Foley on Microsoft

Office Dinosaurs Unite

Microsoft is calling workers everywhere to join its "digital work style" revolution.

"Are you working in a bygone era?" asks Microsoft in its much maligned "dinosaur" ad campaign for Office. I wish I were, especially when I see how Microsoft's idea of the "digital work style" is evolving.

As regular Microsoft Watch readers know, I am a Luddite who just happens to cover technology for a living. I don't own a TV. I don't have a VCR. I don't carry an iPod. I don't have a car. I am a very reluctant cell-phone user. (And no, I'm not a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism.)

Being constantly connected is one of the worst ideas of this century. I don't want my colleagues (whether they're "buddies" or not) to know where I am or when I am free or busy. I loathe the idea of "presence." I shun audio and video conferencing. I still take notes using a pen and an old-fashioned reporter's notebook.

The Web, e-mail and instant messaging are immensely valuable. They have greatly improved my work life and the process of gathering, synthesizing and making sense of technology news. However, most of the "productivity" technologies Microsoft is pushing as part of its "Office System" strategy are anything but productive, in my book. They are solutions in search of problems -- if not the outright causes of problems.

Microsoft "Businessaurus"
The Microsoft Business Division -- which oversees Microsoft's Office desktop and server products -- has been desperately trying to maintain its Office revenues for several years. When it was obvious that older versions of Office were holding back new Office sales (the older versions worked just fine, thank you very much), Microsoft realized it should expand that business with a family of products that automate users' work lives.

Now, I don't claim that there aren't any customers who find products like Business Scorecard Manager, Groove and OneNote appealing. These users exist. I've talked to some. I've read their blogs.

Most of the "productivity" technologies Microsoft is pushing as part of its "Office System" strategy are anything but productive, in my book.

"Collaborative workspaces" just don't do it for me. We have collaborative workspaces here at work -- including instant-messaging chats, e-mail threads and face-to-face meetings. Still, I avoid collaboration -- a luxury only writers and a few other information workers can afford. From what I can see, more collaboration seldom yields greater productivity and creativity.

That's not stopping Microsoft, though. Microsoft is tying more of its products into SharePoint. It is also encouraging partners and customers to tie into SharePoint as well.

Live Meeting? Microsoft's conferencing software and service is broken more often than not. When it does work, its lameness shows through. Have you ever tried to sit through a one- or two-hour Live Meeting webcast? I can pay attention for about five minutes.

Sure, I didn't have to waste time flying to some far-flung conference. I also didn't get to schmooze with colleagues and attendees, which is the only reason to participate in conferences (or "unconferences") these days.

What about Office 2007 itself? Microsoft's continued refusal to provide a "classic" user interface option with Office 2007 seems crazy. The ribbon interface is going to require retraining. Even if it only takes a little while to get used to it, I probably won't find the time to do so.

After all this, I hope you don't write me off as another Dvorakian alarmist. Instead, tell me why I should rethink my curmudgeonly ways and give the soon-to-be-launched Microsoft Office 2007 another chance. How will it improve your work life? Write to me at mjfoley@redmondmag.com.

More Information

  • Microsoft's Dinosaur Ad Campaign
  • The classic "New World of Work" whitepaper (PDF) from Microsoft
  • Read "Presence? Mark Me Absent" (Microsoft-Watch.com)
  • Read "Five Things Wrong with SharePoint" (InformIT)
  • About the Author

    Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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