The latest episode in the Office Wars

The latest episode in the Office Wars

Lately, I’ve been hearing more and more about Microsoft’s efforts on furthering what I believe they call the “Office User Experience”. This got me thinking. Doesn’t Microsoft have a near monopoly on office software at the moment? OK—There are other offerings out there—but do they warrant the massive expenditure MS is putting out on promoting this? Then it dawned on me. They must be panicking about and are doing what they can to prevent an exodus.

With that in mind, let me give some examples and my personal thoughts on the issue...

I don’t travel much now; I live and work from home. However, I have had reason to go to London for the day recently. When I arrived at the railway station in London I discovered the floor, walls and some banners plastered with the question: “Microsoft Office is evolving. Are you?” and pictures of people with reptile heads. A somewhat peculiar welcome to my capital city to say the least.

I, in the past, have had work very closely connected to Microsoft Office. To this end, I subscribed to an independent online newsletter called “Woody’s Office Watch”, of which I am still subscribed, though it has changed its name simply to “Office Watch”. I occasionally actually read it too. A recent issue has a section called “Microsoft’s Covenant not to Sue”. To me, because I followed Microsoft’s shenanigans in Massachusetts, this is old news. It doesn’t mention that it is as near certain as possible that the reason Microsoft is doing this is an attempt to head off the popularity of OASIS’s Open Document Format, which for an “independent” newsletter is strange.

The section includes the paragraph (regarding the covenant itself):

This means it’s more likely that other software providers like Corel and OpenOffice will be able to include the ability to read and write the upcoming Office 2007 document formats. While we have some concerns about the implementation of the docx, xlsx etc formats in the current beta of Office 2007, there’s a lot to like in the new document formats.

Ho-hum, no mention of Microsoft’s point blank refusal to support Open Document, which is supported by most other word processing programs out there and was created for the purpose. There is also no mention that Microsoft’s so called “standard format” includes the ability to put proprietary binary strings into the file (using the "BinData" tag I believe). This somewhat places a spanner in the works as far as complete interoperability is concerned.

In the same newsletter, in fact his main point in it, he mentioned Microsoft’s statement that “ was 10 years behind Microsoft Office”, of which he says “flushed out the usual anti-Microsoft suspects”. Being independent, he does mention that this statement was probably only used for the headline value. He also claims that although MS Office is ahead of, it is probably not by ten years. He also mentions that many people don’t use the newer features, but then expands to say they probably would find them useful if they took the time to learn them. He provides a link, which is to an interview with Microsoft’s Alan Yates on this subject. In this, as far as I can see, Alan says that MS-Office is worth the $500 or so license fee as opposed to none from because:

  1. There are less backward compatible issues.
  2. There is no email client with
  3. The new ribbon technology is more intuitive and there are other GUI changes.

My answers to these points are:

  1. The back compatibility argument, to me, is an argument for why people should drop Microsoft Office at the first available opportunity. If a company locks people into a solution by shirking open standards and sticking to their own proprietary ones they deserve obliteration.
  2. What is a specific email client doing in an office suite? Surely the best thing would be to support an inter-operable environment so that any email client can be used. Why lock people into a specific one?
  3. It is rumored that the ribbon technology was not asked for by the users, and that it is simply an attempt to get some “clear blue water” between MS Office and others like The jury is out on this and it hardly makes a gap of “10 years” either.

To me, the arguments he gives favour, or anybody else other than Microsoft. I don’t want to be trapped into only being able to use a single vendor for my productivity.

To be fair to the Office-Watch newsletter, although the editors are MS Office fans, it IS independent, and isn’t shy to criticize Microsoft harshly when they feel it deserves to be. The issue I am referring to here is unusually pro-Microsoft marketing. I believe it’s probably due to a misunderstanding of the issues involved rather than an intent to mislead.

Going back to those original advertisements, Microsoft is evolving all right. In fact, it would be fair to say that Microsoft is evolving further. It is evolving further and further into a tool for denying people basic IT freedoms and choice; a tool that causes people to become reliant on the whims and personal goals of the Microsoft executives. It is evolving in the same way that Bird Flu recently has and if we are not careful it could be just as devastating. To answer their question though: Yes! I am evolving! Though not toward Microsoft, but toward open standards and freedom! And I think that representing “Microsoft people” as people with a reptile heads is about right.



