Scribbler’s Saga #17 – Axes to Grind: Microsoft

Posted: March 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

Once upon a time, we would make Bond villain jokes about Bill Gates and loudly assert Word Perfect and Apple as vastly better products. Microsoft bought its minority stake in Apple solely to unsure technology transfers that would otherwise define industrial espionage for centuries to come, we said. And then two things happened to fox up our safe smug assumptions about Evil, Crap Product Microsoft, Bill Gates started a foundation and once all direct competitors went into the ground without anyone to blow Taps the products generally improved.

Objectively, I shouldn’t have to warm up my mildly toxic poison pen to revert to old form bashing Microsoft and its products in 2017. Word and Office haven’t given me any trouble in more years than I have fingers. I ignore Outlook as an email interface, despite recently opening an Outlook account. But, in a lot of ways the small details imbedded in how Microsoft does things haven’t really changed, if you make the mistake of trying to use their products in the native Windows environment.

I jumped ship for Apple almost a decade ago and have operated Microsoft Word, Excel without fail in all the time. I had a drive crash once, but that was a hardware flaw where old Apple drives got hot and took a dirt nap requiring an expensive recovery (I got everything back and bought a backup drive that still kicks). Everything about Microsoft Office that must play nice with OSX works, I have no complaints. And then they finally put out mobile apps realizing that they’d given too much market share to third-party vendors. Everything still works, but only if you’re a Apple person who massages the system correctly.

A while ago I commented on Microsoft’s move to the Office 365 subscription/rental paradigm over the buy your typewriter method. Microsoft Office at the time still sold a three-install version for OSX and I would game the system getting half off buying the Students and Teachers Edition (if I become the Second Coming of Stephen King there might be a license issue, easily circumvented by Shrug and Look Even More Stupid than Usual). For me as an Apple devotee, this general advice remains mostly solid, but there are small annoyances.

The current desktop version Office 2016 still comes in a Student and Teachers Edition for OSX that is still $150, so far so good. It’s still a buy the typewriter and use it for the four or five years until the next version arrives license, so $30/year versus $70/year going through an Office 365 subscription. Still good…until you realize that Microsoft stopped selling three installs for that price favoring a single download license. They’re learning. But, so am I, Ducky.

I jumped on the mobile apps a couple years ago because I knew I would spend more writing time flopped on my couch tapping away on my iPhone or in a coffee shop tapping keys furiously on the Bluetooth keyboard paired with my iPad. The apps were free. They remain free. I use the desktop version for the big edits, but I write however I like.

But, going back to the small details sure to revert me back to not liking Microsoft, the apps are built to do many normal things well at the cost of intentionally trying to drive me into an Office 365 account. But, for people for whom there are still buy the typewriter licenses (Apple only, to the best of my knowledge) there are work arounds. I still had to create a Microsoft Account attached to my main Google email, but I refrained from pushing any buttons that agreed to pay Microsoft for Office 365 and I used my Dropbox folder as my cloud. So far everything is free once you factor the amortized prices of Office 2011 and Dropbox (I haven’t filled up my space in the free version yet) as acceptable up front costs.

But, the various apps that make up Office Mobile have some sneaky-sneakies built in. They love randomly going through whole periods of “security review” modes where like clockwork the app forces you to sign in with your email and password. At the moment, the mobile version of Excel has done this once every single day. Until I do this all my documents are classed Read Only and the password input interface doesn’t allow me to Cut and Paste the password from my master list.

When I input my password, the request gets submitted to Microsoft and I get a message saying THERE IS NO OFFICE 365 ACCOUNT ATTACHED. USE ANOTHER ACCOUNT. And the Read Only tag doesn’t come off the document you’re trying to edit. The uninitiated might panic and buy into Office 365, when you already have a permanent license version. Have no fear, close the window and back out of the document back to your local document page in the app and then re-open the document. The Read Only tag clears up until Microsoft does this, yet again, probably tomorrow.

So far, I describe my interactions with Microsoft Office 2011 with a side helping of iOS Mobile Office. My annoyances are all about the relentless push of Office 365, manageable frustrations.

Whether I finger tap on my phone or type into my home computer or my iPad, everything works the way I want. The cursor stays put where I last left it. The edit response showing characters on the screen just isn’t even something I think about. I’ve learned to shut off my Bluetooth keyboard using my iPad anytime I need to trash a certain orange president, because I write führer a lot, plus add umlauts in random places, like Tolkien did to distinguish between English and written Middle Earth Common, umlauts being easier using tap-type. So knowing how to play on my particular writing golf course, I should be happy and as long as I stay in Apple’s Walled Garden, I am.

If you’ve been reading, you’re aware that I foolishly bought a Lenovo cheap-book trying to contribute anonymously to the resistance (see Hide in Plain Sight). The update, I unloaded the device onto the Salvation Army because I hated using it even after realizing my contributions wouldn’t amount to much. I thought the Lenovo would be lighter in my bag and so let’s switch out my iPad, at least until the first year free Office 365 license ran out. Lighter in the bag with crap technology, go with the heavier tool…trust me.

First off, I couldn’t find any Windows 10 compatible buy the typewriter licenses for the Lenovo. The hardware makers typically spring for the first year included on Office 365 knowing that the consumer just wants to type right out of the box. Microsoft Word used to come preloaded in using the old buy the typewriter license from the manufacturer. But, let’s rehash the costs Office 365…$70/year versus not actually even being able to buy the metaphorical typewriter for $150 amortizing that down to $30/year or even less if you choose to alternate update cycles because this license doesn’t exist.

Does the Windows 10 version work as well as the iOS, OSX versions? Absolutely not! I tried to like this version, but things were just slightly off and I ate the $200 for the Lenovo preferring to let somebody with more saint-like patience deal with things. I was okay with the slightly altered control layout for Office Windows 10, but I really hated the phantom cursor of the Windows version.

As I typed, I had to maintain the situational awareness of an astronaut keeping the mouse/trackpad cursor outside of the typing area of the page I worked on. At capriciously random intervals, the cursor would assume that I had somehow tapped Left Click on the trackpad and start placing text in a random line that I had already finished and had to stop typing to edit out immediately. This doesn’t happen inside the Apple Walled Garden, obviously I was spoiled.

With this one ugly complaint, I don’t think I need to go looking for more annoyances with the Windows 10 Office Suite, which I’m sure exist. It’s gone now and someone else’s problem. I suppose Mr. Gates is glad he hung up the metaphorical white Bond-villain cat and the monocle because now he gets to redirect complaints elsewhere. And now back to our regularly scheduled verbiage.

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