Office 12 Reactions

At first glance, my reaction to Microsoft’s pre-announced, pre-Beta version of Office 12 was, once again, “god help us, we’re in the hands of engineers.” They’ve put a prettier face on the monster, but it’s still a monster. You won’t be able to buy it until “Spring” of next year — that probably means June, 2006. By then, who knows what we’ll really need in a word processor, spreadsheet, database, and presentation application?

I know what I need right now: a better HTML-based text editor that also saves in the OpenDoc format. Office 12 won’t provide that.

Here are the initial reactions to Office 12; first, a description of the beast, from Office 12 makeover takes on ‘feature creep’:

In user testing, Microsoft found that nine out of every 10 features that customers wanted to see added to Office were already in the program. “They simply don’t know it’s there,” Chris Capossela, a Microsoft vice president, told a developer crowd last week. “It’s just too hard to find it.”…

Office has become a case study for feature creep — the phenomenon in which a simple technology becomes complicated and unmanageable through the addition of new features. Office, which once had 100 commands neatly organized into menus, ballooned to contain some 1,500 commands located in scores of menus, toolbars and dialog boxes…

With Office 12, due next year, the company plans to do away with a system that depends on people remembering which series of menus lead to a particular command. Instead, users will see a “ribbon” of different commands above their document, with the options changing depending on the task… When editing in Word, for example, the ribbon presents only those choices that have directly to do with formatting content. And even then, the goal is not to present every possible option, but rather the couple dozen choices that represent the majority of the clicks people typically make.

Here’s a quick summary from FAQ: Looking into Office 12 by Ina Fried, CNET News.com:

The radical revamp could help the company as it seeks to stave off competition from OpenOffice and others, but it also risks alienating those who like things the way they are.

For a bit more detail on Office 12 (the pre-Beta test version, which of course could change between now and next Spring), see the CNET Review of Office 12 Pre-Beta 1:

Rejoice if you’ve raged for eight years against Clippy. The dorky paper-clip cartoon is really dead; Office Assistant suggestions will no longer glibly interrupt your tasks… You may moan to hear that the Alt keyboard shortcuts will change; luckily, shortcuts using the Ctrl button will stay the same. While the more visual and tabbed layout may reduce mouse clicks, it eats up more screen real estate than Office 2003 does. Visually, Office 12 will look dramatically different, though just marginally more attractive than its predecessor. Icons and charts appear less flat, but our jaws didn’t drop at first sight.

As for me, I’m sticking with OpenOffice.org on my Mac for a while longer (with hopes that a native Mac version comes out soon, replacing the one I use now, which uses the X Window interface). I will continue to search for an excellent Mac text editor for blogging and HTML page editing.

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Opinions on the Microsoft Reorganization

Here are some opinions of the recent Microsoft reorganization from the blogosphere:

Microsoft Positioning Itself Against Google

Alec Saunders in Microsoft Reorg points out that “folding MSN into the platforms group is explicitly placing it where it can be most turned into a Web Services 2.0 company. We’ve seen inklings of this already, as MSN has started to expose APIs [application programming interfaces].”

Indeed,Microsoft’s reorganization “gives hosted-software services a starring role, providing a clear picture of the company’s plan to stimulate revenue growth,” according to CNET News.com article Microsoft reorg a bulwark against Google?.

News reports and analysts frame the reorg as a reaction to Google, but it also represents a sea change in Microsoft’s future product planning, similar to the one back in 1995 prompted by “The Web is the Next Platform” internal memo that presented a nightmare scenario for Microsoft Windows. In a report on CNET News.com — Microsoft’s nightmare inches closer to reality — Jim Kerstetter and Elinor Mills write:

The MSN shift also brings full circle an argument that began inside Microsoft a decade ago: If the Web, not the PC, is indeed the next computing platform, should Microsoft embrace it wholeheartedly, or do everything in its power to ensure that Windows stays at the center of the computing universe?

… MSN could be what Windows could never be: a Net platform that allows developers to write and distribute their code quickly. Patches and upgrades that take weeks or longer to distribute with traditional software can be done overnight, simply because they’re all under the same umbrella. By comparison, the successor to Windows XP, introduced in 2001, isn’t due until next year.

Microsoft Insiders Criticize the Company

In Mini-Microsoft, Who da’Punk criticizes Microsoft from the inside, and in particular has this to say about Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s interview in BusinessWeek, Steve Ballmer Shrugs Off The Critics.

