How to say ‘No’ politely
I get sent a lot of email attachments — many of them in Microsoft Word format. I’ve been wondering for some time how to tell my correspondents that this is unacceptable to me (I am, after all, one of the founders of Living without Microsoft!), and have finally got round to drafting a piece of boilerplate text that I can send back. My starting point was a web page written by Richard Stallman which contains some draft text. It didn’t seem exactly appropriate, so I modified it a bit to read like this:
Thanks for writing. However the attachment to your message is in Microsoft Word format, a secret proprietary format that I avoid whenever possible. If you send me plain text, rtf, HTML, or PDF, then I will read it.
Distributing documents in Word (or Excel) format could be bad for your correspondents because they can carry viruses (see http://www.symantec.com/avcenter/macro.html). Sending Word attachments could be bad for you, because a Word document normally includes hidden information about the author, enabling those in the know to pry into his or her activities. For example, text that you think you deleted may still be embarrassingly present. See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/3154479.stm for a celebrated instance of this.
But above all, sending people Word documents puts pressure on them to use Microsoft software and helps to deny them any other choice. In effect, you become a buttress of the Microsoft monopoly and reduce the incentive for people to explore alternatives. Can I respectfully ask that you reconsider the use of Word format for communication with other people?
The trick is to be polite while being firm, and to avoid being sanctimonious. The aim is to make people think, not to put their backs up. I’m not convinced that this draft manages that. Hmmm…