Friday, February 27, 2009

The frustration is mounting

Sometimes there is nothing you can do. Sometimes people, no matter how blatant the facts are, are incapable of change. Today is one of those days.

I would consider myself well acquainted with Open Source and knowing what it can and can't do, I have been able to replace some of the proprietary applications that we use with free software. That means no licensing costs, free upgrades and feature parity with proprietary counterparts.

Here's a few issues that are having me retreat to the bathroom to contain myself from bursting out in utter frustration at the stubbornness of the humans around me:

1. Firefox:

We all know that this browser is perfectly capable of holding its own against IE. Not many dispute that. Especially for our company, none of the sites we frequent or need are incompatible in any way with Firefox. And you know what? Firefox is so much quicker at rendering the pages than IE. I'm not just saying that - I manually install the OS on all the machines I manage to squeze the best out of them. ALL of them show, practically, that Firefox is quicker with websites than IE6 or IE7. If Firefox was slower, I wouldn't be using it. I'm not a die hard.

Nevertheless, I have people ringing me up asking for IE to be installed. Or even digging through Program Files so they can add the IE icon back onto the desktop.


Well, I've asked. I ask all of them. Their answer is simple: "Uhhhh, uhh, dunno. It works better - I think.". So I ask them, "What issues are you having with Firefox?". They answer, "Uhh, none. Dunno, its all fine. Its just I need Microsoft's stuff. It works better.".

At this point I normally either spew all over my desk, or I politely take the time to explain to them why they're wrong, and why I won't help them unless Firefox is actually causing them angst.

2. OpenOffice:

About 56% of our office now uses OpenOffice for all their documents. Unfortunately we don't use ODF for everything yet, but we do use it for many things already (brochures, statistics, letter drops, etc). It works and behaves well.

I understand that OpenOffice doesn't do everthing though, especially when it comes to charts (get your act together guys). So we use Excel for a lot of our charting purposes. Excel makes prettier charts - you can't dispute that. So, if any of our users are having issues when using OpenOffice that can't be resolved because of software limitations then I ditch it for Microsoft Office - for the sake of productivity.

The killer for me today was this: I installed OpenOffice on one of our staff's new laptops (saved him $300 over buying MS Office). I assured him that he could always buy MS Office if OpenOffice wasn't cutting it. He was aprehensive - I think mostly because he didn't want to have to relearn anything. Fair enough. I told him it works practically the same (these guys aren't pro users - they just type - maybe use bold and underline).

Anyway, today he came to me. He had found this amazing solution! He realised that he had a really old laptop at home with an unused copy of MS 2000 on it. Great! Success! Now you can work! Becuase previously you couldn't with OpenOffice! Wait....

I asked him if he was having problems with OpenOffice or whether he was having trouble getting used to it. He proceded to tell me that everything was fine, there were no issues, and that he was doing everything he needed. Then he said this: "Well, I dunno. It just looks different. It isn't blue (the toolbars). Are the fonts different on OpenOffice or something? It just, uh, *looks* different.".

Perhaps this doesn't seem like an issue to you, casual reader. But to me, living through this makes me want to either curl up in a ball and cry all day, or explode into a fireball of righteous indignation and burn the offending Microsoft zombie hordes.

Despite what I wanted to do, I maintained my dignity and told him frankly that if he wasn't really having any issues and it wasn't slowing him down that he should just stick with it.

You know what? Come July 14th, Office 2000 extended support will end. At that point, I won't even let him use it.

Why, oh why? I don't understand why the human brain cannot get past the colour of the tool bars! Its like, "WOOW, my tool bar is a neutral grey! My head is going to explode! Where has the BOLD BUTTON GONE!! AAAAGGGH!!! Oh, wait, its where it always is. This stupid OpenOffice, it doesn't work properly!".

.........angry thoughts.

I will continue to politely help them get their jobs done quickly and effectively - even if that does mean installing MS Office on a couple of computers for the staff members who can't cope with the slightest change.

P.S. For those who would like to rail on me about how MS Office is the only way: This is the only guy to kick up a massive stink about OpenOffice. Everyone else is using it without issues, and have been - for years.