I’m sorely disappointed with Ballmer’s answers… there was a lack of honesty in the answers and a total sense of pure-politician evasiveness and redirection. I guess it usually works. Just answer the freaking simple questions directly! It’s like he has three talking points and all he can do is mutex them into some variety that seems like an answer… I know that Ballmer could do this honest assessment in a series of bullet points admitting that we’re late, we’re shipping a lot less than we wanted to, and that we’ve got some big kinks in our process (along with way too much process). Instead he tips the hat to saying Microsofties are highly critical and have high standards.

In an earlier post, Back to Basics, the anonymous Microsoft insider explains Microsoft’s biggest problem.

Microsoft is bloated, big, and slow. During the dot-com boom-years, we hired a bunch of clunkers and brought in a lot of questionable talent as part of our even more questionable acquisitions. These folks brought in lower-quality new hires. And you’d better believe that this entitle-focused group of clunkers has their best interest at the center of all their decisions, customer and shareholders be damned.

Microsoft as Titantic

In Another Rovian Conspiracy, St Wendeler has this to say in the post Re-Arranging the Deck Chairs at Microsoft:

Microsoft is in trouble and has bet the farm on a reorg within the company. Unfortunately, I don’t see how this is going to change the course of the company… Unfortunately for Ballmer, it’s tough to get ahead when your key talent is heading over to your competitors… [Microsoft] spends a TON of cash on R&D, but can’t seem to find any business value from their projects.

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Microsoft Humor

In the course of researching my book Just Say No to Microsoft, I wasted considerable time pouring through the Microsoft humor sites looking at Bill Gates pie-in-the-face videos (here’s one), silly cartoons, jokes, fake news stories, and even a Bill Gates pie-in-the-face game. The best collection I found is Brian’s Microsoft Humor Page. My favorites:

Microsoft Hires Pope, Gets Religion

Around Christmas 1994, a prankster posted a fake news report online that Microsoft had acquired the Catholic Church. “If the deal goes through, it will be the first time a computer software company has acquired a major world religion,” stated the phony news report, which was datelined Vatican City and attributed to the Associated Press (AP). “With the acquisition, Pope John Paul II will become the senior vice-president of the combined company’s new Religious Software Division.”

“We expect a lot of growth in the religious market in the next five to 10 years,” Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was quoted as saying in the fake report, re-posted on the Annoyances.org humor site and credited to Hank Vorjes. “‘The combined resources of Microsoft and the Catholic Church will allow us to make religion easier and more fun for a broader range of people.’ The deal grants Microsoft exclusive electronic rights to the Bible and the Vatican’s prized art collection.”

According to the fake report, Microsoft would make the sacraments available online and revive the popular pre-Counter-Reformation practice of selling indulgences. According to Gates, “You can get Communion, confess your sins, receive absolution — even reduce your time in Purgatory — all without leaving your home.”

An estimated 17,000 people attended the announcement in St. Peter’s Square and watched host-comedian Don Novello — in character as Father Guido Sarducci — on a 60-foot screen. The event, so the parody went, was broadcast by satellite to 700 sites worldwide. In his address, Gates described Microsoft’s long-term strategy to develop a scalable religious architecture that would support all religions through emulation. A single core religion would be offered, with a choice of interfaces according to the religion desired. The phony story quoted Gates as saying it would consist of “One religion, a couple of different implementations.”

Microsoft released a humorless statement denying the acquisition and denouncing the report as a fake.

Another humor site I visited offered a response from the Archdiocese of Seattle, which may or may not have appeared in the Bellevue Journal-American:

Seattle, Washington: Microsoft Corporation wasn’t very amused last week by the fake story about it supposedly acquiring the Catholic Church, but the phony news account didn’t bother the Archdiocese of Seattle, which issued a tongue-in-cheek response Monday.

“We could have had a material as well as a spiritual Christmas,” joked John A. McCoy, public affairs director for the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle. “We could have had a software bonanza in the collection basket.”

Church officials pretended to be disappointed by Microsoft’s formal denial Friday of a fake story floating around the Internet that said it would buy the Roman Catholic Church. The archdiocesan public affairs office faxed a press release to the local media with the headline “Church Hopes Dashed as Microsoft Denies Acquisition Bid.”

The release listed several reasons why a church- Microsoft deal might have been beneficial. The church, for example, might have helped Microsoft develop better icons for its software programs.

