Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Upgrading to Office 2004

Last night, I upgraded from Office 2008 to Office 2004. Office 2008 is native for my Intel-based MacBook Air, but it turns out the four year-old Office 2004 (which I’d never used on an Intel Mac) actually runs faster. Plus is more reliable and has some more features. (Apparently I’m not the only one to notice).

I had hoped the SP1 update (Office 2008 12.1.0) released Tuesday would make Office better, but it’s about the same. For example, PowerPoint still wipes out the last changed date of any file you open (when or not you change anything). If not for the dreaded DOCX disease (a nonfatal virus spread by casual contact), I’d rip out of Office 2008 entirely.

I have not yet bought Windows Vista so I can upgrade to XP, but does anyone see a pattern here? Windows XP shipped in 2001 and its successor did not ship until six years later. Microsoft corporate is spending $7 billion a year overall on R&D — somewhere between 10% and 1/3 of that on Windows — so after six years that amounts to several billion dollars of R&D on Windows Vista. The cost of Office 2008 was probably only a few hundred million.

I am tempted to beat on Microsoft for poor management or lack of motivation, but I think the problem is more serious than that. Microsoft’s legacy code base is so large (if not bloated) that it’s very hard to add new features while keeping the old features, performance and reliability.

Rather than trying to be all things to all people, Linux (or FreeBSD or NetBSD) has the potential of allowing groups to customize the operating system to their own needs, serving a range of niches through decentralized community innovation. Desktop Linux seems dead for now, but such decentralized approaches seem one of the few options to overcome the inherent limits of coordinating such monolithic OS releases.


Jeff Waugh said...

Red Hat has simply said that they are not investing in a consumer product. Their enterprise desktop product, along with their substantial investment in the desktop infrastructure, is still very strong.

They're definitely not walking away from the desktop, they just don't see that there's any point investing in a product for a segment that is rapidly winding down to zero margin.

If anything, the opportunity for the Linux "desktop" has exploded... Microsoft simply doesn't have a compelling offering for many of the new, interesting and low-cost form-factors.

Joel West said...


The problems of making desktop Linux successful deserve a magazine article or a journal research paper, not just a blog entry. Even though you hope it will succeed someday, I assume none of these would be a surprise to you, so I won't waste your time.

Right now no firm seems to think it's a near term possibility -- if they did, they'd be pouring money into it. I think desktop Linux will continue to gain market share, but it will be very slowly over the next few years until something fundamental changes (e.g. Intel or Lenovo places a major bet).