Thursday, April 8, 2010

Notes on inclusive, egalitarian email attachment practices

Most people, understandably, simply default to whatever software happens to be installed on the computer they've purchased. So, when attaching documents in emails or circulating files of some sort or other, most of us just send out the default document type (no matter who the audience is).

But I want to suggest that we should be more conscious of what we're doing in these cases.

First of all, think about this. Say you have a brand new Macbook. If you simply default to whatever is standard on your computer, you are, in effect, demanding that everyone own the same computer as you.

One example is the "docx" format that is now becoming standard for new versions of Word.

If you send an attachment that is in this format to 100 people, for example, you're basically discriminating against people who don't have newer computers or the newest software. Of course, Microsoft is pleased with this exclusivity. But if you're an egalitarian you shouldn't have the same priorities as Microsoft and Apple.

There are plenty of other examples.

But in general, we should favor alternatives in order to not to reproduce the pressures to purchase expensive, unnecessary software that helps massive corporations make profits.

Try to send things in widely-available, free formats that do not require up-to-date, expensive, exclusive software. Don't require that everyone on the receiving end buy the newest products from Microsoft. Don't assume that everyone has a nice and new a computer as you do.

Send .pdfs. Send information in the body of emails as plain text.

(There are free, open-source word processors (e.g. Open Office) which have .pdf -exporters if you don't have a program that does this).

Think of others before you click "send".


Jen said...

Those docx are the bane of my life. Even if you have the software to use them, what usually happens is you set out your document, beautifully, with lots of tabs and stuff, as a docx. Then you have to send it to someone who doesn't have the latest version of Vista, so you save it as a Word Document (1997-2003), at which point all your formatting goes KABLOOIE, tabs all bouncing off the walls. Horrible.

Arvilla said...

Great post. I agree that we should be hyper conscious of the formats we use (especially as teachers). However, I think that what might be even more important than using sort of the lowest-common-denominator-format is to simply avoid using fancy formatting whenever possible. That way, whatever someone needs to convert it into, should be fine (including google reader). If you absolutely have to use formatting that will be drastically altered by a change in format, convert it to a pdf before distributing it. I think almost all computers are equipped with a pdf reader.

Jen said...

The most important thing about formatting documents is probably making it accessible to everyone, including say people with sight problems (some of whom use audio tools to read websites and documents). So you do need some formatting. In fact, the RNIB has some useful info on web accessibility, some of which is applicable (colour constrasts, for instance)

Arvilla said...

Right. I didn't mean no formatting at all, clearly. I meant no fancy formatting, like complex tables and columns, spacing techniques, the kinds of things that get screwed up when you change formats and make a document impossible to decipher.