“We’ve had 2,000 years of working with icons. Microsoft Windows has only done it for three. We could have helped,” the release read.

“We’re trying to show that the Catholic church has a sense of humor,” McCoy explained.Archbishop Thomas Murphy was not quoted in the release, but he approved it before it was faxed to the media, McCoy said.

No One Expects the Microsoft Acquisition!

Here’s more excellent Microsoft humor. And at Wubb’s MS Humor Page I found:

Microsoft announced that it, like thousand of computer users everywhere, was tired of spoofs of Microsoft Acquires. Users of the internet have been bombarded in recent months by spoof announcements of “Microsoft Acquires.” Recent announcements have included Microsoft acquiring Christmas, the year 1995, and the Vatican. Therefore, Microsoft spokesmen announced today that they had acquired the rights to all further “Microsoft Acquires” announcements. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said, during a brief appearance at the announcement, “Everytime someone puts one of those d&mned ‘Microsoft Announces’ spoofs on the net, 300 people forward it to me. This should put a stop to that. And really, they’re not that funny. They’re just not.”

Of course they all contains the classic joke, “If Microsoft built cars…”

Every time they repainted the lines on the road you would have to buy a new car.
Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason, and you would just accept this, restart and drive on.
Occasionally, executing a maneuver would cause your car to stop and fail and you would have to re-install the engine. For some strange reason, you would accept this too.
The oil, gas, and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single “general car fault” warning light.
New seats would force everyone to have the same size butt.
The airbag system would say “are you sure?” before going off.
If you were involved in a crash, you would have no idea what happened.

Not to mention the perennial:

How many Microsoft programmers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? None. They’ve declared “darkness” a standard.
— from Annoyances.org

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Is Apple Worse than Microsoft with XML?

Tim Bray’s blog ongoing offers some insight into the controversies surrounding compatibility with the OpenDocument standard based on XML. In ongoing · Apple File Formats he writes: “The whole world has been giving Microsoft a hard time over their Office XML file formats; it turns out that there are far worse sinners. Apple, for one.”

The file formats in Apple’s iWork (which includes Keynote and Pages) are based on XML, but it does not conform with OpenDoc. Apple
also doesn’t publish the complete XML schema. The version in Keynote 2 is, according to some, the work of amateurs.

Apple responded to Bray by pointing out that Apple has made a lot of documentation available and has been honest about the software’s limitations. “All software involves tradeoffs, or else it will never ship,” responded Ernest Prabhakar, Product Manager of Open Source & XML at Apple. “We’ve made the conscious decision to focus on ease-of-use and ease-of- development, even if that has the unfortunate side-effect of fragile document formats.”

Until Apple gets its XML act together with iWork, consider using OpenOffice.org if you want compatibility with the OpenDocument standard.

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Firefox Security Update

Internet Explorer is still massively flawed, but if Firefox, the most popular alternative, becomes too popular, won’t it also become more vulnerable to attacks? In Mozilla faces the curse of popularity, ZDNet‘s Dana Blankenhorn rephrases the question: “Is open source software really better than proprietary, or is that just a function of its low market share? Mozilla’s Firefox browser is a great test case. How it responds to its present security problems, and how fast new problems come on, will help us answer these key questions…Regardless of whether your process is proprietary or open source, you still need a process to collect bug reports, test patches, and expedite them to users. That process is always a bottleneck.”

We are watching Mozilla work through this process. After numerous security holes were publicized, Mozilla went to work on Firefox and released version 1.0.7. According to the Mozilla’s release notes, “Firefox 1.0.7 is a security and stability release. We strongly recommend that all users upgrade to this latest version.” It includes several security and stability fixes, including a fix for a reported buffer overflow vulnerability and a fix for a Linux shell command vulnerability.

Those hearty souls who’ve tried version 1.5 Beta may suffer attacks due to the buffer overflow problem in the beta release, which is meant for testing only and typically has bugs. The beta has been downloaded about 500,000 times, according to Mozilla.

While popularity will increase the kind of attacks that Internet Explorer is famous for, Firefox doesn’t have the legacy requirements of Internet Explorer, and it’s developers are not shackled to a business plan of world domination through Windows. The army of developers working on Firefox have way too much credibility to lose if Firefox becomes as unusable as IE. I just don’t think they will let that happen.

