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No Office space

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This is not an anti-Microsoft column, it is pro-Apple user. However, after many years of using Macs, including pre-OS X machines, I just don’t see the need for Microsoft’s bloated Office suite, especially Word. Luckily for Redmond, many users do not have the same ideas as me. But for Apple to win, Microsoft doesn’t have to lose. 

When some people buy Macs, they insist that Microsoft Office is installed. Most only use Word, and even then only for basic letters. Some claim that using Word guarantees standardised output. They should ask my students about that. These hard-working young people write on their PCs at home, then use a print service at the university. The output is full of errors, undermining the basic reason many give for their insistence on Office and Word. My Mac output — printed using the secretary’s PC — is better.

Redmond has managed a magnificent snake-oil trick here, as Word is seen as the must-have application. Few need the power of such a fully-equipped word processor (or the rest of the Office suite come to that). I run a Microsoft-free environment and produce first-rate text output. I do not need a fully-equipped word-processing program to write a shopping list.

I start writing with a basic text editor — TextWrangler. What you are reading now was produced in this (free) application. If I need formatted text, I will add HTML code for web pages, or copy and paste the work into Apple’s TextEdit, an application that comes with all Macs. It allows saving in several formats, including DOC and RTF. I can also export a file as a PDF document if needed. All my teaching materials and letters are done in TextEdit.

For output like brochures that require more specialised formatting (and for creating e-books) there is Apple’s Pages. This is extra useful, as I can synchronise output with my Macs and iOS devices using iCloud — the files are available even if I do not have a computer with me. The same goes for Keynote (presentations) and Numbers (spreadsheets), known collectively as iWork. Also available in beta form is iWork for iCloud. The suite (Keynote, Numbers, Pages) can be opened in a browser, even on a PC.

A couple of years ago, I was asked to review a new version of Office for the Mac. I was aghast at the bloat, particularly the unnecessary installation of hundreds of fonts, most of which I already had. These were “Microsoft-approved” fonts. The Apple-installed ones were not approved, nor were the half-dozen Thai fonts I had, so they did not work in Office. I hope that if, as rumoured, there is a new version of Office for the Mac on its way, it does not impose this feature on its users again.

Belatedly, many users who bought iPads have discovered that they do not need the flabbiness of Word. As I write this, there is no Office for the device, despite rumours of its appearance for the last couple of years. The latest news has it that a version of Office for the iPad — perhaps using the Cloud — will be announced tomorrow. To coincide with this, Microsoft released its OneNote for the Mac last week. It is available on the Mac App Store, currently for free.

There are many apps (free and paid) that allow formatted text output, including Apple’s iWork. Some apps use iCloud, others Dropbox to synchronise content. This is a lot more than a squandered opportunity for Microsoft; it may now be a closed door. An estimated 170 million iPads have been sold. Many users are working quite happily with the devices, despite the idea from awhile back that the iPad is not for productivity.

I would be first to admit that it is not as easy for me to create on my iOS devices, but that doesn’t mean I cannot. My pork-sausage fingers do not respond well to the iPad keyboard, but a female colleague can type super-fast on it.

Surprise! There is a solution — an external keyboard.

I have an Apple wireless keyboard, which means typing is just like working on a Mac. There are some third party keyboards as well, which will work with Function keys. For some reason, the Apple boards do not.

Office will not disappear. It is a widely used suite of tools that businesses and government organisations will continue to use because of its universality and the wide range of features within each of its components. Whether all users need this suite, I have my doubts.


Graham K. Rogers of Mahidol University’s Engineering Faculty has OS-X-flavoured web pages at www.extensions.in.th/index4.html

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