  1. If that copy of MS Office came with that old laptop, there's a good chance that it's an OEM version. Installing that on a new computer is a violation of MS's EULA. I deal with this MS licensing stuff all the time, and I'd bet that's the case. Just thought I'd give you some ammunition to fight back!

  2. I run 4 businesses (tattoo/peircing parlors) from GNU/OpenOffice without issues. schools. schools teach people as children to use doze. conditioning...

  3. @Louis

    I hadn't thought of that. I reckon it would be an OEM. The office has a pretty strict policy on not using pirated software (as everyone should), so if he does have an OEM he won't be allowed to use it.

    Chances are, this guy will go out and spend $500AUD on buying a fresh copy of MS Office 2007 Small Business Edition instead of just using OpenOffice.

    That would give me a laugh....I can imagine this guy trying to learn the ribbon interface.... Oh, the support calls I would get - "Can I give that OpenOffice thing a try again?"

  4. @hallowname

    You're right. It does start in the schools.

    Microsoft know that too. That's why they subsidize heavily their costs for schools. Just to keep everyone dependant.

    Thankfully, this is slowly - very slowly - changing. As time goes on, small changes here and there towards open source software are educating people about the choices they have.

  5. That's one reason why I'm getting a PhD. I don't want to have to deal with zombies like this. I'd go postal.

    My father has been trying OpenOffice for a while now. Surprisingly, he has persevered in spite of some extremely annoying behavior and piss-poor documentation. I probably would have given up a while ago. I'm proud of him.

  6. I know exactly what you feel. I run a human-size company here at Brazil and we used to develop some open source projects for the world's biggest dam.

    We faced this kind of zombie users all the time and our actions were in parts stopped by the complains from this users and the 'don't-want-to-learn-again' behavior.

    Hopefully, now we are working for a completely different organization that among its objectives there's a statement that says "spread FOSS in our region".

    It's a young organization, with young people, different from the first one where the majority of employees are old, tired, boring and MS mummified people.

  7. @matiasbalboa

    Its great to hear that you've got some pro-OSS companies in Brazil. I hope it goes better in your new job.

    You'd be very hard pressed to find an OSS company here in Australia. While there is a lot of FOSS usage in 'secret' (backend systems, System Administrator tools), no one is willing to push it in public.

    Its an interesting phenomenon. It drives me mental though.

  8. Having said that, there are some companies that use and push the use of FOSS here in Australia.

    The one I'm mainly thinking of is ProMotion Studios in Sydney ( They use a lot of Blender in their 3D work. Most of the TV commercials they make are done in Blender.

    Apart from that - I'm hard pressed to find anything.

    I'd be interested to know if anyone else is working in a pro-OSS company in Australia. It would be refreshing to hear.

  9. I know a bit too what you feel, when I still had my job, I used to code apps to automate tasks for a small group of people, and more than once, somebody asked me : "Don't you think your apps would make us lazy?"

    Another time I coded an importer to prevent them from re-entering lots of data by hand to help prevent typos and prevent wasting lot of paper. A girl whined because she liked her method (the paper one) better.

    I came very close to destroy the code (which I wrote very long before I thought about doing an importer) needed to print those data. Fortunately my boss helped me reason her.

    I really hate this and the "if we find way to reduce our work we may lose our job" attitude.

  10. totally agree with you....
    I face this all the time, too...

  11. I feel your pain.

    I'm currently working at a small French company in a dual systems/programming role.

    We have a policy of FOSS unless it can't be helped (a few photoshops for the graphists mainly).

    Well, in our Paris office, everyone has installed a pirated MS Office, our Boss is going nuts, but they don't want to know.

  12. OO loosing to MSO so much!
    OO is not intended for serious work, if you think so, then you have never work with both.

  13. I'm always glad to see others share in my frustration with people unwilling to adapt to change. I've always been told that you can train a smart person to do anything, but you can't train everyone to be smart - in my experience, this applies 100% to people encountering open source software.

    To be fair, however, and address the issue of 'Microsoft Office when needed'... I'm a scientist and do extensive data analysis on a daily basis. I've tried very hard to use OpenOffice to do my work effectively. After a few weeks of fighting with it, it was obvious that OOo was impeding my workflow and producing sub-par graphs (which are crucial to effective business presentations). Excel makes Calc look like a word processor with math.

