education

Boy, how I wish to tell the attendees of all three conferences the significance of free software in education! So let's check the deadlines and all the details. Wait, one of them requires the author to submit the paper in Microsoft Word. And so does the second. And the third, an international one, .... is no exception!

Furiosity has overflown from my head all the way down to my heart. I mean cool (down)! My uneasy pretentious academic mode was completely turned off by the time I learned the submission requirement for the third conference. The sarcastic ranting mode is now in full swing.

You see, it's very important that Microsoft Word(s) be used by all of us when we discuss academic affairs. Which one of the different and sometimes mutually incompatible versions of Word(s)? Don't worry! Just make sure that the name of your software is Microsoft Word, will you? If you write something down not in these sacred file formats (sorry I mean this sacred file formats - I always have trouble with the meaning of singularity and plurality in English, especially with regard to Microsoft Word(s)), it must be unintelligible nonsense that all other credible academicians should rightfully neglect.

Not only are Microsoft Word(s) important as a way of communication about education, but they are also important as the very content of education. So much so that we should abandon many other pieces of educational software in order for children to learn them from a young age. (Or learn "it"? I mean one of the many different versions of Microsoft Word(s), all of which are sacred to the adults and inspirational to the kids.) I have demonstrated gcompris, celestia, and a tiny fraction of the educational programs in kdeedu to many teachers and other people who influence computer purchases in schools and/or education policies. I have demonstrated the use of Dr. Geo in teaching high school mathematics and physics, college mathematics, and college physics. Many times I then asked, "Is it possible to require that computers be pre-installed with some educational version of Linux such as freeduc or edubuntu instead of having the hardware vendors pre-installing Windows without our consent next time when the school makes purchases? Or at least can we put a DRBL server to drag all these Windows-infected machines as diskless Linux machines?" Frequently the response from the influential people is: "These are good. But face reality. We live in a Microsoft world. We cannot ask all the teachers and staff to abandon Microsoft Word just for the sake of these little gems." Or something to the same effect. I suppose they should also add, "And abandon it just for the sake of the kids."

The importance of addiction over education That enlightens me very much and inspires this figure drawn using inkscape. Please excuse me for the poor drawing. My inability to produce beautiful documents, textual or graphical, is to be blamed on the lack of proper training in using a the wonderful word processor such as Microsoft Word in my youth. The LaTeX habit has wired my brain all the wrong way to focus on such useless things as expressing ideas and structuring documents, as opposed to the more important things such as the fonts and spacing. Many people of our LaTeX clan practiced separation of content from presentation and had cooperated to produce consistent looking documents without ever paying attention to these important things and thus have lost our sense of aesthetics. We are failures in education.

I know some of you will object. No, actually people already have objected. The OLPC project director Nicholas Negroponte said,

"In fact, one of the saddest but most common conditions in elementary school computer labs (when they exist in the developing world), is the children are being trained to use Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I consider that criminal, because children should be making things, communicating, exploring, sharing, not running office automation tools."

And John Maxwell said

Desktop computing and multimedia were not first conceived as tools for office workers or media professionals. They were prototyped as personal dynamic media for children.

Market 'share', history, and the future of Linux I admire their Quixotic courage but you simply don't fight against the 99 per-cent of market share. Beg your pardon? Percent is a single word? OK, again, I must apologise for my poor understanding of this word. Wait, I recall something about it. It means the ratio of something over something else. Oh, yes, in fact I made this statement and figure a few years ago (in Chinese), "Market share is a ratio. It has a numerator and a denominator. The denominator need not be constant. The old leader may well become irrelevant once the new competitor enlarges the size of the market several folds, by lowering the price, without having to directly confront the old leader in the old market. This has happened several times in history, and Linux's rise to the challenge of Windows will likely follow the same pattern." I wouldn't have imagined the OLPC project at that time. And OLPC may or may not succeed. But the fact that GNU, Linux, and friends are gratis means that whatever project(s) for reducing digital divide arising in the emerging markets is bound to favor them over Windows.

But so what? How awfully naive I was! These poor developing or undeveloped countries eagerly embracing Linux will pay little or nothing for their software. And you get what you paid for. That means they cannot benefit much from their investment. Oh, yes, I hear another objection from a person living in the clouds (I mean having travelled above all clouds) Mark Shuttleworth,

The future is what you do with the software, not what you paid for the software.

What can I say? Just like the naive little prince in Antoine de Saint-Exup矇ry's novel, "The Little Prince", Mr. Shuttleworth just does not understand the deep circular wisdom of the businessman,

"And what good does it do you to own the stars?"
"It does me the good of making me rich."
"And what good does it do you to be rich?"
"It makes it possible for me to buy more stars, if any are discovered."

Just like other FLOSS people such as Eric Raymond, he (and perhaps the confused little prince) does not deem the sale value as high as the use value. Fortunately or unfortunately, they just don't think like grown-ups.

electronic wasteWell, I am not clever enough to argue with them. But one thing is for sure: the emerging economies betting the education of their future generations in FLOSS are not going to use Microsoft Word(s). And this surely will cost them a lot as explained by all these wise and influential figures of our generation in our part of the world, who see the importance of continual tribute to Microsoft Word(s) over a bunch of little gems of educational software. The competitive differences of the next generation of various countries will show us the true and tremendous absolute value of Microsoft Word(s), and its significance, twenty years from now, according to what we do or do not choose for them today. So let's all dump our limping computers along with the older versions of Windows and Word(s). Let's all upgrade to Microsoft Word 2007, and, hasta la Vista! BTW, now I am sure that Microsoft Word 2007 must be singular since it is just one of the many vastly different versions of Word(s), and since it is a unique word processor in that it employs DRM to guard intellectual properties against its own criminally-motivated, pirate-behaving customers. This is really a breakthrough from the thousands of years' worth of business wisdom that "The Customer is Always Right!"

To Microsoft We Trust Our Future Generations!
-- The collective wisdom of the academia of our time