Why I still hate microsoft

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I may trouble myself to write chapter and verse about why you shouldn’t bother upgrading to Office 2007 until the inevitable time (though I suspect those days are dying) when Microsoft manages to trap you into needing it for compatibility purposes. But a picture tells a thousand words. The bugs I thought they’d surely fixed – like the fact that I can’t get the dictionary to default to Australian rather than US spelling, that the Age IT guide yesterday had a Q&A column on – are still there. And the ribbon? Don’t start me.

But a picture tells a thousand words.

Postscript: George Skarbek has been dishing out advice in newspapers on PCs for twelve years now. This is what he reported yesterday. One specific question that has been a regular over a number of years is how to set Word’s spellchecker to use Australian English. I generally publish the reply a couple of times a year, because this is still frustrating many readers (see below). I’ve followed his instructions, but they don’t solve the problem. . . .

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Andrew Reynolds
14 years ago

I think the third option here is the right one – not too bad and about the usual for Google to get one of their searches right – somewhere in the top five.

conrad
conrad
14 years ago

If you think the dictionary defaulting to US spelling is a pain, try and get a few friends living in Europe to work on a document in their language specific version of Windows, and then try and stop the dictionary searching through multiple languages every time you use the spelling check when you get the document back. Its even more annoying.

gilmae
14 years ago

Actually, it is the sixth option, Insert a Section Break – column breaks being a kind of section break – and google returns a relevant page as its first result , although amusingly the relevant page in the onlife MS Office help is also the sixth result in teh google search.

patrickg
14 years ago

Word is dead, imho – the online or open source equivalents are now basically as good or better.

Plus, with the new docx. extension,and stupid new fonts (Calibri? wtf?! Why did we ever stop using Helvetica, I don’t know. It’s free, and aside from about .3 of a pixel serifs, exactly the same) they’re far more portable also.

Excel, alas, is still far and away the best spreadsheet program I have used, so I suspect it will be around for a while longer, at least untill Google Spreadsheets gets a little more powerful.

Christopher
Christopher
14 years ago

hmmm….Isn’t this a bit like my son complaining that when he looks up a word in the dictionary, he can’t find it – because what he thinks he is spelling is completely different from the spelling in the dictionary? (And his electronic oxford doesn’t always help him out in this situation either)

Word is a powerful and sophisticated program – with that power comes complexity and difficulty in mastering it fully. With power comes tradeoffs in setting up the defaults so that it works ‘out of the box’ for everybody.

Personally, I’m amazed that a mere 25 years after the technology was first developed that it’s possible to do joint work with people in other countries who use other dictionaries or character sets, or that I can achieve about 97% professional layout quality, or that I can easily manipulate documents and structures.

There are many things I wish it would do differently/easier etc, but as I also know how difficult it is to maintain an effective code base (for only a small community of economists, let alone millions of international users). When combined with the difficulties users present in the myriad individual approaches to using computers, I’m never surprised when the documentation challenges my perceptions of the way ‘things should be done’.

cheers,
Christopher

swio
swio
14 years ago

Why don’t you try moving to google docs? After my latest computer crash I didn’t even have to restore anything and i can access my stuff from my work computer, or any computer for that matter. I have found its good enough for most of the stuff I do.

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[…] a fisting this time, but all Microsoft products have a tendency to make the users life hell, as Nicholas Gruen found […]

gilmae
14 years ago

one of its strengths should be user-friendliness

Arguably, user-friendliness is Microsoft’s great weakness. They either ignore it – “Mac has issued you a salutation” isn’t all *that* exaggerated – or they allow other concerns to trump it – like upgrading your hardware too much invalidating your windows license – or they try really hard to do user friendliness and they fumble it so badly they end up a laughing stock. I’m so looking at you, Clippy.

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[…] important question: could you survive for a month without the internet? Nicholas Gruen, meanwhile, gets stuck into Microsoft Word, this time for presuming it can execute searches properly. Graham at Ambit Gambit has a cruel but […]

vee
vee
14 years ago

I do not bother changing the dictionaries on Office anymore, I just add Aussie/British spellings to the dictionary if it causes a problem.

Christopher
Christopher
14 years ago

Nope – bugs shouldn’t be around for 10 years.

But my point wasn’t too say that Microsoft was blameless (or even ideal!).

But that both what seems simple to a user, usually isn’t at the programing end and that it’s about learning to use the tools.

I’ve spent countless hours inside microsoft help files – and generally, compared to much other documentation, they’re well above average. But it’s like everything else – they’re only good for you after you’ve learnt how to use them effectively.

If my search’s don’t turn up a result in the top handful of links – I’ve learnt it’s because I’m using terms that are not the ‘correct’ definitions. And I need to rethink what I’m searching for. Much like the dictionary analogy I was trying to make. (I was going to cheekily ask you before..so what is a ‘column break’ :-)

On the user interface side, I know microsoft spends substantial amounts on user design and testing (at the same time crippling somethings so as to keep their dominance). And I know it’s hard work to do right (can anyone point me to an Apple word processor – or tell me how to change the url for a podcast in iTunes for example?).

But perhaps the question at the heart of your message – ‘as soon as someone else gives me something better..I’m outa here’ is the key. Why isn’t there something else?

