Saturday, September 24, 2005

Massachusetts, OpenDocument, and THE Microsoft

Massachusetts is proposing to implement a new file format for all government documents called OpenDocument. OpenDocument is an open source XML based standard document format for text, spreadsheet, chart, and graphical documents. It allows users to share files across different office suites seamlessly, no interpolation required.

From what I understand about OpenDocument, it is not as feature rich as Microsoft's proprietary file formats, but being an open standard the files can be traded back and forth between office suites. That is a mighty compelling feature itself. And for government work, it might not be such a bad thing to limit the amount of 'features' a document has in it. Lastly, since it is an open source standard, it is certainly possible to add more functionality later.

So is this bad for Microsoft? Possibly, but probably not, or at least not so much. First, because OpenDocument is a open standard, old MS could simply add it into their office suite. And I bet that they eventually will. If not, then there is a business opportunity here for a software company to create a plug-in for MS Office that can read and write to the OpenDocument format.

But, really, what this is about is the world being freed from the tyranny of Microsoft's proprietary file formats. That will allow us to freely choose whatever office suite we want. So how is that not bad for MS? Well, I think it is likely that people will still choose MS Office, not only because it is what they know, but also because it is just so feature rich. And the masses seem to like it. And when the customer has the chance to choose the product, they then have a stake in it and become defacto advocates for it. As an example, a few years ago I became so fed up with MS's blatant unfair practices around Internet Explorer, that I did everything I could to avoid using it. Well, after a few months I came to the conclusion that IE was in fact the best browser of the day and acknowledged that it would have become number one regardless of the games MS was playing. I was very adamant about it. Of course that changed when Firefox matured. I switched to Firefox because Mozilla had finally put out not an equal browser, but a superior one.And MS always has Outlook, the ultimate bloatware that is massively habit forming. Thunderbird (which can be integrated with OpenOffice) is light years from Outlook, it is like a better version of Outlook Express.

That is not to say that I will be using MS Office, I have already switched to OpenOffice. But I am usually in the minority, I expect that I will be in the minority on this topic as well. For me, MS Office is just too frustrating to use. I have to work to get past all the crap that they throw at the user, like the 'help' window. Just like with the new design of XP, MS Office 2003 has more stuff that does not help me use my computer, it just adds stuff that gets in my way. I am very thankful that MS incorporated the ability to change the overall GUI to that of Win2K. That is my greatest worry with Vista, that MS may abandon the 'classic' theme and have some even more hideous GUI. If that is the case, it could well send me to MAC or Linux. Though, I would not look forward to that and I have to be hopeful that Vista will be at least as good as Win2K.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Rhino 3D

I just installed Rhino again on my fresh install of WinXP. I had forgotten how much I love that program. For those that do not know, it is a CAD program that uses NURBS to create complex surfaces. Simply put, it makes curvy stuff. It is very easy to learn and use, but it is not parametric, so one does need to know how to build a model in parts that can be modified later without having to rebuild the whole model. I usually do this with a combination of carefully saving all the construction input (curves) used to build any given surface and saving incremental versions of the whole file.

I had not used Rhino in more then a year (as I am now doing primarily web design instead of product design), but I was surprised how much of it I remembered. I just fell right back into it. I guess the thousands of hours spent working on it over the years had some permanent effect on my brain.

It is cheap too, it is $900 bucks now. But back when I started using it, it was $800 compared to $14K for PTC’s ProDesigner which is what I was using. ProDesigner was not only stupidly expensive, but slow, buggy, hard to use (like way hard to use) and quite limited. Over time, I completely replaced ProDesigner with Rhino for my design work which involved integrating with ProEngineer (PTC’s main app). Yes, not only did Rhino play nice with ProE (ProEngineer), over time, I found it easier to integrate then ProDesigner.

I pulled it out because I will be building a few pieces of furniture and will be modeling the design in Rhino. Yes, I do remember how to make furniture, astounding is it not? It is nice to be using one of my favorite programs of all time, three thumbs up (way up) to Rhino. Though, to be fair, Alias kicks ass, but was always just to expensive and did not have enough export options.

As for the furniture, I have a couple of new tools to help in the endevour. I won’t mention what they are until I have had time to fully test them out as a number of snooty woodworkers that I know will no doubt be looking down their noses at my new machines.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Texas Furniture Makers Show

The Texas Furniture Makers Show will be held at the Kerr Arts & Culture Center in Kerrville Texas. The show opens on October 28th and runs through December 5, 2005.

This is the sixth year of the show which has consistently been filled with a an excellent and eclectic range of finely crafted work.

I had the pleasure of judging the show in its second and third years. It has come a long way since then and now the show is judged by an ever changing three person committee of highly qualified individuals.

Jim Derby, the president of KACC (Kerr Arts & Culture Center), has done a tremendous job of building the show. Ken Malson has also been instrumental in the development of the show.

The event just keeps getting bigger and better. Last year I was fortunate enough to inaugurate a continuing education event for woodworkers focusing on design. This year in addition to the design class that I taught, KACC is also offering a great class on wood finishing, which is one of the more overlooked, yet very important parts of woodworking.

This year, Karl Muench will be teaching the design class and Curtis Whittington will be teaching the finishing class. If I can manage to get there, I will be sitting in on the design class and putting my two cents in. But I am very torn as the finishing class is held at the same time.

I highly recommend all Texas woodworkers to submit their work for the show (it is too late this year, but start thinking ahead for next year).

For anyone interested in design, this is a great show to see. If you are anywhere near Kerrville, you really should go see this show. Kerrville is quite a nice little town in the Hill Country so stay and have a look around. You will be surprised by the number of galleries the town has, I know I was.