• Explore the magic and the mystery!
  • The Tech Night Owl's Home Page



  • Discover the power of GraphicConverter 9



  • Is Microsoft Office 2008 Too Little, Too Late?

    October 1st, 2007

    On or about January 15, 2008, according to current plan, Microsoft's Mac Business Unit will release the long-awaited -- and somewhat delayed -- Office 2008 for the Mac in the U.S. They are busy touting its new features, which include updated artwork, a page layout feature for Word, and various and sundry tools for easier organization and access.

    The suite, which dominates the Mac market, though not nearly as much as Office for Windows dominates that platform, is a huge profit center for Microsoft. Compared to the grief they suffer with their own operating system, Microsoft's Mac software requires far less technical support. For most people, it just works, even if the software is flaky and typically bloated.

    I have little doubt that Office 2008 will be a marvelous upgrade, well worth the purchase price, even if you're buying your copy from scratch and don't have an older version at hand. I'm personally a fan of Entourage, the email and contact management application, although the current version is slow, even on the speediest Power Mac on the planet, the G5 Quad. On an Intel-based Mac, despite ongoing improvements in Rosetta emulation, Entourage can be a real drag -- and you can interpret that phrase any way you like.

    In addition, Office 2008 will reportedly be file compatible with Office 2007 for Windows. So far so good.

    But there is one key feature the Mac version has dropped that may create havoc for a certain segment of business users, and that's Visual Basic. You see, Microsoft's programming language is used for macros, which automate many complicated Office procedures, particularly with sophisticated Excel documents. Some book publishers set up custom templates with Visual Basic macros, so the author only has to invoke the proper shortcut to embed formatting commands that translate during the final book production process. In other words, this feature is not only significant but crucial for many users.

    On the negative side of the ledger, the so-called Office macro viruses use security holes in Visual Basic to do nasty things. On the Windows platform, they might cause extensive damage, since Office and other Microsoft applications are closely tied to the operating system. On the Mac, these viruses might kill your Office templates in various ways. In one well-known situation, you can no longer save new documents -- they are all saved as templates.

    If there's any real reason to run anti-virus software under Mac OS X right now, it's the risk of a macro virus, or perhaps accidentally sending virus-infected messages to a Windows user. So if you thought that Macs are safe, you are probably right -- at least for now -- but why would you want to hurt a Windows user? That is, of course, unless you don't like the intended recipient of your message, but that's still not the point, since it may accidentally spread to an innocent third party regardless of your intentions.

    To be a bit more serious, though, Microsoft's Mac BU gave a logical-sounding excuse for axing Visual Basic. It's taken them long enough to port their code to Apple's Xcode programming environment, so they can build a Universal version. The task of transitioning Visual Basic would take the better part of the year; at least, so they say.

    Now it's very easy to come up with a logical-sounding conspiracy theory here. Microsoft secretly wants Mac users to switch to the Windows platform, and thus they are crippling Office 2008 in ways to force people to make some critical decisions if they must use macros.

    On the other hand, Office 2008 will have expanded support for AppleScript. All but the cheapest version will include a number of Automator actions to help deliver basic functionality without having to learn scripting. There already have been articles published about transitioning to AppleScript, so it may be possible to take some existing macros and make them work under the new system.

    That, however, doesn't mean there will be two-way translation between AppleScript or Visual Basic, or even that such a thing is possible. If it was, I wouldn't be so concerned.

    In the meantime, while Apple continues to tout Microsoft Office as an important Mac application suite, they have worked hard to improve iWork. In the latest version of Pages, for example, there's virtually complete support for Word's Track Changes feature. This is a critical workgroup tool that lets writers and editors collaborate on a document and keep tabs on the entire revision process.

    If anything, Pages does it better, since you no longer have to put up with Word's silly change balloons and other awkwardness in exchange for a method that's at once smoother and easier to handle. It also appears, based on my brief testing, that you can transfer documents back and forth between Pages and Word and not lose any of the edits.

