Critical Thinking About MS Word And .doc

A story from Kairosnews emphasizes a couple of important question relating to openness and openthinking.

Many of us teach cultural analysis and critical thinking in our writing classes. Our first year readers are full of cultural commentary, and we use these texts to teach our students to question the status quo and understand more deeply the implications of the choices they make in this consumer culture.

Do writing teachers do the same when they tell students to submit their documents as .doc files or tell them they need to buy Word from the campus store? Have teachers questioned the assumptions behind their personal use of MS Word?

The article supports this questioning by pointing out several issues and assumptions regarding the .doc format. Notably:

    – The prevailing assumption seems to be that using the .doc format makes it easy to share documents, ignoring the many incompatibilities between versions of .doc produced by different operating systems and versions.
    – “When a new version of Office is released and it produces files that are not compatible with other versions of MS Office, this pushes everyone to purchase and upgrade to the latest version.”
    – “Microsoft has a known history of using file format incompatibility to force competitors from the market.”
    – While MS Office may have some really good features, many of these features are not used often, and without exposure to other tools (e.g.,, how can one compare?
    – There is a lack of significant innovation from version to version of MS office, and this may be due to the hypothesis “monopolies don’t have to innovate”.

If you are a teacher of critical thinking, the power of influence of our everyday tools and technologies is something you should not ignore.

Update: I just noticed that Becta has officially announced there to be “six credible alternatives to Microsoft Office in schools“. Why is it we never see these alternatives? Think critical.

4 thoughts on “Critical Thinking About MS Word And .doc

  1. Alec, is this link to Kairosnews working? I’m getting a “Unable to connect to database server” error. Perhaps it’s just a problem with my end. I REALLY want to read this whole article. Sounds interesting.

  2. Hi Alec,

    That’s a great point and one that we recognize exists between platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux). Rather than dictate a specific application, we’ve recommended using RTF as a best practice (not a requirement). When using RTF, you have the ability to be platform and product agnostic for the most part.

    You have a good point in that learning should not be dictated or inhibited by corporate consumerism.

    Thanks for

  3. Just a quick note in case anyone hasn’t looked at Word 2007 yet (ships for mac latter in the year), it now has a new default file format that isn’t compatible with older versions of Word. It is, however, an XML file so in theory it should be more compatible with future generations of alternative word processors. Unfortunately Microsoft doesn’t ‘do’ elegant narrative document structure or it would be fairly trivial to create your own XSL files and create a custom word viewer.

    If anyone is interested you can look at the guts of an office 2007 file by changing the extension to .zip and opening it in winzip or other compression utility.

Comments are closed.