Linuxing Liverpool Online — Part 4: Secret Document Formats

The University of Liverpool seems to be using more and more secret, proprietary file formats in their lectures. These formats are absolutely not suited for this purpose. That’s why I’ve posted an appeal in the UoL virtual classroom, and I’d like to post it here in case other students are reading.

It is shameful that an educational institution would deliberately choose formats that exclude and inconvenience students.


Hello fellow students,

In some modules, instructors use documents in secret, binary formats as lecture material. The most prominent is the one used by Microsoft Word. The exact version is uncertain because the format is neither standardized nor publicly versioned. A problem that we face is that Microsoft Word’s document format is not a document interchange format:

“Some users report the use of the MS Word file format as a document exchange format. This use is considered as inappropriate because of the proprietary nature of the format” (Wikipedia, 2008)

And there are numerous other sources that list many more flaws of this format:

http://en.nothingisreal.com/wiki/Please_don’t_send_me_Microsoft_Word_documents
http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/no-word-attachments.html
http://www.goldmark.org/netrants/no-word/attach.html#tth_sEc1.4

When you sign up for UoL at Laureate, you are given the impression that your studies will be agnostic of the software used by you or the institution. Relying on these proprietary formats is the opposite and excludes students or inconveniences them in their studies.

If you would like to see lectures posted in standardized formats instead, I am working on a formal letter to the responsible parties at UoL and Laureate. I would be very happy to include your thoughts. I believe sending it on paper might have more impact than posting here or sending e-mails.

I am in charge of interoperability at my employer, and in a situation such as Laureate is facing here, I would have chosen PDF as publishing format for lecture notes. It is a published (Adobe.com, 2007) format and on the way to becoming an international standard (ISO 32000) (Inside PDF, 2007). In addition, it is already established and readable by dozens of software packages deployed on millions of computers worldwide. An additional benefit is WYSIWYG representation of the lecture materials, something that the Word format cannot achieve. PDF is the format I would suggest, but I am open to any suggestions of another well-established, published and standardized format.

Kind regards,

Ramon

References

Wikipedia (2008), ‘Microsoft Word’ [Online]. Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Word (Accessed January 26, 2008)

Adobe.com (2007), ‘Adobe – PDF Developer Center: PDF reference’ [Online]. Available at: http://www.adobe.com/devnet/pdf/pdf_reference.html (Accessed January 26, 2008)

Inside PDF (2007), ‘ISO Ballot for PDF 1.7 Passed!’ [Online]. Available at: http://blogs.adobe.com/insidepdf/2007/12/iso_ballot_for_pdf_17_passed.html (Accessed January 26, 2008)

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