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  • Do You Really Need Microsoft Office?

    May 15th, 2008

    When I first started writing computer books in 1994, I remember being asked whether I had a copy of Word installed on my Mac? You see, as with most publishers then and now, they rely heavily on Word’s Track Changes feature to monitor the editorial production process from the original manuscript to the final version that is used to generate the printed pages.

    Now Word actually originated on the Mac, but it had its share of ups and downs over the years, and some of you might suggest the latter is the most common result. Word’s near-downfall occurred with the infamous version 6, which was a bad PC port, using their notorious “P code” to employ the same code base for both Mac and Windows.

    Aside from the fact that it was slow to launch, the interface was dark, dreary, and lacked the proper Mac-like fit and finish that we demand for our favored platform. Yes, there were subsequent updates that addressed performance shortcomings, but you could almost get the feeling that Office for the Mac was dead, as far as Microsoft was concerned.

    Of course, we have the Mac Business Unit now, and the ongoing pledge that Office:Mac development will continue for the indefinite future. In fact, Microsoft has already confirmed that a new version is under development, and that it will arrive two or three years from now. That schedule might depend on the successor for Office 2007 for Windows, since the Mac version has to be mostly compatible.

    Yes, it also appears that Microsoft is moving lots of copies of Office 2008, and this week’s SP1 update appears to have mostly addressed the worst bugs and performance issues. However, we all know it has one show-stopping limitation, which is the lack of support for Microsoft’s Visual Basic for Applications feature, which is key to creating cross-platform macros.

    In fact, certain Excel document are so customized with VBA they almost seem to be presenting themselves as a different application environment. While it’s not something I’ve used much, I once worked for a publisher that employed Word macros to maximum benefit to heavily format manuscripts so they’d be easy to translate to their chosen desktop publishing environment for final production.

    With Office 2008, none of that is possible. The documents will indeed open, of course, but the functions provided by the macros will not be available. Working with MacTech magazine, Microsoft did provide some guidance on using AppleScript for Office 2008, but with no direct VBA to AppleScript translation mechanism, that was a poor solution.

    True, VBA will be back in the next Mac version of Office, but where does that leave you now?

    Today, if you must use macros on your Mac, you have to stick with Office 2004, or set up Windows with Boot Camp or a virtualization application and install Office for Windows instead. In fact, the latter solution is so effective, you probably won’t suffer any significant performance limitation, so long as your Intel-based Mac has plenty of RAM installed.

    However that doesn’t help sell copies of Office 2008, right? Does that mean that the sales hike is only temporary, and that a large number of potential customers will simply sit out this version? If so, that could result in a self-fulfilling prophecy, assuming Microsoft actually would love to kill Office for the Mac eventually.

    But I don’t believe that they want to dump Mac support. Aside from potential antitrust threats, Microsoft makes a nice amount of change from their Mac Business Unit, more than enough to keep a staff of over 200 (the largest ever) happily developing Office and a handful of other apps.

    Microsoft’s excuse in losing VBA for Office 2008 was time. Moving everything to Apple’s Xcode environment so they could build a Universal application suite, took well over a year, they say. Bringing VBA along for the ride would have involved another delay of at least that much or even two years. Not good for the Mac division’s bottom line.

    However, the biggest problem Microsoft may be facing now is that, without macro support, maybe Mac users really don’t need Office, even if they exchange documents with the Windows version. That can be accomplished with decent fidelity using Apple’s iWork ’08. Even Track Changes comments are supported in both directions, so it may well be that your editor or publisher will never know you didn’t use Word.

    Add that to the arrival of a new beta of OpenOffice for the Mac, ongoing development of Mariner Write, Nisus Writer Pro and Mellel, and the reasons for Office’s existence have been severely reduced over time. In fact, despite the false and persistent claim that the Mac platform doesn’t have a lot of software, when it comes to word processes, you have a rich selection.

    If you want to ditch all things Microsoft from your Mac, you can probably do quite well, thank you. That’s something Microsoft should fear, because the loss of VBA and the loss of potential sales may only be the beginning.



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    17 Responses to “Do You Really Need Microsoft Office?”

