[conspire] Requirements

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Thu Sep 28 20:11:15 PDT 2006

This was in the context of one of those "I'd switch to Linux if 
[list of highly Windows-dependent apps] ran on it" Usenet threads, 
where the usual suggestions of WINE, Crossover Office, VMware Player,
and these sites highly useful to desktop Ubuntu users (mostly x86) 
had already been posted:


From: Rick Moen <rick at linuxmafia.com>
Subject: Re: I would move totally to ubuntu if...
Newsgroups: alt.os.linux.ubuntu
Organization: If you lived here, you'd be $HOME already.
User-Agent: tin/1.8.1-20060215 ("Mealasta") (UNIX) (Linux/2.4.27-2-686 (i686))
Date: Thu, 28 Sep 2006 22:58:16 -0400

David 01 <ifiwantspam at illask.org> wrote:

> Thanks for your reply. The reason I want to use Office 97 (and I've 
> heard that it will run OK in Wine, but haven't gotten to that yet) is 
> because I have a 14 year old daughter who lives with her mother several 
> hours drive away from me and I occasionally design some things in Excel 
> for her to use in school and email her the files to study and modify. 
> She only uses Office and doesn't want to have to deal with anything that 
> may not be 100% compatible. For my own personal use though, OpenOffice 
> looks pretty good.

Just a brief cautionary tale, along the lines of "Beware of
underspecified requirements", offered pro bono publico:

My household is pretty technically sophisticated, with much of its
computing on Linux for the past decade-plus, but my wife and
mother-in-law do their graduate-school writing work in MS-Office.  One
of them sent me an MS-Word file for further processing of some sort:  I
opened it in the then-current OpenOffice.org 1.03 for Linux, and
(judging by the on-screen display, as shown by OO.o) appeared to have a
great deal of binary garbage in it, for reasons that remained mysterious
as I experimented.  We re-tried it in both of the women folks' copies of
MS-Word:  no problem.  Copy it back over to OO.o on any of the Linux
boxes, and it still seemed to be "corrupted".

The women members of the household concluded, on the spot, that OO.o is
"not able to parse Office documents".  Here's my key point:  _Most_
informal analyses of cross-platform compatibility -- and sadly many of
the formal ones -- tend to go no further.

But not this _one_ time.

I was a bit more stubborn than that; something didn't seem quite kosher.
I insisted on trying the ".doc" file on a _third_ MS-Windows box, one
whose history and configuration I knew exactly -- because I smelled 
an uncontrolled variable.  Surprise!  The file showed as "corrupted" 
(in exactly the same fashion) inside (the same release of) MS-Word.

Oh my!  Consternation reigned.  And then....

Them:  "Oops, didn't we mention about EndNote?"
Me:    "What's an 'EndNote'?"
Them:  "[mumble mumble] installed [mumble] add-in [mumble]"
Me:    "Eh?"
Them:  "Er, it's a separately purchasable third-party addition to 
       MS-Word that improves its citatation/reference abilities."
Me:    "So, what you're saying is, this thing stores foreign, 
       non-standard binary data inside what _would_ have been
       a .doc file, except that now it's not really a .doc file, 
       and is readable only by MS-Word _with_ EndNote -- and 
       you've blamed OpenOffice.org for not being able to do
       something it was never promised to do."
Them:  "Well..., we need EndNote support, too."
Me:    "Gosh, pity you didn't bother to mention that several 
       days ago, eh?"

Moral of the story:  Don't be surprised when people substitute
magical "Make it do the same thing as that other box" thinking for
real requirements analysis:  They do it all the time, and aren't
even aware of what their _real_ requirements are.

Cheers,                  Higgeldy Piggeldy             "Phooey on Freud and his
Rick Moen                Hamlet of Elsinore            Psychoanalysis --
rick at linuxmafia.com      Ruffled the critics by        Oedipus, Schmoedipus,
                         Dropping this bomb:           I just loved Mom."

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