Office2000, or, 6 reasons not to send another check to Microsoft

Update, April 12, 2000

Hard to believe a year has gone by. The beta test of O2K continues, with BugNet reporting the top ten bugs of Office 2000 "Service Release-1":
10. Access denied when running SR-1 as administrator....
9. Find on Page (CTRL-F) does not work with Internet Explorer 5.01...
8. Internet installation of SR-1 requests the source CD you don't have...
7. Outlook 2000 can no longer find and use Word as its e-mail editor. (Ok, that one's a feature, not a bug.)
6. Dialup Networking connections no longer show on the task bar.
5. ActiveSync on Windows CE devices no longer works with Outlook 2000.
4. Some Internet Explorer users are experiencing an SR-1 download problem....
3. Outlook Express doesn’t start after SR-1....
2. "Open link in new browser" feature does not work with Internet Explorer
1. Office applications exit a few seconds after opening.

I was given a reference to the same story on MSNBC, somewhat ironically. I thought it was impressive that they were reporting candidly on one of their parent's shortcomings... then I noticed that they were just rebroadcasting BugNet's content. Figures; even M$' bug reporting is derivative.

Update, October 22, 1999

Just got a look at the bloated HTML that Word2000 produces. It is ugly. Even exporting to compact HTML (somebody's free plug-in? Maybe M$'s) leaves an embedded style sheet.

But the reason I was looking at it, was a bad URL it was generating - the last '/' is getting replaced with '\'. (The person who'd bought the product had asked for help.) Word's "view source" shows this (form of) bogus URL:

I.e., "file:" rather than "http:" and a //server/path/ that only makes sense to http, and not to the server's filesystem.

Editing the source down to a relative URL, "path/filename.htm", doesn't work, as it pops it back to the file:// thing shown above. What's actually SAVED is different from the "source" you see when you tell Word to "view source"!

The HTML it writes has a relative link, with a '\': "path\filename.htm".

How in the HELL do these guys continue to make shitloads of money when they produce such bogus software? I know the answer, you know the answer, everyone knows the answer: they have a monopoly.

P.S. As if you couldn't have guessed -- Internet Explorer quietly performs error correction on the broken URL and finds the file. This is happening a little too often for us to give them the benefit of the doubt that it was an accident.

Update, July 5, 1999:

Ok, so it's out now, we don't have to speculate anymore. A couple comments suggest it's every bit as bad as the preview suggested. It's one thing to have application-specific binary file types, but to take a well-defined standard, that's largely application independent, and break it, well... if it's not lame, it's gotta be insidious.

Word, Excel and PowerPoint 2000 all write HTML that other applications "can't open file, or displays garbled data or source code" according to the table on p. 54 of the July 1999 PC World.

Walter S. Mossberg, in his Personal Technology column in the June 18-19 Asian Wall Street Journal, says:

I've been testing Office 2000 for months now, and I believe that most individuals and small businesses that already use one of the last two versions of Office will gain little or nothing by upgrading.

I get the sense that having to pay money and waste your time installing it and learning its quirks aren't factored in there. That's the part I hate. Your mileage may vary. (I disagree with his conclusion that it'll be useful for big corporations with "speedy networks," too. A new bloatware suite is the last thing we need to jack up corporate productivity.)

Selections from the PC World April 1999 preview.

Try plain old PCWorld if that's gone stale.

First, let's talk about bloatware. A typical installation of the Standard Edition requires almost twice as much space as Office97. The "Premium Edition" is more than five times bigger than the Office97 Standard Edition.

Next, consider the web. You've heard of the web. Everyone's heard of the web. The web was old news a couple years ago. This is 1999. (Even if Microsoft wants to appear new and exciting by calling this 2000. I guess it's too late to call anything 1999.)

It wasn't surprising that Office95 would have limited or no HTML support. The "Internet assistants" were about on a par with the cute PaperClip help interface that entertained you while they wasted your time. But I found it stunning that Office97 couldn't write HTML worth a damn. The Excel "support" for HTML was leveraged from a free macro that a guy at JPL wrote for himself and shared online! Apparently HTML was too hard for Microsoft to tackle alone, so they bought out FrontPage, and pretended that was good enough. Of course, Front Page's version of HTML is pretty annoying too. It works okay, just don't look under the hood. Or try to share files with someone who edits HTML directly.

But this is an office tool for the new millennium. The HTML should be so seamless it might be overlooked in a review. Guess again. "Web folders work only if your web server is running Microsoft's FrontPage server extensions." "And if you sometimes need to hand edit HTML, elaborate HTML code created by Word -- which is necessary to reserve fancy formatting -- could throw you for loop."

Excel can save to HTML also, and here you have two nifty choices. You can write viewable HTML, or you can write interactive HTML. The latter requires your audience to have Office2000 and Internet Explorer 4.01 or later. If you like the idea of having your pages viewable by the majority of web browsers, get ready for more bloat. "In one test, an 84 kB, four-sheet workbook required nine files totaling 210 kB when saved in HTML." After describing how the loss of one of these files can make the whole mess impossible to open, the section ends with, "to increase control over appearance, you need to use Microsoft FrontPage to edit the document."

Outlook2000 does have support for "attractive HTML-formatted mail." How nice. Support for the most annoying and useless application of HTML.

PowerPoint's default HTML displays only in Internet Explorer 4.0 and above. This next bit is so incredible I'll just have to quote PCWorld:

"Web pages created with interactive complements available in Excel and access are more limited still. They display only in IE 4.0 and above, and the PC must have Office2000 installed. Word and non-interactive Excel pages aren't so persnickety -- in our tests, they work fine in both major browsers. However, these files sometimes didn't open properly in popular web editors such as SoftQuad HotMetal Pro, Symantec's Visual Page, and even..."

Here's the part I love.

"...Office2000's own FrontPage. Similarly, Word2000 HTML didn't load correctly in Word97, WordPerfect, or Word Pro. Compatibility between Microsoft products should be smoother by the times the suite ships, according to the company. But even then, the company says,Office's HTML features are intended primarily for users who will create web pages solely within the suite's own walls."

Let's just make the web a Microsoft shop, eh?

So, why do you suppose that Microsoft wants to write Microsoft-only HTML? It seems to have to do with ActiveX. That's Microsoft's contribution to make the web whizzy. Another article in the same issue, which went to press before the Melissa virus happened, caught my eye with mention of ActiveX. The title of that article was "Defend Yourself Against Malicious Web Applets." Unlike Java, which keeps system areas secure, ActiveX "can potentially gain access to your hard disk and wreck havoc." (But it's not just ActiveX at issue; Microsoft couldn't quite get HTML right in its browser, either.)

There is one piece of good news, however. I don't think Microsoft suffered as much as they should have for the change in file formats between Office95 and Office97. They certainly didn't suffer as much as their customers. I imagine their blunder? tactic? sold more copies of Office97 to people giving in to monopoly power. But for 2000, they got a clue, and kept the file formats compatible. So the Truth-in-Labeling law won't require them to put "Productivity Sink" on the box. "Simple" Word and Excel documents can be opened by WordPerfect and Lotus SmartSuite, "though these applications had some difficulty with richly formatted files." So one point for Microsoft. Unless they "fix" that in the final version.

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Wednesday, 12-Apr-2000 19:28:00 MDT