  14. :) Good post. I once got angry too about those blind MS followers. But honestly, it's just not worth it. Remember, those guys don't really care about features, all they care about is looks. If you just play stubborn admin who supports a limited set of software for security/licensing/support/cost or whatever reason, they can't really do anything against it.

  15. You know what's sad. That you are right. It has often come down to the color of the toolbars or the placement of a small feature in a menu that takes all of five seconds to adjust to.

    We use Linux/openoffice internally and I don't hire anyone who isn't willing and eager to learn.

    If learning something new doesn't excite them, then I don't want them.

    If something isn't done about it, people such as the ones that you describe end up killing morale and productivity for an entire organization.

    Good luck and try to keep yourself together, even if it is a trying experience at times.

  16. Ha, I feel your pain. I don't know the situation with Excel / Calc, because I mainly use writer, but let me tell you something. I usually work on documents where the chapters are worked on by different people, with iterative reviews, etc. In my experience, OOo gives much less pain in such situations than MS Office, provided you use the native file format instead of Doc. Doc files get really messed up with different versions of MS Office, e.g. cross references, table of contents, placement of images and big tables. Still in nearly all projects MS Offices .doc format is used. It drives me crazy, especially because people are now starting to send docx files around, for which I have to remote login into a windows machine to even open them. People accept sending around new MS formats, but if I send an ODT I get told to please send another copy in .doc.

  17. This issues right here, I'm learning is a MAJOR shortfall with linux users and is going to take a serious relearning of our own in order to help non-linux/FOSS types to accept or be open to something other than MS. I run pure linux/FOSS. my business partner is 100% against anything out of the norm at all and I amm easing him into a non-MS way of life. We linux types need to understand that people aren't blindly following MS, they are staunchly fighting change and wanting to stick with what they know and are comfortable with. You can't fault someone for that. Secondly, why do they have the option of MS products at all? If you give them any sort of choice, they will push and push for what's most familiar (again...I think any of us would). I would think (an assumption) that people would be slightly less resistant if you gave them linux, OO and firefox and simply told them....this is what we run around here.
    I am babystepping my partner into linux. He's on firefox now instead of IE and loving firefox. I put Ubuntu on his system via WUBI so he can ease into that and get his feet wet without losing the windows stuff. He's probably a little more motivated to learn it then a lot of anti-change types because we're running a business together and linux is the dorection I want to go andit' he can fully appreciate.

    Anyway, we linux types are stuck up and snobby. That's a turn off...don't blame people for sticking with whats familiar, we should all focus on gently easing people (in baby steps) and selling the advantages....over and over...

    Don't complain, don't talk down, don't make folks feel stupid...then we just (continue) to come off as snobby I.T./Linux people. And I think in this day and age, it's the number one problem that the FOSS comunity needs to resolve.

  18. @chapter13

    I appreciate the comment. I heartily agree that it is good to very gently introduce users to FOSS (or any opposing application) so as not to frighten them off or overwhelm them with change.

    I've been slowly introducing FOSS into this company for 4 years now - to the same people. Thats a lot of time to change, adapt and relearn.

    My frustration isn't so much that this particular user "didn't get it" but more that he refused change because he knew it wasn't Microsoft.

    I very much dislike the idea of being a snobby Linux user and don't consider myself to be one. Nor do I think my actions could be labeled as such. The frustration was based on the fact that this particular user was actively being 'snobby' about the software they were using. Not because of the software's merits, but because they refused to see that the alternatives were indeed viable (he even verbally explained that the FOSS tools were working fine for him).

    To everyone else, thanks for the supportive comments.

    I do indeed realise that becoming openly frustrated with these types of people does not help at all - thus my choice to just politely explain things. It does wear one down though. Especially when these types go out of their way to make trouble for you. Its a bit sad really.

    I'll continue to slowly introduce FOSS here. In fact I had a meeting with the board of Directors here just the other day and they are very excited and supportive of plans to migrate to a fully FOSS office (Linux fat clients running KDE 4.x, Kontact and OpenOffice) before the expiry of XP's security updates (2014). The main reason being that the upgrade costs to Windows 7 (or the next version of Windows) would be astronomical for us considering the number of desktops and laptops we have.

    This is indeed positive news.

  19. It seems that this post may have appeared on KDE's planet twice.

    I apologise for this!

