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Why was I referred here?

We do not maintain a collection of all the differing versions of every piece of software which every vendor has issued over the years. For marketing reasons, proprietary vendors change internal file formats, often incompatably, and without rhyme or reason by them. No one can afford the cost, or to spend the maintainence time that would be required, and so standards for data interchange develop. These are embodied in RFC's, nationals standards board statements (ISO's), and so forth. A well stated vendor-neutral statement of this is here - (local PS and pdf)

The marketing assumption is that their customer base will buy the 'latest and greatest' which they produce, and install it on all their workforce's desktops. For example, with Microsoft, this cycle of obsoleting prior versions and Operating System levels is on about a six month minor release or comprehensive patch, 18 month major release, and 4 year obsoleting cycle. This is not just a Microsoft issue. Apple has run on a three year major release cycle with a minor at each annual Mac World. One proprietary system vendor recently (January 2002) made the following statement. Can you determine who the author is without looking at the source (where the author is identified)? Is there any mention of standards conformance?

While this is fine for vendor profits (particularly in the low end PC market 'shrink-wrapped software' segment), it means that end users are turned into 'guinea pigs,' testing just-released code with all the instability and lost productivity which that entails.

It also tends to leave people using other computing solutions (Apple Mac and OS/X, Sun One, and the various Unix/*nix [POSIX standard compliant] forms) out in the cold. While the other platforms can and have repeatedly adapted to read and write the Office 97|2000|2002|XP formats, there is a lag until the developers can reverse engineer Microsoft's or Apple's latest.

Ouch ...

Particularly difficult cases are the following file formats:
  1. Word -- Word 2002 from Word 97: major format change, with no reversion path
  2. Access -- Access 2000 from Access 97: incompatable file format change with no reversion path
  3. Visio -- Visio 2002 is a major change from the prior independent Visio Corporation version 5 format, with no back conversion path
If you have sent us a 'attachment' in one of these later formats, it is unlikely that we will be able to read it. We send a reference to this page so you can print and resend it, and anyone can receive it, in a format anyone can read.

All is not lost

The quickest and most simple approach is to simply print the attachment as a PostScript or PDF file, and send us that file. All platforms, (yes: even Microsoft), have provided or had available free PostScript print drivers. Microsoft has included one since Windows 95 in all of their operating system releases. Apple, Sun and Unix have always had them natively.

To do this is a simple process of installing and using a PostScript printer driver in a Windows environment:
  1. Install the PostScript printer driver:
    -- Mouse as follows: Start | Settings | Printers, (New window opens) and then,
    -- Add printer (New Window appears), then,
    -- Next | Local printer | Manufacturer: Apple | Printer: LaserWriter | Next , then,
    -- Destination: FILE: | Next | (Printer name) | Next, then,
    -- (Test page panel) Yes -- a Windows 3.11 style File navigation box may pop up
    -- Point its file save location to: C:\My Documents\, and set the file name to: test.ps (standing for a Test PostScript file)

    This content may now be viewed by anyone with the freely available GSView viewer

  2. As an aside, you may wonder: Why do I have to go through all this to print a PostScript format document? Why is the Microsoft product line crippled?

    The answer is that in the mid-Nineties Apple, Adobe and Microsoft were locked in a battle for how commercial inter-Operating System print content was going to be exchanged. Apple and Adobe (and 'big iron' Unixtm) had already long since settled on and included native PostScript (and later PDF) capability. Microsoft was trying to displace that format by pretending it did not exist.

    Microsoft has not gotten over this, and thus this outline. As to PDF's, even now, one has to either buy a 'Distiller' from Adobe, or use an Open Source Ghostscript variant to produce PDF's in the Windows environment.
    See: our discussion in Part II of this series

  3. Use that 'printer" to your attachment content to a File:
    -- Use File | Print, and select the destination of Print to File, placing the content on your Desktop.

Then just navigate to the saved print file, select high-light it, and Right-Click SendTo the file as an email attachment as usual.

If you are unable to locate the PostScript printer drivers in an Apple or Microsoft based computing environment, this page at Adobe may help ... .

Another approach, which requires just a single setup of a conversion processor, is to run a PDF publishing gateway; see the freely available doc2pdf project at: doc2pdf.

This project relies on a dedicated convertor server, and use of limited function (i.e., 'crippled') Read Only converter tools for some Microsoft-supported platforms available from Microsoft here - Local copies for [ Excel ] [ PowerPoint ] [ Visio ] [ Word ] ; and Lotus [ Notes ].

See also: Position Statements
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Other Voices: FSF position piece

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Last modified: Mon, 14 Mar 2005 13:23:41 -0500