January 10th, 2008
I got an unexpected email message from Apple yesterday, informing me that Microsoft’s Office 2008 product was available for “pre-order”; it will be officially released at next week’s MacWorld, along with a slew of other hardware and software products.
Well, it’s been four years since we’ve seen a new version of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint for the Mac; and I’ve been increasingly annoyed by how often Word 2004 crashes on my Mac. So I went ahead and ordered it, and I now look forward, with mixed feelings, to its arrival next week. I was a little surprised to see that even an upgrade costs $299.95, and a full version of the software (i.e., for first-time customers) is $499.95. Admittedly, that’s for the high-end “special media” edition of the product; but it does make you wonder whether more and more people will be tempted by Apple’s own alternative, iWork (containing Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) for a mere $79.00.
I don’t even know what kind of features I should expect to see in Office 2008, so I surfed around the Internet and skimmed through some articles like “First Look: Word 2008” and “First Look:Excel 2008“. What surprised me most was not the glib, superficial review of features, functions, and overall “look-and-feel” of the new products, but rather the emotional, vituperative comments from dozens of readers that appeared at the end of each article. I realize that some of this — perhaps even most of this — comes from Apple fanatics who are opposed to just about anything that Microsoft does; but at the same time, many of the comments seemed valid. Cluttered user interface? Sluggish performance? Less compatibility between Windows and Mac platforms than ever before, because of the removal of VBA? With all these negatives, were are the positives?
It makes me wonder whether the overall market reaction to Office 2008 will be similar to the reaction to Windows Vista — not just a loud “yawn,” but a growing awareness that maybe we should look more closely at the Apple alternative. The comparison between Microsoft’s Vista and Apple’s new Leopard OS has to be at least part of the reason for the increased popularity of Mac computers; and I think the comparison between Word and Pages, or Powerpoint and Keynote, could do the same thing.
In my case, I ignored the first two versions of Apple’s Keynote presentation program when it first came out; there were too many limitations and problems. But the latest version is awesome (not perfect, just awesome), and I can’t imagine why anyone would choose to use Powerpoint in its place. And I’ve started taking another look at Apple’s latest Pages word-processor, and was surprised to see that “advanced” features like change-tracking (or “red-lining,” so you can see what changes have been made to an existing document) and creating a Table of Contents are now there. I know that Pages doesn’t have every feature that’s available in Word — for example, I don’t think it can create an index of all words found in a document, which is very handy if you happen to be writing a 500-page book — but it’s gone from having just 80-90% of Word’s features to something closer to 95-99%. And it imports/exports traditional Microsoft Word documents, so I can still exchange documents with my less fortunate Windows colleagues.
In the long run, of course, my personal opinions, likes, and dislikes won’t have any noticeable impact on the success of Office 2008. And since Office 2004 is even less stable under Apple’s Leopard operating system than ever before (Excel, for example, sometimes refuses to let me enter data into random spreadsheet cells), I guess my decision to spent $299.95 for an upgrade was reasonable. After all, if Microsoft only creates such upgrades every four years, that works out to about 20 cents a day.
But if it does take another four years for Microsoft to produce the next version of Office on the Mac, I wonder whether anyone will notice at all … in which case, I wonder whether Microsoft will even bother. If Office 2008 does indeed elicit a combination of yawns and outraged complaints, maybe we will finally shift over to Apple’s iWork.
It will be interesting to hear the early reactions to Office 2008 next week …