Sure, the network effects of the proprietary file structure in the pre 2007 Office suite provide dominance that makes it hard for competition to flourish. But perhaps, an alternative hypothesis is that actually designing, building and maintaining these programs ain’t really all that easy.

The move to exposed xml file structure will be the test of that hypothesis – it will be relatively straightforward for other applications to now read Office 2007 documents (and possibly write them). If it’s ‘easy’ to do build these type of applications, this will be the key to having that happen – because you can now pass documents between different applications. But I’m not holding my breath.

Or perhaps their market dominance comes from something else that they haven’t given up.

Email provides a nice counter doesn’t it? What’s proprietary about Outlook? Why do we use it in preference to other current email clients?

One can dislike MS for many things – but not for the quality of documents a user can produce with (general ease with) the Office suite.

cheers,
Christopher (who never noticed the bug…ABARE’s standard style is Amercian english, and my exclude file is full of english spellings!)

Christopher
Christopher
14 years ago

Don’t think that attitude hasn’t come without significant loss of hair (either pulled out or simply fallen out with stress)

I appreciated the power of word and excel many years ago. But I only came to really appreciate the programming side when I began to distribute and maintain utilities I’d written (coz I never had many problems when I was the only user!)

As for the animosity – I think that comes from both:

1) the fact that when your’s is the only app worth using and it doesn’t work the way ‘it should’ and you’re facing a deadline, who else are you going to blame?

2) that MS exploits their dominance – so it’s easy to dislike.

And yes, 2007 is an incremental improvement, and we all wish for more – made worse by not fixing things that are clearly broken and their told (even MVPs have limited influence here apparently) :-(

cheers,
Christopher

gilmae
14 years ago

The network effects of the MS Word doc format have been more or less negated for a few years now. OpenOffice/Star Office have been more or less capable of working with the MS Word format for at least that time. .dot files are a different story.

As for what is proprietary about Outlook, the ability to talk natively with Exchange servers is certainly proprietary. As far as I know only Evolution and Outlook can communicate with Exchange, and Evolution is really using the Outlook Web interface; its suboptimal at best. Once your business uses Exchange – just about everyone on MS server machines – you’re basically stuck with Outlook. If someone ever made Sendmail administrable by a windows monkey, Exchange would be toast and in turn Outlook.

re: Programmability – I once had a recruiter tell me that I and every other programmer should be redundant because everything worthwhile doing could be done in Excel. Seven years later and I’m *still* not sure if he was just trying to wind me up to see how I reacted.

gilmae
14 years ago

Yeah, I meant Word 2000 compatible files. I don’t bother anymore anyway, I work in ODF and convert it to PDF when I need to share. Open Office 2 managed to hit the sweet spot for me; your mileage may vary, of course.

Christopher
Christopher
14 years ago

OK, I concede the point on the word processor.

I know about Exchange – but that’s a principal-agent problem isn’t it?

The question is why is it that those outside of a corporate environment (like Nicholas) use outlook as their client? These are not small markets and if it were ‘simple’ where are the firms offering up these products?

Which is where the conversation started – this application is frustrating because it is just not doing what is ‘obvious’ – and (my contention that) perhaps that if it doesn’t do it, it might not be either simple or obvious.

Being able to do your own programming doesn’t count (yes, we can do it, but that’s never going to be mainstream is it?) – you want apps for which you can seamlessly pass documents between by users. And ‘more or less capable’ is not seamless – or is it that Word actually has many features that are better than the competition?

Excel – the recruiter never played with large datasets did they? I can make excel do things many say can’t be done, but there are times you gotta step up to serious data handling apps (in OSs design for data manipulation).

Outside of a corporate environment (or off the shelf utilities), I don’t ever see Access as a big self use tool for your average user. Excel will do what they want for mostly less hassle. Do you think it’s reasonable that an average (or even better, above average, numerate) user be designing a database structure?

One might ask are we well off topic now?

But doesn’t this bring us full circle – Can applications be powerful (flexible, wide ranging and customisable), yet simple for your average user? And when is it justifiable to grumble about something ‘not working’ and when should one think ‘am I the only one using it this way?’

cheers,
Christopher

gilmae
14 years ago

Yes, it was more than likely the recruiter was just yanking my chain to see how I would react. Still, he was a recruiter, and you know they say: Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; and the terminally useless recruit.

> or is it that Word actually has many features that are
> better than the competition?

Can you name me one, because I can’t think of any.

Gummo Trotsky
14 years ago

Access! Oh boy, the traumatic memories that word evokes!

Christopher
Christopher
14 years ago

>Can you name me one, because I cant think of any

Nope – but then again, my point was not advocacy of a product (beyond noting that Word is a powerful program). As I said above, there are many things I would like it to do differently, or more easily.

But this conversation started with Nicholas’s lament that he couldn’t quickly figure out how to do something in Word…and that this is one more demonstration that MS is a terrible organisation (which they maybe – but it’s not because a user was doing something without fully understanding what they were doing).

And my observation that as this is a powerful product widely used, and we don’t see users flocking to other products, perhaps it’s because it’s not as easy as a user may think to ‘fix’ or ‘do’ some of those things we might like.

cheers,
Christopher