Office 365: Better than Expected

I don’t harbor love or hate for computers or operating systems. Debating the merits of Microsoft versus Google versus Apple is amusing, and sometimes even necessary, but the tenor of discussion on the internet is irritating. I don’t care. I need what I need, and if someone can meet the need, that’s super. Beyond that, I’m ambivalent.

I have a long history using Microsoft products, beginning with BASIC on the Apple ][ and Commodore 64 personal computers. Back in those days, I'd have gladly taken part in a good platform debate.

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Of course, I was an Amiga fan. I watched Commodore shovel dirt over their business in spite of superior technology. This helped me to start shedding my inner fanboy. That brings me to another favorite fight: Microsoft Fans vs. People Who Hate Microsoft, sub-fight: MS Office.

The Microsoft Wild-Ride

I’ve been using Office since the Windows 3.1 era 1 and often joked that any given MS product requires a service pack or two before becoming useful. Over the years, I have lost and regained trust in Office based on my perception of alleged improvements.

Office has changed a ton over the years. The ribbon is the most recent UI jump I can think of. It scales beautifully to different window/screen sizes and rationalized the structure of application functions.

My line of work has always included Word and PowerPoint. Both have had awful periods, but both have improved considerably. The former languished in UI-hell for longer than was necessary and the latter encouraged the creation of heroically awful presentations. Many eyes have needlessly suffered at the sight of A PowerPoint.

So now Microsoft’s flagship productivity suite has embraced the cloud. Finally. I’ve read about some issues. Personally, I have no reason to upgrade because we have our nonprofit employee discount. If I felt like it, I could spend the $10. But then a friend of mine (who works at Microsoft) handed me an Office 365 Home Premium card. It gives me one year of Office (now billed as a service), an extra 20GB of cloud storage, and 60 Skype world minutes a month.

I didn’t exactly need an Office upgrade on my home PC, but I’m not going to turn down free.

My Impressions

Office 365 (Square Logo)Superficially, it doesn’t look like much. The UI seems a bit friendlier. You can still install it on your computer (up to 5 PC’s or Macs, actually), but you don’t have to.

Hah, I thought. What a bunch of crap. I bet it sucks.

I booted up my hacked-together Android-based netbook and used the generic, built-in browser to head over to Office365. I logged in and clicked on a file I’d recently edited and saved to SkyDrive.

There was a bit of delay, but only just a bit. Then I was typing into a Word document complete with the ribbons and all the expected behaviors. It honestly felt like I was using a slightly slower version of the desktop client, but it lives in the browser. This was on a machine can barely chug through Angry Birds without glitching the GPU. Almost no Android software can run on it because it’s not ARM-based. I opened an Excel document and began editing that. It was very snappy. I was very surprised.

When you access Office365 in this fashion, the page streams only the functionality as you need it, which means there’s a slight delay the first time, and almost none each subsequent time.

Other Stuff

Office vs. Apps: Is a Not-Stupid Boxing Analogy Possible?

Office vs. Apps: Is a Not-Stupid Boxing Analogy Possible?

There’s a lot I don’t know, being at the start of this exploration. SharePoint is still part of the suite, so it’s not all sunshine and roses. For years, I’ve tried to love this thing and give it the benefit of the doubt. It runs our nonprofit’s intranet and has ended up being a glorified document portal, though IT does use something called Footprints to manage tickets. Whatever other uses it’s there for, I wouldn’t know. I do know that it has a dense and obtuse interface that appears to have been developed by people who hate you.

I’ve also been playing with Outlook.com because, very much to my surprise, the interface is much cleaner than Gmail‘s. That said, Outlook (the application and something separate) is still annoying. In the past, it’s been frustrating back-end stuff. 2 Now it’s the baffling fact that there’s no synchronization with Outlook.com. When you open up the client, it won’t reflect what you have already read via web-interface and vice versa. Create all the rules and folders you like, they won’t match up. That does not compute.

SharePoint is still part of the suite, so it’s not all sunshine and roses.

As noted, all this stuff is a service. It costs $99/year for personal use, which is considerably more than Google’s $0/year. So I guess it comes down to how much you value Office’s additional functions. Even if Google Docs’ feature-set doubled right now, it’d still have a way to go before matching what Word can do. But then I think about how most people do not need most of what Word offers them. But can Google’s new Vault compete with OneNote? An internal debate ensues.

I do need more than what Google offers me. In the print-on-dead-trees dance-off, Word wins handily. That still comes up a lot. Avery labels, anyone? Putting this or that particular function aside, though, I’m left with the single best reason: I need to be productive offline. That my editing experience can be identical in both places is the most appealing thing of all.

I think it’s time to see if Windows 7 can be installed on my netbook.

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