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Massachusetts Dumps Office in Boston Harbor

You can be proud as you walk Boston’s Freedom Trail today, because inside the Commonwealth of Massachusetts government buildings you pass, patriots are working on a new kind of freedom. They’re dumping boxes of Microsoft Office in Boston Harbor and screaming, “The Redmond coats are coming!”

Massachusetts has decided to phase out Office applications in favor of those based on open standards, including the recently approved OpenDocument standard, based on XML, used by OpenOffice.org and other Open Source applications. The proposal would mandate that the Open Document Format be used for all “office” documents (ie, word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation documents). Because OpenDocument is incompatible with Microsoft Office, the Massachusetts policy would effectively require state agencies to abandon Microsoft Office. If the proposal is accepted, state agencies will have until January 2007 to replace their Microsoft Office software with standardized alternatives, such as OpenOffice.org.

Massachusetts officials believe that the cost of sticking with Microsoft is a major pain point — the next version of Office will not run on Windows 2000 and the Commonwealth would be forced to upgrade the operating systems for approximately 80,000 employees.

Massachusetts battled Microsoft before; it was the last state to hold out for more penalties back in 2003 when Microsoft and the Department of Justice settled. Although some governments and regional authorities in countries such as Brazil, Peru, India and China, and several European countries have adopted Open Source software, Massachussetts is the first U.S. state to do so.

ZDNet‘s David Berlind provides more detailed coverage and links to audio recordings of the proceedings in Microsoft vs Mass.: What ever happened to ‘The customer is always right’?. Berlind writes: “Is it just me, or is there something highly unusual about the extremely hard time that Microsoft is giving to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts over its decision to move to Open Document Format (ODF) as the standard for storing files produced by productivity applications like word processors and spreadsheets?”

Berlind cites Nicholas Carr, author of Does IT Matter?, who points out in his blog: “This isn’t about Microsoft. It’s about a state government launching a serious and comprehensive initiative to replace its fragmented, inefficient set of traditional information systems with a modern, coherent, and flexible IT architecture that allows data to be shared and reused easily.”

Berlind puts it into perspective for the typical Office user in Carr gives Microsoft a taste of its own OpenDoc medicine (and I pile on). “Ironically, in the same breath that Microsoft is using cost and other reasons to dissuade the Commonwealth from attempting to move to a new and different document format, just about every user of Microsoft Office must do that anyway in order to support Microsoft’s new XML formats… Not only should more public agencies heed Massachusetts’ OpenDoc policy, all businesses and organizations should. If Microsoft is so confident that its royalty-free but non-open XML-based document formats are that much better for its customers, then it should support both OpenDoc as well as its own in Microsoft Office.”

“In other words, if they’re so good, what does Microsoft have to lose by supporting both? Well, how about Windows’ domination, for starters? One important key to Windows’ domination of the industry is Microsoft Office’s inextricable link to it.”

For many businesses, Office already serves as the maddeningly familiar interface for databases that hold critical business information. People use Word, Excel, and Outlook to fill out and submit electronic forms and to prepare up-to-date reports from business information scoured from company databases. If all this activity could be better accomplished with XML, Microsoft’s hold on businesses with Office might loosen. So Microsoft is moving quickly to embrace XML and incorporate the standard into its vision of Office-dominated computing.

Open source advocates see this move as treachery of the highest order, and they envision the destruction of XML itself, or at least its marginalization, as Microsoft adds extensions to the standard that work only with Office. A similar move by Microsoft years ago nearly capsized Java and sparked a lawsuit from Sun Microsystems.

XML was designed to increase the portability of documents, not to decrease it. The markup language does not affect content — you can use or strip out XML’s embedded markup tags to reproduce the document’s content. But Microsoft has extended XML to include a wide range of active functions that do affect content.

A Microsoft XML document can, for example, activate ActiveX components to perform functions with other applications, interact with a dynamic link library (DLL), or pass tagged content to a Visual Basic script. Developers can use Microsoft XML tools to make documents that automatically update themselves or documents that can’t be emailed to people who are not on a predefined list. It can even be used to make documents that delete their own contents if called up after some pre-specified date. This goes way beyond standard XML usage into dangerous territory, and the reason Microsoft did it was to turn Office documents into clients for server-based processes.