    This is not to say that iWork '08 is a 100% alternative to Office. Many of the advanced features of Microsoft's suite aren't supported. Apple has carefully targeted iWork for home and small business users, who will rarely, if ever, require the sophisticated elements of Office. It's fair to say, in fact, that only a fraction of Microsoft's users ever thoroughly attack the convoluted nooks and crannies either, so maybe it doesn't make a difference.

    Certainly, Apple is not overtly going after Microsoft's customers. But the delay in releasing Office 2008 may accomplish that result anyway. And for folks who really don't care about macros anyway, this may just be the last straw.

    Is Microsoft listening? Will they take the blame if Office 2008 isn't a smashing success, or will they just say that Mac users don't care anymore, that maybe it's time they packed up their bags and went home?

    Of course, Microsoft has also done some pretty screwy things with its Windows products. In the end, if they lose the Mac market, it may indeed be more the result of stupidity than conspiratorial thinking.



    Share
    | Print This Article Print This Article

    21 Responses to “Is Microsoft Office 2008 Too Little, Too Late?”

    1. Aaron says:

      Not to be too pedantic here Gene, but Microsoft left out Visual Basic for Applications, not Visual Basic. VBA is a subset of VB that was built into Office. I think that your analysis is spot on otherwise.

      Also if you need to have VBA support and don't want to deal with a rosetta based application like Office '04 is, then you can always give OpenOffice.org or NeoOffice a try.

    2. Not to be too pedantic here Gene, but Microsoft left out Visual Basic for Applications, not Visual Basic. VBA is a subset of VB that was built into Office. I think that your analysis is spot on otherwise.

      Also if you need to have VBA support and don't want to deal with a rosetta based application like Office '04 is, then you can always give OpenOffice.org or NeoOffice a try.

      I am aware of the alternatives. But only a fraction of a fraction of Mac users have tried them, and when they do, they have to confront clunky interfaces and sometimes clunky performance.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. David says:

      Hi Gene,

      I plan to dump Office 2008 and keep my Office 2004 and iWork 08. I have migrated most of my docs from Word to Pages which I like tons better (spot on analysis). I have moved all my PowerPoints to KeyNote which is much better and though Numbers has a ways to go, it will work for 80% of my spreadsheet needs (esp. the Grade Book). I can fill in gaps with NeoOffice. Besides I think MS price plan is too high, $240 for an upgrade ! I can get them for the educational price of $150, but unless they really come out with some spectacular "useable" features (not just new eye candy), I don't plan to use Office 08.
      Thanks anyway.
      Best regards,
      David

    4. Kevin says:

      It's my understanding that VBA will be dropped in the next version of Office for Windows. Ideally, if MS developed something that was cross-platform or at with the ability to translate from one to another, that is a much better situation. As always, the answer is coming in the next version.

    5. It's my understanding that VBA will be dropped in the next version of Office for Windows. Ideally, if MS developed something that was cross-platform or at with the ability to translate from one to another, that is a much better situation. As always, the answer is coming in the next version.

      If that's the case, then this is indeed a Mac first, for better or worse.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. T Molnar says:

      While I still have to use .doc files in my work environment (academic-research-teaching) I finally got tired of Word and it's various quirks.
      I import all my documents into Mellel now and use that application from Redlers.com. exporting to .doc as needed.

      Very happy with it so far.

      Won't be going back as far as I can see.
      (Macbook Pro)

    7. Steve says:

      Unfortunately or interestingly, MS's decision to drop VBA just encouraged me to purchase Office 2004; I currently use Office v.X. This way I can have the latest version with VBA and the Intel native version. My choice is to use Mac + Office or Windows. Well, I'm not getting Windows.

      As users of Office, we should ask MS to add back the VBA functionality. If they receive enough requests and are serious about the Mac, perhaps we'll get it in a year or so - Office '08 SP 1?

    8. Mark says:

      One word: Speed. Many of us using Office 2004 on Intel Macs are holding our collective breath for a much faster version of office. Power Point is absolutely glacial compared to Keynote now. Entourage can slow to a crawl or just stop working as well. If MS doesn't have much faster applications in the next version of this suite, I will probably stick with 2004 for excel and word tasks alone.

