Strained Relations: Reconciling Software Incompatibilities

After what seems like quite some time without having much to address in way of "incompatibilities," I recently found myself coping with a couple of real problems that were affecting my productivity in an important volunteer role that I play. At the same time, I made a decision to go along with the recommendation of my employer's IT staff that guarantees me some learning curve issues, along with likely incompatibilities.

At least one of the incompatibility issues comes from interacting with others who have moved on to Windows Vista. It may be an issue you have already experienced and have had to cope with, or, like one of my colleagues at the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP), you may have just seen one or two ".docx" files so far. That will change.

Since the adoption of Windows Vista is not proceeding at the pace Microsoft had hoped for, we are entering a world--for at least a year or two--where there will be some major issues about the compatibility of shared Word documents. Here's my story of how the issue arose for me: Note that it will get a little weird, but if you follow along, I will share a couple of useful links to help both Vista users and non-Vista users cope with the ".docx threat"--like when your students start sharing incompatible files with their professors; or your purchasing staff finds out that they can't open vendors' proposals.

You Can Pick Your Friends, and You Can Pick Your Software, but You Can't Pick Your Friends' Software
The ".docx" problem for me came in my role as a founding board member for the relatively new and fast-growing Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Because it is so new and its staff is growing so fast, it has purchased the very latest equipment for that new staff, and they began sending we board members important ".docx" files that we could not open because our colleges and universities, or in my case association, are not yet moving to Vista.

It is extra work for the staff to have to file and store Word documents in one format to share among themselves and then to create and share with (some) volunteer leaders, documents in a different, incompatible format.  Although that has caused some problems, it is a compatibility issue that I have found a solution for, as you will see below.

Another compatibility issue I have not found a solution for yet is that our staff is vigorously using Microsoft Groove. I understand the power of that tool, but not everyone on our board has been able to get it working for them yet, so staff is also having to share important documents twice: by e-mail, as well as the more simple method of putting them in a Groove folder, which gives automatic access to board members.

The Groove issue is exacerbated in my case by the fact that I recently gave into my SCUP IT staff and agreed to move to an Apple laptop. As I write this, I am looking at my new laptop, which I am not allowed to use yet. The AASHE staff tells me (as does Microsoft's website) that Groove simply will not work with Apple's operating systems. Sigh. Here's where the rest of my story gets a bit weird because all of this has caused me to have emotional reactions to IT functionalities that are a little more conscious than usual. In turn, that has caused me to think about the ways in which I, and I hope others, may sometimes think of our IT functionalities as having personalities.

Strained Relations
Firefox (my Web browser) is kind of like a lover. She's always there for me, rarely talks back, and waits on me hand and foot. She's also a very intelligent lover, who brings me useful and interesting things to read, look at, and think about. And she stokes my ego by finding for me the places I get recognition on the Internet.

AIM (instant messenger) is like a pushy, blowhard second cousin who provides some kind of useful service for me, but is always getting in my face wanting more recognition for it and always trying to find some way to get paid for how he helps me out. I need what he does, but he's obnoxious.

Thunderbird (e-mail client) is like a male secretary who is, on the face of it, a tough, strong guy, with bulging muscles, and he really knows how to collect the mail for me and sort it out. But he has a low tolerance for stress. Load up that in box with more than 10,000 messages, and he falls apart, gets sick, and takes up a day or two, and I end up losing stuff. (Happened today, actually)

Excel is like a work colleague whose perspective on the things we have to do together is so different from mine that I actually avoid working with him if at all possible. I know he can do great stuff, but I simply don't know what I have to do in order to get it out of him.

For years I have felt like I am unhappily married to Word. I simply have to live with Word, even though she seems to not care very much about me. We are a couple, socially, to so many people, that I can't live without her--even though I think from time to time about getting a divorce. Sometimes I think fondly about my first two wives, Dedicated Word Processor and WordStar.

I really got worried recently, when Word went out and had some plastic surgery and got a personal trainer. It was getting pretty difficult to interact with her because she was talking to another man at the same time, and seemed to only want to communicate in ".docx"--which I can't even begin to understand.

Then I discovered that, by receiving a little counseling from Microsoft, she could learn how to shape her communications with me to be more easily understood--turn on compatibility mode--and I could rework the way I receive her communications so that they made more sense to me--compatibility pack.

My laptop is like a personal servant. Wherever I go, he goes, and he carries around everything digital I need to use my IT functionalities. He is ego-free and totally dedicated to whatever I want done. Unfortunately, he's moving on to someone else, and my new manservant, OS X, is from the Apple clan. He comes highly recommended, but we don't even speak the same language!

I sure hope we get along.
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