Dear Green Activists, will you please start to take file formats seriously?

Shortly after its release, I explained why the .WWF file format isn’t a really green and smart idea. Here I answer, with an invite to all environmentalists and green activists, to a critique from Marghe, a reader who got upset because (synthesizing):

the message that WWF wants to send is just "don't print without a real reason!" The format is just an excuse, it's the message that counts. However, I find your critique isn't constructive, it seems you're just advertising free (as in freedom) software, but while WWF created a file format to try to do something, you wrote an article that is just useless (and it's bad that it appears as one of the first hits in Italian Google searches). Besides, it isn't true that free software programs are always compatible with everything, everywhere, because OpenOffice is compatible only with OpenOffice or a recent version of Windows Office. After reading your article I want to use and spread the .WWF format even more, because if an alphabet is propagated it becomes popular and well known, it can't produce ignorance. And I'm sorry, but you're wrong when you say that "alphabets are in the smallest possible number and remain almost unchanged across the centuries", because every people has created its own or modified what it got from other people, changing it across generations

(here’s the full text of the original comment in Italian)

Dear Marghe,

even ignoring completely the issues I raised, WWF may have plenty of reasons to forget this format, since outside their German section, other WWF branches don’t seem to really love it. But let’s look at your points.

I clearly said since my first article that educating the general public to not print without real reasons it’s an excellent thing. What’s not good here is just the way chosen to solve the problem, that takes advantage of the general ignorance about file formats instead of fighting it just because it hurts the environment!

I am really happy if these articles of mine come up in the first page of Google searches of this topic. Because it’s high time that all environmentalists (from big organizations to single people) start to realize, better and on a much larger scale than we’ve seen so far, how important it is to have a real understanding of ICT issues if you really want to protect the environment. With respect to this:

it isn’t true that free software programs are always compatible with everything, everywhere, because OpenOffice is compatible only with OpenOffice or a recent version of Windows Office

I spoke about OpenDocument, that is a file format, not a software program. OpenDocument is compatible with Microsoft Office, OpenOffice (in all its versions, including those like OOo4Kids that keep old, polluting computers away from dumpsters), IBM Lotus Symphony and other programs.

In general, the articles I wrote about the .WWF format may help many environmentalists to realize that not only software pollutes a lot (much more than wasted paper) but that this pollutions happens just through file formats. It is about time that we start using file formats to save the environment! Let’s just do it, please, in the proper way, all the time, instead of blessing the masses with the .WWF format, green because it can’t be printed.

Computers pollute a lot, immensely more than paper, since they’re done with large quantitities of (often toxic) raw materials, using huge quantities of clean water and energy. Unlike what happens with Free Software by means of trashware, commercial proprietary software cares very little or nothing of making computers last as long as possible. Every other version you need a more powerful computer, therefore the “old”, still perfectly working one must be dismissed.

Marghe, and all green activists: did you know that when Windows Vista was released it was called an offense to the enviroment just because of all the e-waste that it would produce? Did you know that the way that pile of e-waste becomes much bigger than it could be is just through file formats?

Did you know that the file formats of commercial proprietary software are secrets and change all the time just to force not only their initial producers, but whoever must open file in those formats, to dump software and hardware that still work, whether they want it or not, and the hell with the environment? Please realize that, while I only mentioned OpenDocument, this happens in all fields of computing.

This is why I “just advertise free software” (and even before that, free file formats). I do it for environmental reasons. I’m not attacking the .WWF format because, as Marghe says in her comment, I “love Linux”. I love Linux also because it is an environment-friendly operating system. But even if I didn’t love it, I would still be quite upset to see an important organization like WWF to discover and use file formats only… to reduce waste of paper, that is the most biodegradable, recyclable and renewable material among all those used by computer users. “Free as in freedom” file formats would contribute to save the environment immensely more than “ideas” like the .WWF format, if only more environmentalists knew these things and started to be more coherent with their own ideals even when they’re in front of a computer.

Environmentalists, if you aren’t embarassed by the .WWF format… all right, go use it. But whatever you think of it, please stop immediately to use or tolerate proprietary file formats that transform computers in toxic waste much earlier than necessary!

Oh, and one last thing: I’m not wrong when I say that alphabets are in the smallest possible number and remain almost unchanged across the centuries. I said “almost”. And it’s just because that’s true that I can read a 5 centuries old book (see the first example in this seminar), whereas a 10 year old file may already be unreadable. All this is explained at length in the links (that every environmentalist should read) in this and my other articles. Finally, alphabets are in the smallest possible number, at least when you compare them to file formats: in every moment, every single people or ethnic group only has one of them, but today each single people or ethnic group has to struggle with different, unnecessary file formats for every computer-related task.