A moral dilemma of mammoth proportions

A bit of back-story first... I have a lot of clients that run interesting and unusual businesses. When you consider the sheer volume of clients that I have, most are independent, local businesses. One of my newest clients is an elk farmer. To protect the innocent, I'll refrain from linking to their Web site.

I got the following email from this client recently:

Here's a little question for you...on my laptop, when I use any microsoft program - word or access - if I type the word "elk" it turns automatically into "bison". Is there a setting I can change to stop this from happening??? ...as there is a big difference between elk and bison and we carry both in the store so I am constantly typing elk as "ekk" If you know anything about this I'd sure love to hear how to fix it.

Please follow the links to Wikipedia if you are unclear on what an elk and a bison look like. I'll wait. (Hint: one has antlers, one has horns and they're about as different as a moose is to a cow. Which I understand might not help to clarifying the matter.)

After spending an inappropriate amount of time laughing at this AutoCorrection I wondered what advice I should give back to my client. I know how to delete AutoCorrections in OpenOffice.org, but I'm not entirely sure how to do it in MS Word. Should I do the research and explain how things are done in Word? Should I email them back with a link to OOo and say that Word is broken beyond repair? How would you handle this situation?

PS Choose wisely--they're farmers stuck on dial-up.

Update Thanks for all of your suggestions to date! I have emailed my client back with a link to a tutorial that I think will work for them as well as a recommendation to try OpenOffice.org. I should have clarified in the original post: I'm a Web developer. My clients know their contract does not include desktop support. And, no, this is not a prank. I really did get this email.

This behaviour is caused by

This behaviour is caused by auto correct in MS office. You can edit the list of words that are automatically replaced (like taht becomes that) in the spelling options located under the button options in the spell check window. There you can edit the auto correct dictionary and remove the elk2bison "feature". Once deleted, it should work on all MS office apps.

Hope this will work for your Elk problem... ;-)

Agreed, it would be the auto

Agreed, it would be the auto correct that's doing this.

Tell them the truth; that

Tell them the truth; that you don't know about Microsoft products anymore because you simply don't have to. That OOO is good enough to where you don't have to deal with it.

If you feel like being nice, you can say you'd be happy to do some research, but it might take some time.

Yeah, great way to lose a

Yeah, great way to lose a client. Congratulations. I love your attitude.

She's not paid to shrug her arms and say that she doesn't know jack. She's paid to provide solutions to problems.

It works on my clients; they

It works on my clients; they seem genuinely relieved that they don't have to buy Microsoft anymore.

You may recommend Abiword

You may recommend Abiword also as it is lightweight and should get the job done. :-)

I'm not sure where the moral

I'm not sure where the moral dilemma is in this situation.

If this is your customer and you have agreed to support them, you must support what they have. In this case it is Word for good or ill. If you want to recommend OOo going forward that's great. If you want to set a policy going forward that you will not support Word so be it. For now I think you have an obligation to them to research the answer to their problem.

I know for me I make the best recommendations I can for my customers and that includes a preference for the F/OSS option.

I do agree with Chuck. If we

I do agree with Chuck. If we support technically our client and if they choose to use Ms Word, so you have to support Ms Word and tell them how to solve the problem (if I do remember from work, the solution is in the Tools menu of Word (at least until Word XP), there is an "Auto-correct" entry or similar which displays a list of all auto-corrections it made, you have to scroll through the list and remove the wrong entry.
As for telling them about Open Office. As part of the support, you can also provide advice, which the customer are free to take or not. But you should not just tell them that it is better because it's free. Based on your experience with the customer should explain him why this solution will make him more productive, or cut down costs, etc. And also, you should tell him about the risk of learning an entirely new application. My parents and siblings are still using Ms Office, because they feel lost when using OpenOffice. It looks similar at first sight, but the menu hierarchy is different enough that it takes time to adapt for them and they lack the time. So do not underestimate the cost in time to switch from Ms Office to Open Office.
As for the dial-up problem and if they are interested (after your argumentation) to switch to Open Office, as a commercial gesture you could burn and ship a CD of Open Office ;-) I'm sure they would really appreciate that!

Is Office (MS or Open)

Is Office (MS or Open) really necessary for what they're doing? If there's an open alternative that's better suited to the task at hand, that'd be the best way to promote open source.

I harbor no love for OpenOffice.org, from its stupid branding (really, .org? are we that cheap and unimaginative?) to it's insistence that duplicating Microsoft's mistakes. Sure, it's important to have compatibility, to appeal to offices with huge numbers of documents and MS Office workarounds, but that doesn't appeal to me. So don't feel like you're necessarily offending people by not immediately promoting OO.o.

Hi Emma, you can: state the

Hi Emma,
you can:
state the reason for the error
say that you can research a fix
suggest an alternative that may not have this issue
and see which one your client wants you to do. You may want to read this[0] and submit your anecdote to Mako for his project.
[0] http://revealingerrors.com/

I would politely tell them

I would politely tell them that I know nothing about MS products. If it were an open source product that I knew nothing about I'd probably try to point them at how to make a bug report, but with MS, I can't even find that (and no, I don't think I should have to pay them for a support incident to report a bug in their product).

Of course, a commenter here has given the answer, so you could forward that on, but that might just lead to an expectation of more support in the future...

Uh, if they are your

Uh, if they are your CLIENTS, then fix em'. It took me a grand total of 15 seconds to find this via google:


And....there on the same google search page are how-to's for office versions going wayy back.

The client, by definition, is the person you take care of. So if they are on dialup, you google and then walk em' through the fix once you've verified that this is the proper version of office.

I see absolutely NO reason to preach about different office suites just for this issue, as it isn't a technical issue in the strictest sense, and definitely not a reason to change out a lot of stuff.

I prefer open office myself but when it comes to "clients", take care of the small stuff (this) and present bigger alternatives for the bigger issues....such as........"HEY! My 'puter won't boot cuz o' this mal-eware thingie'. ;) ;)

When it comes of office/word/ etc., et. al, if they are using it, then the 'paid for' part is already done, and pointing to alternatives at that point will get the client defensive BECAUSE he's already forked over the cash.

Hope alls well that ends well there either way. :)

If they ask you how to fix

If they ask you how to fix auto-correct, you tell them how to fix it in the office suite they use.
If they later ask you when buying a new computer or just new software, which office suite should I buy, you tell them what you think about openoffice.
Easy as that, most people don't like switching software.

He said he is using both MS

He said he is using both MS Word and Access. What are you going to advice him to change Access for... Base?.

Tell them to use the word

Tell them to use the word wapiti ;)

Just tell them, "I'm sorry,

Just tell them, "I'm sorry, you're just going to have to switch to farming bison."

Stuck on dial-up or not, you

Stuck on dial-up or not, you don't want to give them a link to download OO.o because people often perceive free things to be inferior to things they've paid a lot of money for. They are a client of yours, send them a CD with OO.o on it and tell them you are happy to provide them with some software that you find to be far superior to MS Office. Also tell them how to fix the problem in MS Office, since they are your client and that is what they wanted.

I would send the farmer a CD

I would send the farmer a CD containing OO.o if you are not able to find out how to fix the issue in an acceptable time. And maybe you want to add a CD with (K)Ubuntu so he can use OO.o with that and get rid of viruses and other Win problems.

I agree with the last two

I agree with the last two comments. Funny thing, though, I just typed elk on MS Word and it did not autocorrect to bison. It doesn't have it in mine, so it's not by default... I wonder if someone set it up earlier in their computer.

My out-of-the-box Office

My out-of-the-box Office 2007 doesn't seem to be doing that. Perhaps the whole blog post is just a joke?

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