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Microsoft Office 2010: A cry for help?

Pardon the melodramatic headline, but I've had this thought bouncing around my head since I first installed Office 2010 -- the subject of today's column -- about two weeks ago.


It's not just that Microsoft faces serious competitive pressure from the likes of Google, Apple, open-source developers and such startup firms as Evernote. It's not just that it's handcuffed itself to the contradiction of selling the same applications to IT professionals and to home users who barely touch its features. (Note: If you're an IT professional and feel that my reviews slight your needs, you should remember that I'm a consumer-technology columnist; that means that your problems aren't mine unless they affect what home users do on their own time.)

No, it's that a company that, until recently, was the biggest software firm in America seems incapable of shipping a clean, current, consistently functional set of programs.

The most obvious evidence of this problem is Office 2010's incoherent "co-authoring" options. While OneNote lets you keep the same document open between copies of the desktop program and its pared-down Office Web App equivalent, Word and PowerPoint only permit real-time sharing between their desktop selves (though you first have to set up that link through the Office Live site in a procedure so convoluted that I would have denounced it if I'd had more room to write). Excel 2010, meanwhile, doesn't allow any simultaneous work on a document -- but if you upload it to Office Web Apps, two Excel Web users can hack away at once on the file.

Microsoft deserves some credit for bringing even these limited features to home users, after years of reserving them for corporate users logged into its SharePoint server software. But it also deserves blame for doing so in a form most concisely described in an Excel spreadsheet.

Spending time in Office will reveal other telling details. One of my favorites is the absurd, 19-item menu Outlook 2010 offers to label a phone number you've added to a contact's listing. Your choices don't include "VoIP" or "satellite" (much less "Google Voice"), but they do feature such relics as "Car," "ISDN," "Other Fax," "Pager," and "Telex."

(Won't somebody at Microsoft please answer their StarTAC? 1987 is calling and wants its NYNEX Mobile phone back.)

office web app save dialog.jpg

Then there's the dialog at the left, which appears when you save a document to Office Web Apps, even in Windows 7. That little sideways-face icon, apparently unchanged from its debut in Windows 95, may catch your attention first. But also note the logo at the bottom advertising Microsoft's .Net Passport -- as in, the Web-login system that Microsoft renamed and scaled back in the spring of 2006.

If we ran a story that got the basic points across but was also littered with obsolete or incorrect references, you would still doubt its worth. Well, what are you supposed to think of a product with as many signs of sloppy work as Office 2010? Is somebody at Microsoft trying to say they need some time off? Or is that an illogical scenario for a company with the resources of a Microsoft? Tell me in the comments -- or stop by my Web chat, at 1 p.m. instead of the usual noon today, to discuss it in real time.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  June 18, 2010; 9:20 AM ET
Categories:  Gripes , Productivity  
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That "serious competitive pressure" line keeps getting repeated and it's total bunk. Serious competitive pressure from Google docs? Are you serious? A couple of headlines about a few companies that switched and suddenly Microsoft is in trouble. Yeah right. Nothing from Google, Apple or OpenOffice can be considered serious competition for Office yet. Not even close. Google barely makes any money from Google docs while Office is Microsoft's biggest earning division behind Windows.

I really hate hyperbolic and inaccurate "journalism". It's lazy.

Posted by: scarper86 | June 18, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

So Rob, you consider Apple bigger than Microsoft in the stock market because Apple sells more software than Microsoft? I think a case could be made that Apple's more of a hardware company and Microsoft more of a software company and that it sells considerably more software than Apple.

Posted by: frank_s3 | June 18, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

I don’t believe you Rob I have been reading your reviews and opinions and you appear to be single minded. It’s a real shame.

Posted by: Kink | June 18, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Funny column. "Convoluted" is the best word to describe the Office brand. It seems like the programmers have no idea how their customers use Office. Performing simple, common commands that should be easy feels more like troubleshooting than formatting.

The Windows 7 ads make for an odd juxtaposition. Those ads have random people proclaiming that "Windows 7 was my idea." Then there's Office which looks like MS has never sought input from anybody that actually uses it.

