Why is the World Obsessed with Microsoft Office?

10 January 2013

People who know me would have seen this long coming. They know that I hate the concept of installed computer operating systems and desktop software. I’m all for the cloud, cloud computing that is, computing in the browser. It’s the way forward and the only way forward in my mind! It’s obvious to me.

Please be patient, I’ll get to the MS Office part of the rant in a minute!

I loosely include mobile/tablet apps in the same category as desktop apps here. I admit they have had less of an opportunity to annoy me and the “app store” type architecture does work much better than the traditional windows desktop app. However they suffer from the same issue, they are less available cross device and operating system than a browser based application.

Before some of you start throwing things at me, I accept that not all tasks are catered for by the cloud model. At least not at the moment and some not well enough. Hardcore gaming, pro video editing, pro photo editing, and complex spreadsheets are some examples that spring to mind. However I do not think everyday word processing, spreadsheets, and email fit into this category. There are plenty of more than capable cloud based solutions that cover these requirements.

So why are people in all walks of life so obsessed with Microsoft Office? From Students and Business folk to pensioners. I don’t know the definitive answer but here are some theories.

  1. People don’t know any better - It’s the only software people know about in this category. MS Office has been around for a long while and has been the most popular.
  2. People are reluctant and resist change - Just like when Facebook changes the user interface there’s uproar and protest, then folk get used to it and all seems well. I recall it was concluded that many British organisations failed as a result of late adoption of IT hence losing competitive advantage i.e. not keeping up with the times - need to find a reference for that.
  3. People think it’s the standard for document exchange - They forget that a significant proportion of the time a document only needs to be read by the other party, not edited. If one does need to collaborate out of the box, Word and Excel lack the required features.
  4. Office is more feature rich than it’s cloud based counterparts - Today this is true. However you must ask yourself, how often do you use all these extra features. Most of the time you are typing something out and applying basic formatting or - my favourite - using a spreadsheet to make a todo list/shopping list/project plan, tick off as you see fit.

The above applies as much to businesses users as it does for personal use. I argue that the present crop of productivity software in the cloud such as Google Apps and Zoho are perfectly capable of dealing with the average use case. They also provide many features unavailable in a desktop app such as access from any device with an Internet connect and inherently backup off your device - the benefits are well documented so I will not go into details. As such the requirement for MS Office should be the exception rather than the norm.

In a business environment this approach has many additional benefits in management such as reduced support costs, reduced costs through the elimination of traditional license management, no upgrade costs, and no deployment management. Again these and the additional end-user benefits are well documented.

I think people who resist are only delaying the inevitable. What do you think?

Personal blog by Janaka Abeywardhana. Thoughts on topics other than Software Engineering and Product Management. All of that is over at [janaka.dev](janaka.dev) by Janaka Abeywardhana. On Github, Twitter, and Instagram

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