Just wanted to jot down another frustrating example of how closed source software serves the creator company before it serves the user and why particular choices are made at the point of development.

I have been doing some research and have come across hundreds of PDFs of doctoral dissertations written by smart people about extremely interesting topics, but surprisingly nearly all the papers begin with “Microsoft Word – …” as the prefix to the paper’s title field embedded in the PDFs property data and dutifully indexed by Google as such. In none of the cases is “Microsoft Word” relevant to the topic discussed.

Curious, no?

So let’s ask ourselves why might Microsoft Word appear as a default suffix to the topic title of the work you are producing. Maybe it’s the particular manner of the chain of custody between Word and the PDF renderer (I don’t use Windows, so I have no idea how it works in that world). Maybe it’s Microsoft Word itself. I have no real idea. But the problem exists – your work, your data, your investigation has Microsoft branding barfed all over it.

Why?

Microsoft wants more search engine traction. By making all PDFs produced with Microsoft Word embed the string “Microsoft Word” into your work’s title, they ensure that every search for your work will also yield a boost for them. Microsoft is piggybacking on your hard work.

Microsoft just wants everybody everywhere to know that there is only one way to write an academic paper. Using the same motivation as the search engine, Microsoft hopes that for every paper published or read, people will continue to regard the string “Microsoft Word” as the only manner in which people may produce textual works. It becomes so conditioned into our expectations that when it doesn’t appear we think, something must be wrong.

I mean, it’s no secret that Microsoft, a for profit company, seeks its own ends, that these decisions are made to benefit them and no one else. Why else would they helpfully embed their brand into your document? Does that help you?

There’s a better way, however. Contrast Microsoft’s tack with that of the Document Foundation, whose values favor and empower the user rather than the organization. Among others, here’s a particularly nice gem from their core values: We commit ourselves to allow users of office productivity software to retain the intellectual property in the documents they create, by use of open document formats and open standards.

And we find that when you outout a PDF from Libreoffice it doesn’t alter your title. Cool.