Microsoft Office dependency

All my company really needs MS-Office for is to comply with other organisations when they share media. Is that enough reason to stay stuck on it? Can I reasonably ask for other formats?

The IT Skeptic's company, Two Hills, inches ever closer to the goal of being a totally cloud-based organisation. OK I missed the 2011 target, but the second-to-last obstacle fell when I moved the company financials to Xero. What's left? MS-Office.

What do I need MS-Office for?

  1. Writing books: desktop publishing
  2. Presentations
  3. Compliance with customer media

Desktop publishing

A recent piece in the Sydney Morning Herald talks about all the great stuff you can do with MS-Word. This is true, but what do I really need those bells and whistles for? For my book writing, and for fancy reports to clients.

As Charles Betz attests, digital e-books are killing all the clever formatting which was what drove the need for Word. MS-Word produces HTML which is monumentally awful. It is so stupid it must be deliberate. If you plan to publish your book digitally you are far better off not using MS-Word to write it.

And reports for clients don't actually need all the fancy tools: you can do a nice professional job with any of a myriad of different editors.


I used to think I needed MS-Powerpoint to do really slick presentations. I don't.
(a) You should be an interesting enough speaker that you don't need visual pyrotechnics. With the exception of Pink Floyd, flashy light shows are the badge of mediocre musicians. I saw Eric Clapton bring the (mostly young) house down in Melbourne with all the white lights on full all night.
(b) Google Docs presentation editor has come ahead in leaps and bounds. It does everything I want to do.

Compliance with customer media

Aye, there's the rub. When my clients and business associates are distributing everything as Word docs and Powerpoints and Excel spreadsheets, will I be able to collaborate?
I used Google Docs recently to collaborate on the editing of a white paper and it was sensationally easy and powerful to use.
But that's not the point really. If someone sends me a MS-Office doc will I be able to open it, work on it, and return it? Generally yes, but sometimes details will be lost in the process.
(As an aside, the same issue arises with those who are sucked into Microsoft's consumerism and have upgraded to MS-Office 2010. MS provide add-ins for those of us who refuse to get on that treadmill, but they don't work perfectly either. Word documents get weird effects if created in MS-Office 2010 docx, edited by me in MS-Office 2007, then saved back as docx.)

So here's my real question:

What should one entity's expectations be of another entity when exchanging media? Should you reasonably expect of me that I will support all features of MS-Office 2010 (or 2012, or whatever the new scam is perpetrated by Microsoft).
Or am I reasonable to request that you interact with me via some minimum level of media richness which means I may or may not support docx, or Powerpoint moving objects, or embedded VB macros, or whatever?
And at what point will it be acceptable in business to say "Oh Office? No we don't use that. Do you have it in some other format?"?

What do you think?


Yeah, good question. I'm

Yeah, good question. I'm still using Office on my Mac. I'm finding I'm using it less and less. Though, I have had powerpoint open for months. I found Powerpoint better looking to work with than Keynote. Google Docs seems to cover word and excel type stuff well enough. I should give the Google presenter a go.


Hi Skep,

you are absolutely right. Beside this classic big battleship office suites, there are more suitable tools out there. Especially all those slim line "Cloud"-"Web 2.0"-Office solutions.

As you say in real life interoperability, struggles with missing fonts, missing add-ons, paper sizes, wild clicking users and so on. Even if we talk about Microsoft Office different versions.

Also this big function-prone suite approach which was developed in competition of office suites is IMHO very bad in companies environment. It develops usually into an ugly "tool" landscape of macros hell, with poor functionality and even more interoperability issues.

Imagine a small team of young IT professionals walking around for 3 years in a big company environments, checks all the .XLS-Tools and turns them into central (Web-2.0-) out of this. The cost savings would be tremendous.

Especially in the BYOD idea IMHO users want to use there native tool to e.g. perform a quick edit. No matter if this is an phone, tablet, notebook or workstation. Also no matter what operating system. So all this modern fresh developed web-office-versions would help.

But even here the usual competitors interoperability barriers would apply: "Yes, you can do everything on my platform!".

Users want to their device and work collaborative. It is a shame for the IT industry.

I think it's acceptable now

In my circles, at least, PDF is becoming the default for anything that isn't going to be collaborative, and if it's collaborative, it's easily uploaded into Docs and it hasn't been terribly difficult to convince the collaborators on the other end that it's easier than e-mailing the file back and forth constantly anyway.

Maybe it's just me, but I'm seeing fewer and fewer documents with fancy formatting or advanced macros in the first place. I think that was, in 90% of cases, worthless glitter introducing needless complexity. All those elaborate, macro-driven forms you used to see have been largely replaced by either web-forms or just plain old fill-in-the-blank PDFs.

There was a point where you had to assume that the folks on the other end were so technically unsophisticated that any file option that didn't come pre-installed on their Dell was going to be hopeless to explain and so you were better off just giving in and using the formats they sent you. I think the general level of experience has improved to the point where it's not just acceptable, but actually POSSIBLE, to request they spit you out a PDF or save as RTF or whatnot.

Office 365

Have you tried Office 365 and using the Web versions? If someone sends you an Office doc, you can open it in these Cloud versions to read and perform editing. This covers documents that are sent to you.

office 365 compatibility

I have been meaning to try Office 365 but my understanding is it lacks features of the desktop version. Therefore it is functionally equivalent to Google Docs: it will open most things most of the time. office 365 would have to have much higher compatibility with Windows Office than Google Docs does to justify its monthly cost.
Anyone have insight?

The End of Office


I fought for the end of Office several years ago. When customers resisted licensing costs, I advocated I tried to use alternatives where possible. eventually I postponed trying to swim against the currents. However, we are now at a point where the currents are shifting rapidly and we will stop associating Microsoft Office with monopoly. Existing customers will defer upgrades. iDevice users won't bother. Cloud services will suffice. Distributing documents in PDF will be good enough in many cases. As with most technologies, it won't be an either/or proposition, but a both/and. (Exception: 8-track tapes.)

To address your specific question, I think it would be unwise eliminate backward compatibility with Office for the next couple years. Maybe five years. But our need for band-aids and workarounds will decline. As I type this, I am sitting in an environment where MS Office is the du jour standard for everything, and clouds are only seen on rainy days. Clearly, the future is not evenly distributed.

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