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Jewish World Review
Feb. 9, 2007
/ 21 Shevat, 5767
A week without Microsoft, more or less
For most of the past seven days, I've worked, more or less, without what I
would have imagined was essential applications software from Microsoft
Corp. No Microsoft Office 2007, or even 2003. No Word, Excel, PowerPoint
or Outlook. Only an occasional use of Internet Explorer 7, and, yes, the
Windows XP operating system, comprised my Microsoft "diet."
However, Windows XP came on the computer I was testing, so if I'd bought
the Lenovo Corp. ThinkPad X60, I might not have noticed the "price" of the
built-in operating system. And Internet Explorer is free for the
downloading, if it hadn't already been installed on the computer. This
means that were I a commercial customer, my contributions to Microsoft's
revenue stream would have been lower than they might have been otherwise.
What was interesting was not only that I was able to function, and pretty
nicely, during the period, but also what this might portend for
Microsoft's future. Last week, after all, the firm formally launched
Windows Vista, its newest operating system, and Office 2007, a
productivity suite which I happen to like. But would I like both products
enough to spend between $400 and $1,000 to get the necessary upgrades
(depending on version purchased), let alone any hardware enhancements
(more RAM, or a larger hard disk drive) to do this? And what happens if
I'm not the only customer who feels this way?
These questions - and similar ones - would impact not only Microsoft's
financial picture, if asked and answered globally, but also the user world
out ther. Today, many of us count on Microsoft Word as a sort of "lingua
franca" of document exchange; if we both can send and receive documents as
Word files, you and I can work together in 99.99-percent of computer-based
situations. But with Word 2007, the ".docx" format, which is based
on the Extensible Markup Language, or XML, throws a wrinkle into
this: users of older versions of Word will need a "reader" software to
handle ".docx" files, as will users of Word on the Mac. Microsoft has
promised such software will arrive quickly, as noted here previously.
During my time away from Microsoft's applications, I depended on the 2.0
"Beta" version of Mozilla Thunderbird, an e-mail program, and OpenOffice
2.1, a replacement productivity suite which competes quite nicely with
Microsoft Office. My main daily tasks are e-mail and word processing, so I
was able to do rather well with these items.
As far as operating systems go, I suppose I could have replaced Windows XP
with Canonical Ltd.'s Ubuntu distribution of Linux, which is
available free at www.ubuntu.com. However, because XP already was
installed, and because this computer has a fingerprint reader as part of
its security system, I stayed with Windows.
While I did well, overall, without the Microsoft applications, would I
want to do this all the time? I'm not sure. Thunderbird, available online
at www.mozilla.com, is an excellent e-mail client, though it lacks the
calendaring features and advanced contact management of Microsoft Outlook,
items which are important in business.
OpenOffice is a good suite, yet I'm betting that most of us who get to
see, and work with, Office 2007, as I did with the Beta version, will
suffer from "applications envy." The menu format of Office 2007 is for me
rather compelling, delivering a cleaner, crisper interface. The new Word
2007's tools make it easier to do more things with a document quickly,
creating impressive formats.
There's also the support factor: even "free" software can have glitches,
and with Microsoft's paid applications, there's someone you can go to for
help, something which can be critical in larger enterprise situations.
The bottom line: Taking a "vacation" from Microsoft's newest products may
sound appealing, but on the road to free software nirvana, there may be
some speed bumps.
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JWR contributor Mark Kellner has reported on technology for industry newspapers and magazines since 1983, and has been the computer columnist for The Washington Times since 1991.Comment by clicking here.
© 2007, News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit the paper at http://www.washingtontimes.com