With these capabilities available, fraud detection is far more difficult, if not impossible. You can receive a secured document on CD that can still be subverted by a bad guy able to spoof the remote server. Even more likely, your documents might become unreadable due to a glitch or server upgrade. Documents might refuse to display themselves on PCs that fail to meet hardware identification or software licensing checks. Truth, once again, could be compromised, as the same document could show different content to different people or at different times.

Indeed. Get off the Word doc format, the Excel spreadsheet format, and the PowerPoint presentation format. You have nothing to lose but the Microsoft tax — and you have no representation in Redmond where the Customer is no longer King.

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OpenOffice.org Beta 2 Available Now for Testing

OpenOffice.org 2.0 Beta 2 is a significant improvement, although as of this writing it is still unstable and requires more bug fixes. It now looks and behaves like any other application — on Windows XP it looks more like Office or any other Windows application (although it certainly does not look like the as-yet-unreleased Office 12), and on Linux it uses the same user interface widgets as GIMP or Evolution. Beta 2, as of this writing, does not yet include a native-looking Mac OS X version; the Mac version still uses the X11 user interface.

Beginning with version 2.0 OpenOffice.org uses the open standard OASIS OpenDocument XML format as the default file format. OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications is a document format that protects content, whether it is an 800-page airline specification or a legal contract, from being locked into an application- or vendor-specific file format.

Beta 2 offers CustomShapes — shapes that can change their size and appearance — which are very similar to Microsoft’s AutoShapes (which, fortunately, are now imported and displayed correctly). The developers took pains to make OOo more compatible with Word by letting you create tables within tables (nested tables), and more compatiblle with PowerPoint by supporting more animation effects and slide transitions. It also includes a WordPerfect filter developed by the open source community. A new Table Wizard makes it easy to create database tables, and the embedded HSQLDB database engine, based on Java, lets you create database documents with table definitions, data queries, forms, and reports all stored in one XML file.

It is ready now, and the developers are asking the community to download it, test, and file bug reports. To learn why 2.0 represents the future of productivity suite technology, read the Features page.

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IE Still Massively Flawed

Microsoft investigates another IE flaw report | CNET News.com: “A new, unpatched flaw in Internet Explorer could let miscreants surreptitiously run malicious code on Windows PCs, according to the discoverer of the bug. The problem affects Internet Explorer 6 — the latest version of Microsoft’s Web browser — on computers running Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and all security patches installed.”

Here’s another one:

A security flaw has been found in the default installation process for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Outlook and Outlook Express, according to eEye Digital Security (see eEye: Flaw found in IE, Outlook installation by CNET News.com). A common thread with these applications is the potential for a buffer overflow, which in turn could allow an attacker to gain access to users’ systems remotely. Systems at risk with this flaw include those running Windows XP with Service Pack 0 or 1 and Windows 2000. (Check eEye’s vulnerability assessment report for details.)

Lo and behold, eEye found more flaws involving Internet Explorer and Windows XP with SP2 that could enable a remote attack on systems: IE flaw puts Windows XP SP2 at risk (CNET News.com). The flaw can be found in default installations of IE, according to eEye’s advisory.

These discoveries come just over a month after the jolly green software giant issued a cumulative patch addressing three vulnerabilities for IE. If you still use IE, you had better get this patch. One particularly nasty flaw is the way IE handles JPEG images — an attacker could commandeer a PC by crafting a malicious image and tricking the victim to look at it on a Web site or in an HTML e-mail.

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Why Get Off Microsoft

You may not think that Microsoft code is so dangerous, but there’s plenty of evidence to support that assertion. According to a report by the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), experts in security, technology, and economic policy agree that the reliance on a single technology, such as the Microsoft Windows operating system, by such an overwhelming majority of computer systems threatens the security of the U.S. economy and critical infrastructure.

The lack of variety makes Microsoft software a consistent target. Reliance on Microsoft software affects everyone, not just on a business or professional level, but also on a personal level. It may scare you to know that, in August 2003, the Department of Homeland Security announced that Microsoft would supply the software for the agency’s 140,000 desktops. The CCIA sent an open letter asking the department to reconsider.

While almost any company in America could be put under a microscope and made to look extremely hairy and ugly, the problem with Microsoft is that it dominates the entire information technology industry, including computer systems, applications, pocket devices, home entertainment systems, networks, and the Internet. Microsoft uses its domination to lock hardware manufacturers and consumers into using Microsoft software. That means you have no choice but hairy and ugly. Until now.

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