    9. John Lockwood says:

      Like Kevin says, I have read comments that suggest the next Office for Windows will also dump VBA support for pretty much the same reason as Office 2008 has on the Mac. That being it is too hard to port it to a 64bit Windows environment.

      I seem to recall comments suggesting a replacement something like VB.net being used instead.

      Now, if Microsoft (or more specifically the MacBU) has even two brain cells to rub together, rather than simply saying we are not going to include VBA in Office 2008, they should have added BUT we will eventually add VB.net when it is also added to the Windows version.

      This would have then accomplished the very important task of reassuring Mac businesses that true cross-platform compatibility would at least at some point in the future be restored.

      Microsoft by utterly failing to do this leave all their Mac customers in the lurch.

      I am IT Manager for a company that is 100% Mac based but we still use VBA Macros in Word and Excel, and still need to be able to exchange documents with the great unwashed majority afflicted with Windows. With Microsoft so completely failing to address Mac businesses concerns, we have no choice but to IGNORE Office 2008 and stick with Office 2004. This is going to lose Microsoft tens of thousands of dollars in upgrades just from our relatively small company (so one can imagine the impact globally, Office 2008 could turn out to be an even bigger turkey than the Zune or Vista).

      Of course this failing is on top of oh so many others by Microsoft, it appears almost certain that Office 2008 will still not support right-to-left languages like Hebrew and Arabic, MSN Messenger still does not do video or voice, licensing for Vista is still designed to screw Mac users of Parallels or VM Ware, etc. etc. etc.

      Apple can manage to produce several FREE programs for Windows of equal features and quality to their Mac products, why cannot the Worlds biggest software company produce even one decent Mac application?

    10. Alan Smith says:

      I use NeoOffice instead. I was using MS Office 2004 for Mac. NeoOffice imports and exports the new standard (docx) files. And it does not change the interface. I went to an MS Office 2007 workshop training and Windows Office 2007 is a huge MESS! Folks in and outside of academia have having a very troublesome time with the change. Some of my fellow academics are wanting to switch to Mac because of this and the awful Vista interface. MS is only shooting themselves in the foot again! Go ahead MS, do that.

    11. I use NeoOffice instead. I was using MS Office 2004 for Mac. NeoOffice imports and exports the new standard (docx) files. And it does not change the interface. I went to an MS Office 2007 workshop training and Windows Office 2007 is a huge MESS! Folks in and outside of academia have having a very troublesome time with the change. Some of my fellow academics are wanting to switch to Mac because of this and the awful Vista interface. MS is only shooting themselves in the foot again! Go ahead MS, do that.

      Despite the over-eager spin control from Microsoft, I think it's clear that Office 2007 isn't doing quite as well as they hoped. I mean, is there any real reason to upgrade? Does the ribbon and new file format do anything to help someone increase their workflow? Does it help ease of use? Probably not.

      Peace,
      Gene

    12. david toub says:

      My main concern with Office 2008 is their apparent dropping of Exchange support except in the two most expensive versions. Exchange support was a free update to Entourage 2004 quite some time ago and as best I can tell, the student/home version ($150) will not support Exchange (other than what Entourage can do with any IMAP-based server, including .mac). Aside from some automator scripts and exchange support, I'm not sure what an additional $250 gets the average user to move up from the $150 home/student edition.

    13. Andrew says:

      I've completely skipped 2007 on the Windows side as 2003 does absolutely everything I could want it to do. I'll go to 2008 on my Macs simply for the Intel native speed, but certainly won't rush out and get licenses for my PPC Macs, which will stay in the 2004 version. What would cause me to migrate fully to the 2007/2008 versions is the adoption of the new file format by any of the state or federal courts that I deal with.

      Import/export converters are just not an option with pleading paper.

