Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Biggest Kid in the School aka Big Companies

I stand 6 foot 1 inch weighing in at a very portly 250 lbs. While my weight has snuck up on me over the years, I have always been tall. Growing up one of the biggest kids in the grade level had a number of disadvantages. The worst of, (in my day anyway), which is every new boy that entered the school had to prove himself. What better way to prove himself by taking a shot or two at the biggest kid in the school. Sometimes these were verbal but more often than not, it was a smack across the jaw. (Ouch) This caused me to grow up with an interesting perspective on the world.

I have looked at a number of productivity software, (word processors, spreadsheet and presentation), applications over the years. With each new version, they get more powerful. In recent years, there has been an influx of open source and web based productivity applications.
Star Office was one of the first I looked at and I thought Microsoft should pay attention. Last summer I looked at Writely, (Now renamed Google Docs.), and my jaw dropped onto my keyboard. This product looked and felt like MS Word and even saved as a .doc file type. As an educator, I thought this is great for all the students who do not have a copy of Word at home. Oh and it was web based. Two weeks ago, I loaded Open Office to see what it looked like. While I haven’t given this product a thorough test, it has familiar look and feel. Again, I thought Microsoft should pay attention.

This week I walked through the office and noticed one of the IT supervisors was installing
Solaris on a machine. Being a Microsoft shop, I had to stop in and tease him. I said, “What is the world coming to? You are installing Solaris and I bought a Macintosh server.” We chuckled as we began talking about some of the open source tools now available. He said with all the great “Free” software out there, no one would ever need to buy Office. That statement again, made me think of being the “Big Kid” having shots taken at me.

I remember when computers were not interoperable between platforms. I remember when my word processor wouldn’t open the document you sent me because the two applications were not compatible. For the past several years, we have enjoyed interoperable computing and Microsoft has enjoyed an enormous market share. This is the time when some people start taking shots at the “Big Kid”. Words like monopolist, giant, big bad begin to appear in the same sentence with the “Big Kids” name. Is this good or bad? That is for you to decide.

This time also provides a catalyst to some very talented programmers who begin to develop their own version of software. Some of them work alone while other works together as a worldwide community. This is collaboration at its best and these individuals should be applauded for their efforts.

We also need to stay focused on the companies, large and small, that shape the world. These companies were built on the minds of brilliant individuals with the spirit and determination to make a difference. Not very different from the open source world, noting these companies intend to turn a profit.

Please don’t mistake this entry as I am against open source or business. I love the open source software I use each week. I love the computer and the software I am currently using. I love fact that my job pays my bills and affords me the opportunity to sit at McDonald's and write this article so I can freely share my opinions with you. I am merely a much older big kid with a different perspective.

Oh, on a final note, I did have a chance to spend a couple hours this week with
Word 2007. Microsoft was paying attention and they again have raised the bar. While it does pose a few challenges for network people and compatibility with older files, it changed the user interface, in my opinion, for the better.

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Education, K-12, Shawn Wheeler

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