- The Washington Times - Monday, April 4, 2005

There is a blurring of lines between computer platforms these days, and it might be good news for computer users of all stripes. The migration of applications — and file formats — between the Microsoft Windows world and that of the Apple Macintosh and even the open-source Linux community is a welcome change from the early days of computing, when “proprietary” ruled the roost. Few programs worked cross-platform, and sharing data was a hassle.

Consider how much this has changed: There is emulation software to run Windows, and Windows applications, on Macs, and the software is now made and sold by … Microsoft, the Windows people. That same company offers a version of its Office application suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software and contact manager/calendar/e-mail client) for the Mac, and Office developers on both Windows and Mac come up with innovations that the other program’s next version adopts.

It’s no real surprise that Microsoft would provide software for the Macintosh program: It supplied the first word processor and spreadsheet for the Mac, and the company’s executives clearly recognize that money can be made in the Mac market. What’s interesting, though, is that other software publishers are recognizing the usefulness of operability across file formats and platforms.

This was recently demonstrated on the Mac side by Apple’s IWork combo of a new page-layout program, called Pages, and a revision of Keynote, the company’s presentation program. Both will read from and write to file formats for their Microsoft peer applications, Word and PowerPoint. But this kind of compatibility is also a hallmark of a free Windows- and Linux-based application, OpenOffice (www.openoffice.org), which is gaining popularity.

Even Microsoft Word’s longtime rival, Corel Corp.’s WordPerfect, which recently won a major Department of Justice contract, advertises and promotes its interoperability with Word files, not to mention an ability to create the PDF format favored by Adobe Acrobat.

In the case of these non-Microsoft applications, there’s the chance that a highly complex Word document or Excel spreadsheet won’t transfer exactly, say, from Windows to Linux and back again, which is why those who need exact compatibility would do well to stay with one software family or another.

But it’s clear that folks in the OpenOffice crowd have worked diligently to minimize, if not eliminate, such speed bumps on the road to total file integration.

Part of this may be pragmatism on the part of Microsoft. The company is facing stiff competition from “open-source” rivals in Europe and China. By allowing other programs to more easily exchange files, Microsoft may forestall claims that it is a “closed” platform. And part of it is clearly pragmatism on the part of other software developers and publishers. If you are going to compete with Microsoft, it’s vital to work with its file formats.

Even more encouraging are efforts to bring emulation software across platforms. Emulation isn’t a total substitute for a computer natively running another operating system; VirtualPC is a good program for the Mac, but it’s not the same as having a Windows PC, and its makers acknowledge that.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com.

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