Posted by: Booyah5000 | June 18, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

You know what the real problem is? Lots of us have figured out that the idiots we work with won't write any better, or use spreadsheets more accurately, or put together more (nominally) worthwhile presentations if we buy them a new office suite. So what's the point? Office is just a tool, and the majority of its features are never touched. For the typical smart business person, there is no tangible value in upgrading at this point.

Posted by: xSamplex | June 18, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

@scarper86: When was the last time you actually sat down and used Google Docs or OpenOffice? Not for just playing around, but actually built a spreadsheet from scratch, or wrote a document from scratch? Including exporting it to HTML and PDF?

I can't speak to Google Docs, but OpenOffice does everything that Microsoft Office does. Sometimes the way that it does it is different, but once you've learned the tool, you can produce the same end document AND export it to other formats (including the latest MS Office formats).

You're tired of lazy journalists -- I'm tired of people declaring that there will always be a market for buggy whips, and that these new-fangled horseless carriages will all be gone in the wink of an eye.

Posted by: washpost86 | June 19, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Yes, frank_s3, it is perhaps hyperbolic to say that Microsoft "WAS the biggest software firm". Perhaps "the biggest technology firm" would have been more accurate. That said, Rob doesn't "consider Apple bigger than Microsoft in the stock market" -- THE STOCK MARKET does. As of the close on Friday, Apple's market cap was $249 billion, while Microsoft's was $231 billion. Apple's stock price has MORE THAN DOUBLED since the crash of 08. Microsoft's stock price is LESS than it was during the crash of 08. So you tell me which company is better managed. The second biggest pure-play "software firm", Oracle (Sun doesn’t really count), has about half the market cap of Microsoft.

As long as my company buys it, I would just as soon have Office 2010 to lose the dopey button on the Ribbon from Office 2007. As Voltaire said...

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | June 20, 2010 2:08 AM | Report abuse

Microsoft has been out of touch with the real world for a number of years, will not accept comments or suggestions from their customers, and continues to mangle what once was a fine product. Each time I have looked at "upgrading" to a newer version of MS Office, I ultimately revert to Office 2000. That was the peak of functionality for Excel, in my opinion. For those of you who think OpenOffice can do everything Excel 2000 can do, try running a Fourier Transform in OpenOffice- the function does not exist (I'm not sure it still exists in newer versions of Excel- I never found it in Excel 2003 or later). The real performance issue, however, comew with creating charts. Excel 2000, even when running under Wine in Linux, puts graphs up fast (using a data set of 6000 pairs of numbers), and zooming and rescaling are "real time" functions. Actually, when running Excel 2000 under XP, it does perform a bit slower, but trying the same operations in OpenOffice Calc- I insert the graph, go off an eat lunch, and it STILL isn't finished when I come back! To zoom in on a particular region of the graph for more detail takes as long as building a whole new chart.
Microsoft had an excellent product with Exce3l 2000. They screwed it up...

Posted by: cwarner7_11 | June 21, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

First of all, LOVE the article title.
Second, being a previous business user who knew more about Microsoft Word than their Tier 1 & 2 level technical support, I can say that I was disappointed enough with Office 2007 to never want to upgrade. Since you say your articles are for home users, then I can safely say this -- Pages is a far superior product to Word. My 11 year-old can made a brochure last week for babysitting that looked fabulous.
She used Numbers to make a spreadsheet with 3 graphs for a advanced math class project. I played with it after she went to bed (I was curious, it looked so easy...) and it was. For the Home user, Mac software is better, and it's cheaper.
I agree with your assesment that MS "seems incapable of shipping a clean, current, consistently functional set of programs".
My Mac, hardware related or not, crashes about 3 times a year. I got Windows 7 on a new laptop in January (hey, a Mac laptop with a 17" screen is 3 grand) and it blue screens about every 6 weeks. AND, as some have noticed, Win7 acts like my Mac in certain ways.
Telex option -- ?? Really??
I look forward to reading more of your articles.

Posted by: sharon29 | June 23, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

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