    14. Richard Taylor says:

      Gene,

      I use Word and Pages to write novels. I'd hoped to move everything over to Pages with 3.0 and leave Word behind, but it hasn't worked out that way. I still compose in Pages because it's just easier on the eyes. Pages just looks better, particularly after a five hour stint. However, when I begin the second draft I still have to jump over into Word. Pages hangs on the 'find and replace' command with a document exceeding eighty thousand words, particular if I'm working on my iBook. It takes forever on the Intel machine as well. Also, Pages lacks variable zoom which means I can't optimize text on the iBook. If memory serves, variable zoom was selectable in the previous version. Moving from a large screen to a notebook screen really requires variable zoom.

      I still love composing in Pages, though, and plan to use the two programs, Pages and Word, in tandem.

      Richard

    15. My main concern with Office 2008 is their apparent dropping of Exchange support except in the two most expensive versions. Exchange support was a free update to Entourage 2004 quite some time ago and as best I can tell, the student/home version ($150) will not support Exchange (other than what Entourage can do with any IMAP-based server, including .mac). Aside from some automator scripts and exchange support, I'm not sure what an additional $250 gets the average user to move up from the $150 home/student edition.

      This is indeed an interesting question. Basically the home/student edition loses nothing but those two features, and you also get three serial numbers, so you can install simultaneously on three computers. Remember that Office does a network activation check to make sure that two copies with the same serial number aren't running.

      If you don't care about Exchange (and certainly I have no use for it) and are not immersed in Automator and/or AppleScript, the low-end version is the perfect choice.

      Peace,
      Gene

    16. Chuck says:

      Don't forget the lack of compatibility with the Microsoft Document Imaging format. This was a feature in Office 2003 that is missing in Office 2004 and probably won't show up in Office 2008.

    17. gopher says:

      The big question, and that's a sticky point for me is if an age old bug in Entourage is fixed. The philosophy that you can put all your eggs in one basket. One file known as "Database" controls the contents of your email folders, addressbook, and calendar. If that becomes too big, it corrupts easily. And even though they have a database repair program now, it does not work 100% of the time. I'm just glad I got my mail out of Entourage and migrated to Mail Addressbook, and iCal using the FAQ http://www.macmaps.com/entouragemigration.html

      Now at least my Addressbook, Calendar, and email folders are all separate folders, so that if one file doesn't quite work right, I just go and grab its backup. Microsoft has another serious usability issue. No integration with Microsoft Access. They came to my usergroup and told me it would take 100 years to port over the code from Access to the Mac. I say baloney. If Visual Basic can be translated into Realbasic which is crossplatform, and Access to Filemaker as well as Filemaker have ODBC links to allow it to integrate with Access, having Access for the Mac should be easy. Either fix Entourage, or bring us Access. That's what Mac users really need to get Apple to make a dent into the business environments.

    18. Peter Bogert says:

      When iWork '08 came out I, as a new Mac user, was really excited. I bought a MacBook Pro in March and have made the switch from being a long-time Windows user without any regret. (My only gripe is the inability to find a program that imports Microsoft Money files.)

      I used the trial version of iWork, but had to give it up pretty quickly. I was really surprised that in Keynote, which is a phenomenal application, that you can't import several files into one presentation as you can in PowerPoint. That sealed the deal for me since that is the main need that I have for a presentation program. Also, whereas working with 2-up pages in Word is a snap, it is not easy at all in Pages.

      I've been using Office '04 and will probably get Office '08 because of the aforementioned issues. I liked the interface and update from Office 2003 to Office 2007 on the Windows platform, and what I see of Office 2008 makes me think that the upgrade will be worth the cost, unless I can overcome the deficiencies in iWork mentioned above.

    19. Andrew says:

      I didn't know that Entourage 08 was losing Exchange compatibility, that changes everything for me. I guess I'll be sticking with Office 2004 even on my Intel machines, unless an Exchange plugin or the like is made available.

    20. I didn't know that Entourage 08 was losing Exchange compatibility, that changes everything for me. I guess I'll be sticking with Office 2004 even on my Intel machines, unless an Exchange plugin or the like is made available.

      Only the home/school edition. The higher-end versions will have no such limitation.

      Peace,
      Gene

    21. Andrew says:

      Whew.

    Leave Your Comment