    1. Dana Sutton says:

      I’m probably naive because I didn’t work for a big corporation in the business world, but in the very limited experience of working in a very large and corporate university it was very possible to live without Microsoft. Where I work, a lot of documents get circulated in Word, sent to me as e-mail clips, etc., and as long as I use any word processor that could open Word documents and save documents in Word format I get along quite fine. Same for the very few Excel files with which I have do deal. What it boils down to is that Word serves the absolutely essential function of providing a lingua franca within an organization that permits exchange and sharing of electronic information, but we can use any software on any platform we want as long as it can handle that lingua franca. In that sense, Office would be necessary to us even if there wasn’t a single copy being used on campus. Word Track, VPN, etc.? Maybe our money-handlers need VPN, the rest of us don’t have a clue what it is (I cetrainly don’t). Word Track? Well, for us it’s enough that, when we have to circulate multiple drafts of the a given document, we date-stamp them (and make sure to maintain a paper trail in the few instances when we think our legal people would like us to keep a running record of a document’s evolution). I can’t help wondering if within a lot of large organizations all this talk about special Enterprise needs might be exaggerated.

    2. John B says:

      I’d love to never use Word again. I’m still using version X, the first OS X version, because I haven’t wanted to give MS any more of my money. But on my new Intel Mac (I finally gave up waiting for the miniPro) it’s starting to get a little flakey, and I’m probably going to have to update soon. Over the last few years I’ve been checking out OpenOffice and Pages, but can’t use them. The main reason is that neither program displays or prints italics if those versions of a font are not installed (e.g., Symbol). That’s a deal breaker for me. Yes, there are workarounds, but I need to be able to seamlessly share my docs with people using Word on Windows. So it looks like I’m stuck with Word for the foreseeable future.

    3. Phil says:

      I use NeoOffice and never have a problem going between home and work…..

    4. gopher says:

      Microsoft has a few things to do before I’d consider Office again:

      1. Release Access for the Mac.
      2. Fix the all your eggs in one basket approach to Entourage: http://www.macmaps.com/entouragemigration.html
      3. Improve the memory footprint of all its applications.

    5. Karl says:

      NeoOffice is quite good, but still have some issues with documents. I think it’s more font related than anything else. The issues are a deal breaker, but enough to wish work would just pony up and purchase Office for Mac.

      I have never been a big fan of Outlook/Entourage.

      Access would be nice. But I probably wouldn’t take advantage of it.

      But I think being Office free is really quite easy nowadays for most people.

    6. John says:

      [quote] Today, if you must use macros on your Mac, you have to stick with Office 2004, or set up Windows with Boot Camp or a virtualization application and install Office for Windows instead. In fact, the latter solution is so effective, you probably won’t suffer any significant performance limitation, so long as your Intel-based Mac has plenty of RAM installed.

      Which leaves you with buying Parallels for Mac ($60) and Windows Vista ($100?) in addition to Office 2007 ($100?).

      That’s a deal breaker for me. Yes, there are workarounds, but I need to be able to seamlessly share my docs with people using Word on Windows. So it looks like I’m stuck with Word for the foreseeable future.

      Isn’t that the key to Microsoft’s success? Everybody could live without them, but as long as not everybody does, nobody actually can – and as long as most PCs are shipped with Windows pre-installed there won’t be any change.

    7. Steve says:

      The only Office app I need is Excel. We use VBA, and the performance of Excel on the Mac is bad. I replaced all of my Access functionality with MySQL (there’s a learning curve, but it’s very much worth it).

      Excel from Office 2004 takes about 50% longer to recalculate than Excel v.X, and Excel v.X takes 5 to 6 times longer than any modern version of Excel for Windows (at least for my spreadsheets). From what I’ve read, Excel from Office 2008 is right up (er, down) there with the 2004 version This is true on the Intel Macs (I have an early 2008 Mac Pro). I have not found a suitable replacement for the Windows version of Excel.

      I don’t dislike MS products on principle, but Excel for the Mac is a major disappointment, making is necessary to have Parallels with Windows XP.

    8. Andrew says:

      Word compatibility is easy for many people. but once you add complex formatting, it goes out the window.