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Comment from: J. van der Wal [Visitor]

2006-03-11 @ 19:04
Microsoft Office is no alternative for me. I work both on Linux and Microsoft Windows systems. For this reason I use OpenOffice, which works fine on Linux and Windows. Furthermore, I don't like a software vendor to scramble my intellectual property to a closed format. The feature offered in OpenOffice are more than sufficient in my work. When the need arise to communicate content, I use the build in option to convert it to pdf.

Comment from: Haakon Meland Eriksen [Visitor] ·

2006-03-12 @ 01:07
I use OpenOffice 2, but I don't think Microsoft is very worried about OpenOffice. What worries Microsoft is older Microsoft products. If people don't feel the need to upgrade, you are living on old money until they run out.

Comment from: Hans Bezemer [Visitor] ·

2006-03-13 @ 09:53
I use OpenOffice only as a way to communicate with the "ignorant outside world" ;-) I have used WordPerfect 5.1 until 2000 and after that I adopted LyX. LyX is aeons ahead of MS Office.

Don't bother about the layout, just write content. When it dies (which rarely occurs) it saves your document first. I've written documents of 300+ pages, and it works smoothly even at the 100th picture or page. Tables of contents are automatically generated, just like headers, footers and pagenumbers.

It generates crisp and professional looking PDF, HTML, plain text, LaTex, DVI, etc. etc. The files are plain text. My productivity is boosted at least 100%, hammering out 20-30 pages a day. I love it. Never gonna switch again..!

Comment from: Karl O. Pinc [Visitor] ·

2006-03-13 @ 18:46
I agree with Haakon Meland Eriksen, Microsoft has to convince people who already have a working Office Suite to shell out the money for something new. If they can't keep the re-sales churn going they won't be able to justify their stock price. As soon as Microsoft loses it's reputation for invinciblity in the market their monolopy status is toast. When the pointy haired boss hears that Microsoft's stock has tanked he'll be more willing to consider alternatives and Micosoft will have to go back to being just another corporation.

It happened to IBM, it will happen to Microsoft.

Comment from: Praveen [Visitor] ·

2006-03-14 @ 08:10
I use openoffice for my daily work. It has most of the features that i require. Micrsoft should support the open document format or a xml based open standard and enter into a open competition rather than following proprietory formats and playing a monopoly role.

Comment from: Richard [Visitor]

2006-03-14 @ 09:08

I seen the pain caused by working with the intuitive, easy to administer Windows system every day in my work, yet at home my SUSE Professional 10 installation is a joy to work with. My previous employer used Java and Linux and that was more fun too.

Perhaps we're ahead of the game here - trying to do new things like Dot-Net-2 and minimum privelage configurations. Windows doesn't lend itself to minimum privelage, and Dot-Net-2 doesn't mix well in a Dot-Net-1 environment. The class libraries for either don't feel as well thought out as Java's and the stupidly expensive development environment is lightyears behind Eclipse for serious work

So much innovation happens in the Non-Microsoft world, and so much better comes of it - I really hope Microsoft's stranglehold on businesses through Office is broken. The new Office seems designed to lock business in even more strongly than they already are. It ties to Microsoft server, which ties to Active Directory, which ties to a wholly Microsoft implementation. The DRM features strongly lock users into Office.

A lot of these dinosoar ads are pushing the DRM features. I hope the "Pointy Haired Bosses" of the world don't continue to believe the hype (Microsft hype is always wonderful) and don't just fall for this.

Comment from: Haakon Meland Eriksen [Visitor] ·

2006-03-17 @ 17:55
Breathe freely with free software! :-)

A nice slogan, but seeing is believing - explore visually with your boss an ODF file with a ZIP enabled file manager, and drag content.xml from one ODF file to another. Try that with MS produced binaries!


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Edward Macnaghten's picture


Edward Macnaghten has been a professional programmer, analyst and consultant for in excess of 20 years. His experiences include manufacturing commercially based software for a number of industries in a variety of different technical environments in Europe, Asia and the USA. He is currently running an IT consultancy specialising in free software solutions based in Cambridge UK. He also maintains his own web site.