Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Office in the Office

April 2014

By Mike Gould

Disclosure: this article was written using MS Word. By a Luddite working in his office.

If you're a monthly internet writer for an Important Business Magazine like me, you probably use Microsoft (MS) Word to crank out your regular musings, warnings and just plain fun. Come to think of it, you probably use Word even if you are not a beloved writer of thoughtful yet wacky, insightful, and well-spelled wisdom nuggets. Heck, being business people, I bet you even use the rest of the MS Office suite, namely Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and the rest of the goodies your friends at MS provide.

Even us Macintosh users get some love attention from MS: Office software on the Mac has been around longer than on the PC. True fact: back in the day (a Thursday in '86 or thenabouts), I bought my very first computer, a Mac Plus, and it came bundled with the very first version of Word, Word 1.0, Excel 1.0, and a few other items I forget, but it was all contained in a pretty big box. The kicker is that Windows wasn't completely baked at that time, and only Mac users could use Word. Seriously.

Word is a Macintosh port (software developed on one platform -Mac- and moved to another -Windows). Word and Excel required a modern GUI (Graphical User Interface) comprised of WIMP (the Windows, Icons, Mouse Paradigm). At the time MS was not the behemoth it is today and had yet to unleash its own WIMP GUI, the Mac knock-off that is Windows, upon the world.

Enough of the history lesson, what of the future of the whole MS-owns-your-computer-experience in today's hand-held tablet and smart phone-dominated business environment? Good question. As the Magic 8-Ball would say, "Cannot predict now".

Answer Unclear, Ask Again Later
Now the fact that this question even comes up in print should give pause to those who own MS stock or try to foresee business needs in years to come. Back in a different day, MS Office was the 800lb gorilla for whom a constant supply of bananas was duly budgeted in annual IT budgets. It was a given that the modern enterprise could not survive without the menus, macros, and Microsoft mindset we all share.

But as the respected philosopher Aesop once said, "That was then, this is now" (see: the Tale of the Endangered Tortoise and the Hare-Brained Scheme"). It is not news that MS is having some issues adapting to the rate of change in the technological underpinnings to the current state of present day-to-day modern computational in-the-moment-ology. Or in other words, without the above biz-technobabble, MS has a now-ness problem. (See my previous article about this at the URL below).

My sources say no
While Ballmer slept, the rest of the world got busy adapting to the Internet in novel and interesting ways, and after smartphones became a thing, programmers really got into writing software for them. Well, Ballmer (former head of MS) wasn't really asleep, he was just wrong in predicting where things were going. MS came to smartphones late, got tablet-based work confused with desktop-based computing, and continues to tout the belief that touch-based computing is somehow better than mousing in a current series of Apple-bashing TV ads.

So what does this have to do with our old pal, MS Office? Well, among the newer software available these days is a slew of slicers of sentences, senders and sorters of email, and, um, spreaders of sheet (a more polite way of saying sheeters of spread - you know, Excel replacements). There are entire Office-like suites of such software, and most of them are free. The most famous of these is OpenOffice (URL below), brought to you by the fine folks who wrote the programming your web server probably uses, Apache. Which is also free.

Concentrate and ask again
Fine, you say," I want to save the cost of around $75 a seat in annual MS rent; let's go OpenOffice". Well, not so fast Ms/Mr businessperson; as with anything involved with software, there are still costs. And the first is support - unless you happen to be a whiz at Linux (the free Windows replacement operating system), you are going to have to hire someone to guide your migration out of Windows/Office. Then you have to re-train your staff. And while the migration is going on, you have to have mechanisms in place to transfer files and formats back and forth so users on either platform can talk to each other.

It will take time, but down the road, you will have escaped the MS lock-in and will see significant cost savings. But "down the road" implies that you are thinking further out than the next quarterly statement, something most big companies are loath to do. Hence the entrenchment of MS in most of the enterprise market.

There was an interesting article in InfoWorld magazine that detailed the experience of two German cities making the jump to OpenOffice, URL below. Spoiler: one city loved it and saved a bundle, and one didn't go the Full Monty (retained Windows as the OS instead of moving to Linux) and begged to go back to MS, which they did and it cost them a bundle. There is a link below for other alternatives to Office.

Outlook not so good
But the real threat to Microsoft is Google in the form of Google Docs, and the rest of the online offerings available from that company: Gmail, Google Drive, and the like. Why spend money on MS products, when you can get the same quality apps for free via the web/cloud? Well, there is the whole you-need-to-be-attached-to-the-Internet-at-all-times issue, but hey, you can't have everything.

Failing Big (IBM and MS) article:
http://mondodyne.com/b2b/smbiznet.174.shtml

OpenOffice:
https://www.openoffice.org

Two German cities experience with OpenOffice:
http://www.infoworld.com/d/open-source-software/triumph-and-disaster-two-migrations-openoffice-208604

Office alternatives:
http://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/best-microsoft-office-alternatives/#!zO83R

Mike Gould will be glad to shed the surly bonds of Office some fine day, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, builds laser display devices, performs with the Illuminatus 3.0 Laser Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to mgould@mondodyne.com. And yes, the all the above headers come from Magic 8-Ball answers.

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