E-Mailing Word Documents: an Opinion

Lately, I have noticed a tendency for people to send me e-mail in the form of attachments containing Microsoft Word documents.

There are several good reasons not to use Microsoft Word as a document interchange format:

  1. It is not universal. There are people (like me) who do not use Word and don't want to. Even people who do use Word may be using an older version than the one you send, which can cause problems. Other word processors can deal with Word documents, but only up to a point. For instance, using WordPerfect 8.0, I was unable to view a Word 97 document containing clip-art.
  2. It is bloated. For example, I recently received a 3000-word term paper in Word 97 format. The file totaled 136 kB, whereas the actual text content was only 21 kB. One reason Word files are so large is that they may contain hidden undo information and even whole earlier versions of the document. This means that the recipient, if so inclined, could see material that you thought you had deleted. This might include material that you would not want the recipient to see.
  3. Word documents are susceptible to macro viruses like the notorious Melissa virus. These have the property that you have only to open the attachment to infect your machine. Why use a format that can be infected by a virus when there are other equally good formats that can not?
  4. Most importantly, this practice supports Microsoft in its attempt to achieve a monopoly on personal computer software. In the long run, monopolies are always bad for the consumer. The convenience now will cost us later -- resist!

In sum, you should only exchange Word documents with people who are engaged in a task of editing a document together with you. In this context it makes sense. But if the document is a finished product that is to be simply printed and/or read, why not use a format that is better suited, less resource-consuming, and more universally acceptable?

A suggestion: finished documents should be circulated in HTML, RTF, PostScript or PDF form if there is a need for special formatting and fonts, and in plain text form otherwise.

Microsoft Word is a trademark of Microsoft Corporation. PostScript is a trademark of Adobe Systems. Other names used in this document might be trademarked too, I don't know.

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