This week, M$ revealed it’s cloud-computing version of Office, one of its two or three sacred cash-cows ($19 billion in 2009). The idea seems to be to remain relevant in the face of Facebook and GoogleDocs. The difference between M$’s stuff and Googles are a few:
- GoogleDocs is not ad-supported
- GoogleDocs does not have all the same features
M$ has huge issues of unlicensed use of Office/Word so offering free service (ad-supported) may win a few converts and bring in some new revenue, but who, in their right mind will want to work for M$ bringing in ad-revenue when they can work for themselves using GoogleDocs or OpenOffice.org?
However this turns out for Google or M$, the elephant in the living room is the widespread use of Office instead of free alternatives that are just as good for many ordinary uses. Who needs 300 features in a word-processor? Who can find that many? Why do businesses feel the need to spend money that they do not need to spend? Many millions have shown there is a way to use Free Software in business for word-processing and other uses. Isn’t business about making money and not throwing it away? I don’t get that.
One of the standard items on my checklist for students is to try different word-processors. We might visit 5 in a day (AbiWord, OpenOffice.org, KWord, Scribus, and LyX). Typically, I will ask the students to do a few things like write a letter and then discuss how it was using each of the packages. Almost universally, a student will reply that there is almost no difference in how things work and the quality possible in the results. Where we also have tested that other office suite, they do notice something. It’s harder to make a full-justified paragraph. The icon is not there for the full-justification. Why is that? Justification is the main/essential difference between a typewriter and a word-processor. Most of my students have never seen a typewriter. Why should they have to use software that is backwards-compatible with a typewriter?
This difference in attitudes to software is not trivial. All over the world there are folks who regularly use left-justfied as their default setting for documents. I have met many people who use Office but have never used full-justification, one of the hundreds of features of that software. Paying for something that is not used is very foolish. Any business that bought an office building or mainframe and did not use it would be criticized. Why is there a double standard for efficiency when it comes to software?
There are some other things that are peculiar to Office. Why is the page setup under “File”? That’s a “Format” issue, is it not? It goes on and on. Students have an easier time learning to use OpenOffice.org because it is not backwards-compatible with previous versions of M$’s quirky/locking-in software. I won’t even get to “the ribbon”. Is there anyone who likes that?
On a rational basis I do not see any reason why M$’s new foray should get much interest. M$ produces bad/poorly designed software and now they are doing it in the cloud. Let them spend their ill-gotten billions there. We no not need to send more bilions their way. Arguments based on using what is out there and things staying the way they are forever are nonsense. We can do our stuff without M$’s stuff on PCs or in the cloud. We do not need or want what they have to offer: lock-in.