      I took a legal pleading file and tried to open it in OpenOffice, Nisus Writer Pro, TextEdit and Pages, and in all of them the special formatting was broken. This is an absolute deal-killer and is the reason I will always have Word on my Mac, not to mention WordPerfect (through Parallels) for those few courts and attorneys that still use it.

      Thankfully, Word 2008 is quite a nice product, and for my needs, it gets the job done and doesn’t feel like a Windows port.

    9. Word compatibility is easy for many people. but once you add complex formatting, it goes out the window.

      I took a legal pleading file and tried to open it in OpenOffice, Nisus Writer Pro, TextEdit and Pages, and in all of them the special formatting was broken. This is an absolute deal-killer and is the reason I will always have Word on my Mac, not to mention WordPerfect (through Parallels) for those few courts and attorneys that still use it.

      Thankfully, Word 2008 is quite a nice product, and for my needs, it gets the job done and doesn’t feel like a Windows port.

      You got it right there, my friend. I once used an existing document, with embedded (watermarked) line numbering, to modify for a small claim that was too trivial to hire a lawyer to handle. None of the applications that allegedly parse Word files could handle it — none. So I went back to Word.

      Peace,
      Gene

    10. Terrin says:

      I think the Mac Business Unit did a good job improving the design of Office in Office 2008. There are bugs, some of them annoying, but that is too be expected with freshly updated software.

      With that said, however, I think most Office users do not want a customized version of Office for the Mac. Instead, we use Office for compatibility purposes. I want my Office on the Mac to look and behave the same way on the Mac as it does on Windows.

    11. Eric says:

      I think that if you don’t have specialized needs, such as legal formatting or complex Excel workbooks and VBA, then there are tons of non MS options. In my small business we create lots of different documents, quarterly reports, marketing materials, corporate communications, ad copy, etc, and have switched entirely over to the iWork suite to handle all of our daily needs. Actually, Keynote started the migration, since it’s so easy and fast to create high value presentations. Once we learned how to leverage our use of Pages, it quickly replaced Word on a daily basis. Our clients use Word, but we have no real problems going back and forth. No, we don’t write 800 page manuscripts, but we do make catalogs, user guides, and technical information booklets. Even Numbers has now replaced Excel because of it’s ease of use and nice output. And it’s $79 per seat.

      Oh, we still keep MS Office around, on a Mac and on a PC too, for those special needs, formatting, etc. But notice how I call them “special needs” now, instead of “every day” needs.

      Next on the list? Weaning ourselves off of our Adobe software addiction.

    12. Andrew says:

      Office 4.2.1 (Word 6, Excel 5, PowerPoint 4) was the version of Office that gave us true feature and function equality with Windows, because as Gene mentioned, it WAS the Windows version.

      Where I believe the sweet spot was in relation to the Windows world was Office 98. Office 98 was fully compatible with Office 97 for Windows. The programs, at least Word and Excel, were arranged essentially the same way, and all features were essentially duplicated with full compatibility.

      Office 2008 is a very nice product, but it is very different from Office 2007 for Windows. Just as I got used to the new ribbon and general feel of Word 2007, out comes Word 2008 that looks and feels more like the older versions, though with a quasi-ribbon added in. I like the look and feel of the Mac version better, but I would prefer more similarity as well.

    13. John says:

      I don’t use Office on my Mac but do have a free copy I got (legally) installed on XP running on Parallels. For the most part I use iWork to translate Office documents. About once a year I have to fire up Office to read the exact formatting. For my part I never send out anything in a word processor format. I either send PDF or plain text.

      I do agree with Dana that Word has become the default method of exchanging editable documents. If PDFs could be edited nicely then use of Word would drop. Actually, Rich Text Format might fill this role but hardly anyone knows it exists.

    14. Sheepo says:

      Though, I prefer iWork over Office 2008, what I don’t get is why does everyone care about Macros, why are they so important to these people

    15. Terrin says:

      People care about Macros because many people and organizations have spend a lot of time automating their documents. For instance, large companies often will place macros in documents such as employment applications and certain calculating functions in Excel.

      If Word or Excel doesn’t run scripts, you will not have a compatible version of the document on your Mac, which is the main reasons people want to run Office. It can be a big problem, especially with Excel.

    16. some random guuy says:

      microsoft office is really good i have profesional plus and it rocks

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