Friday, April 1, 2016

I hate Microsoft Office

In my professional career, I've been fortunate to run Linux on my work desktop for pretty much forever.

In my first job after university (1995) I was the Unix systems administrator for a small technology company. The standard desktop was Unix (a mix of Apollo DOMAIN, HP-UX, and SunOS) for the developers, and Windows 3.11 for everyone else. As the Unix systems administrator, it wasn't a big deal for me to run Unix on my desktop.

Maybe you remember Slackware Linux? There was an alternative spin called Slackware Pro that was very nice, and came with (limited) phone support. That's what I ran on my work desktop. I didn't need the support, but my bosses liked to have the option. My computer was dual-boot, switching into Windows on the rare occasion I needed to run Office. But most of the time, I ran happily in Linux all day.

Even when I later became associate manager of the IS team, I mostly ran Linux at work. Linux did everything I needed it to do. We were a small company, so we didn't pass a lot of printed memos around. Most of our inter-office communication was via email or in meetings.

At my next job, I was a working manager at another small company. I think there were five of us in my IT support team, including me. Again, I ran a dual-boot desktop computer, and most of my time was spent in Linux. By this time, I'd switched to Red Hat Linux, which ran better (faster, more stable) on my hand-me-down workstation than Windows 95. I was aided by a great office program I'd purchased for home, and had work buy for me at the office. StarOffice was very compatible with Microsoft Office at the time. I could edit and exchange Word documents and Excel spreadsheets with my colleagues.

Later, I again changed jobs, moving to a university. Like many in higher ed, we could run whatever we wanted on our desktop computers, so I installed Linux. I was dual-boot with Windows NT, but still ran Linux most of the time. Instead of StarOffice, the now-open source OpenOffice let me interact with Word, Excel, and Powerpoint files. We ran a Novell network with Novell's groupware, but there were Linux programs that let me interact with the email and calendar systems, and to access my Novell drives.

A few years later, around the time I moved up into a larger management role, we retired Novell. Instead, we moved the back-end to a CIFS/NFS network storage system, and implemented a version of webmail. With this, I didn't need Windows as a "crutch" anymore, and I finally switched to Linux full-time at work. It was great! For a few years, anyway.

In 2009, I was promoted to senior manager of operations and infrastructure for the university. With the new role, I got a new director, and he took a dim view to anything that wasn't Microsoft. We went back and forth about my Linux desktop, until ultimately I re-installed my work computer with Windows.

It was the first time I'd run Windows in quite a long time. I'd been a Linux user since 1993, when I was a student at university, and since 2002 I'd been fortunate enough to run Linux full-time at work. The difference between Windows and Linux was shocking, to say the least.

I'll save the long story, but eventually that guy left, I got promoted, and I ran Linux at work again. For the last six years, Linux was my primary platform. We converted to Google Apps for Education, so while I could still use LibreOffice to work on Office files, the local software didn't matter that much anymore. We all used Google—Gmail for our email, Google Calendar for scheduling meetings, and Google Docs for Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. But I still enjoyed using Linux on the desktop, and only rarely dual-booting into Windows for some one-off thing I needed to do there. GNOME on Fedora Linux was a far better experience than Windows 7.

Until my current job. I'm in local government. And local government is very pro-Microsoft. So I'm back to using Microsoft on my work desktop again.

The shift to using Microsoft Windows after so many years of running Linux has been interesting. The usability of Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office is just weird. If you don't mind, I may share the occasional thought (or gripe) here as the mood shakes me.

Here's one to start with:

We are running Office 365. This effectively moves Office into the Cloud. So while you can use the desktop versions of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and Outlook, you can also use Office 365 via a web browser. We didn't go all-in on the Microsoft Cloud, but at least the web option is there for those who prefer it. But to get the most out of Office, it seems Microsoft just wants you to use the desktop version. So I'm using the desktop version of Office for now, and the web version is a sort of "remote access" option.

But I have to say it: I hate Microsoft Office. At least, I don't like the interface. I'm used to the simple, straightforward user interface in Google Docs. Even the user interface in LibreOffice, is laid out in a fairly logical manner, somehow accommodating additional bells and whistles. While I admit LibreOffice is not flawless (LibreOffice sometimes does things in a really stupid way) but at least it's something you can figure out.

Now I'm using Microsoft Office again, for the first time in … I don't remember how long. And the interface seems very klunky to me. And very busy. As much as Microsoft wants Office to be smooth, there's a lot of friction. The interface seems confusing to me, especially after having used Cloud-based software and open source software for so many years.

Here's an example: The icon to delete emails in Outlook is a swooshy "✗" icon. That seems out of step with the smooth appearance that Microsoft seems to prefer. The swooshy "✗" is probably supposed to make Office look cool, but to me it just looks old. Like, that was a neat idea in the 1990s or early 2000s, but today that's just clutter.

The rest of Office just seems confusing and overwrought. I have a hard time using it. I've been using Microsoft Office for three months, and only recently did I discover that I can cancel out of previewing an attachment in Outlook. Seriously, all this time I've been clicking into other emails just to exit out of the attachment preview mode.

Yeah, the usability in Microsoft Office is weird.
image: Wikimedia (public domain)


  1. Nice april fool joke ! ;-)

  2. You're kidding of course. ;-)

    But yeah, I really don't like Microsoft Office. While LibreOffice has its bumps and warts too (I think the menus are overstuffed; the menus and toolbars could be simplified) I still think LibreOffice is easier to use than Microsoft Office.

    I mostly use Outlook, Word and Powerpoint where I work now.

  3. Microsoft Office is the Ferrari of office suites. How many users need a Ferrari?

  4. My experience with the attachments preview was the same.

  5. Let me count the ways how I hate Microsoft Outlook. After using Google mail, Docs, Drive and Calendar for years, the user-unfriendliness of the Outlook system is a real turn-off. I want to quit my job because of how awful it is.