  20. I share your feelings mate. Mom was really annoying as well when i switched her to linux. She even started crying and from time to time she stills says "i want windows xp because everybody has it" but for no actual good reason.
    Anyway, she would get viruses in a few days and i would be forced to spend time every now and then to 'clean' after her.

  21. In the other side, we have a new linux user today. He was tired of having to reinstall windows 3 times in two days. Tired of being unable to repair a single registry problem.....
    He tried linux and he likes it very much.

  22. @Scott: I'm a scientist as well, and my skin tingles when I see "data analysis" and "Excel" (but Calc is the same on this regard) close to each other.
    Spreadsheets are not meant to be a data-analysis tool (in particular Excel is extremely buggy on this regard). There are much better alternatives (and most of them FOSS, even!).

  23. The reason here is simple; people go with the devil they know.

    In firefox, which is simply just as good or better, just tell them its ok and its the upgraded version of IE. Make people feel good about the choice and make them feel using IE is the battle, because they think switching is going to be painful.

    The OOo part is a bit harder; OOo actually takes some time to get used to. Yet I do think that with the same arguments and possibly by giving them some printed tutorials you find on the web you can tell them "Its ok, OOo is the replacement for MS Office since MS doesn't allow you to use the old Office anymore that you are used to."

    Remember; people will actively fight change.

  24. Oh, forgot one important advice; never ever say that the users chould use open source because its free (gratis). While we hear "free as in speach" most people just hear its the second grade giveaway that and you are being cheap.

    If a user doesn't already believe in freedom (libre) software, it just is a lousy reason to convince him to use something he doesn't aready know.

  25. @Thomas

    I agree, you make some good points.

  26. i would like to speak about small business owners. Thats why i only focus on them.

  27. Socceros said: "The office has a pretty strict policy on not using pirated software (as everyone should)..." I appreciate that. Yet I have this *ethical* question: Can you steal from thieves? I don't mean the small fish, but the MS-sized ones?

  28. This isn't something that happens to just you, its the same with almost all of us. Its a general tendency of people to not to explore better and/or efficient ways of working, they just stick to their legacy systems.
    And +1 for the schools point, my family uses GNU/Linux at home, my dad has zero problems with OpenOffice till now (he uses only the simple features).

    Just be patient and keep telling people, atleast one out of 10 will understand, even we were told by some patient guy when we were doze'ing off.

  29. @Socceroos I work in a small company is Brisbane - we use a mixture of opensource and proprietary software - whatever works best for the job at hand. The server side of things was switched from Windows to Ubuntu because of the 10 connection limit when networking windows XP machines before I got here. We use Subversion pretty heavily (we looked at some of the commercial artist friendly tools and decided that the cost didn't justify the benefits). The Gimp gets used for some jobs (typically to handle file formats that Photoshop doesn't). Pretty much the first thing that happens to any machine that comes into the place is that firefox gets installed. Though I think we have one or two people using Chrome (looking at web3d). The main commercial softwares we use are 3DStudio Max (not going to change), Unigine, VRay, AfterEffects... and ffmpeg. On top of that I use a Kubuntu Box and KDevelop which I have to say keeps looking better and better.

    One thing I noticed is that in our inhouse application(s) some of our artists are very sensitive to UI changes and generally don't like things moving. As far as I can tell this is because the remember everything spacially not proceedurally.

  30. MS Office is clearly a better product than any other options. Yes OpenOffice supports most of the features and works OK but the fact is that Microsoft have done a good job making Office and you should listen to your users rather than trying to force second class software down their throats.

    I wish there was closer competition to Office, I wish Office was cheaper and that it was open source. However I don't delude myself into believing that its not a very high quality and effective piece of software.

  31. I am a Network Administrator in Bucharest, Romania - for a company that is large enough, according to Romanian standards.

    The story that Socceroos tells seems to be written in my office, but I'm hardly trying to correct this :)

    I've installed on ALL computers and I'm keeping MS Office installs at a strict minimum (one zone where I was unable to make Calc substitute Excel is pivot-tables with data extracted from Oracle databases via ODBC - they work painfully slow).

    Now all non-tehnical users have Firefox, Thunderbird,, VLC, Inkscape, Gimp and Pidgin on their desktops, ready for use.