The cost of Microsoft Word

6 07 2006

I was having a discussion yesterday with some work colleagues about how Microsoft Word wants to think for you, and unexpectedly does things you don’t want it to do – like rearrange the indentation on auto bullets and numbering. And the cost of this “bug” to employee and employers alike.

Word is fairly ubiquitous throughout the business environment. Why? Because it makes it very easy for complete novices to create a document.

But that same ‘ease of use’ is also Word’s downfall, and what makes it so productivity-sapping.

As an example, I was talking with a prospective client last week. The CEO of this small company told me that he’d spent a week writing their new 74-page business plan… and TWO weeks reformatting it and fighting Word to get it to all look good. That’s two weeks of a CEO’s time (…and why they’d asked me in to help them!). Put an hourly rate on that two weeks for that person and you’ve got a lot of money wasted just because Word wants to take control of your document.

Of course, Word makes a lot of things easy for the novice – such as the auto bullets and numbering mentioned earlier. But just these two things are hidden with dangers that novice users don’t know about or understand. And these dangers cause them untold grief, a lot of wasted time, and huge amounts of frustration. Add to the mix the default “Match formatting” option, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Especially as Word doesn’t enforce the use of styles, which means that most of the world creates documents that are “Normal” with manually-applied character formatting.

If you tried to do the sums on what it costs the business world every day for people to fight Word into submission (a valiant but unwinnable cause), you’d come up with a staggering sum of money – enough to run a small country for a few years, I’d guess. EVERY DAY.

If Microsoft spent only a small fraction of Bill’s billions on fixing the frustrations in Word, they’d have happier customers who would be much less likely to bad mouth them. Ordinary Joe Bloggs in an ordinary office probably couldn’t give two hoots about Windows security (though the tech community gets pretty agitated about it) – they just want Word to work!

BTW, I gave up fighting Word a few years back. I rarely use it to create personal documents any more, and never use it for client work. Instead, I use AuthorIT and publish my paper-based documents to Word. The styles work, the bullets and numbers work, the Table of Contents works, etc. and I don’t have to deal with Word on a daily basis. Once I’ve set up my Word template, that’s it – I’m done!

Double standards?

6 07 2006

Last night I was watching the 6:00pm evening news on one of the local free-to-air TV channels. The lead story was about an alleged paedophile living in a small community who’d been ‘outed’ by local residents, at least one of whom’s daughters had been a victim of this person. The reporter, in his ‘holier-than-thou’ way that some reporters have, was wandering the street where this person lived, showing his house, and describing in some detail how this man “…took out his penis…” etc. His tone was very sombre and righteous.

Move on a few minutes… Now the TV News reports an incident in the “Big Brother” house where two male housemates were evicted because of an activity (described as “turkey-slapping” – and yes, it involves a penis… I know this because the News told me so!) they had participated in with one of the female housemates. According to the report, this incident was NOT broadcast on the Big Brother show or its “adults only” late night version – it was only seen on the live internet stream. But this TV channel (not the one that broadcasts Big Brother) saw fit to show a clip of the internet stream – in all its glory – on the 6:00pm news! You couldn’t actually see the penis but there was an implication in the report that it was there.

Move on a few more minutes to the Sport… The reporter talks about the Wimbledon tennis match between Sharapova and someone else, and shows footage. Then they cut to the streaker who invaded the court. His private bits are pixellated out, but there’s no “fuzziness” about the voice-over commentary about “… his penis …”. Cut to the Sports host and the News hosts, all of whom are laughing at this ‘joke’.

So here we have three mentions of male anatomy in the one 20 minute News report. The first is associated with assault on young females, the second is associated with assault by two males on a young-ish female (22), and third is associated with comedy! Weren’t there any young females or children in the audience at Wimbledon for whom this could be construed as assault? Why isn’t it deemed assault (at least an assault on the visual senses) on the two young women who were trying to play tennis? Why is it OK for them to sensationalise the assault in the Big Brother house in a ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ way, yet adopt a very high moral ground when it came to the first report? Why laugh at the streaker who exposed himself (and thus legitimise his act), but get all pompous about the man who exposed himself in another time and place? What gave them the right to broadcast the internet stream when Big Brother themselves chose not to show it? And on the 6:00pm News too. What makes this news?

I’m sorry, but I can’t reconcile how the media can be so fickle and variable in how it treats what could very well amount to the same illegal act just because it occurs in different situations and with different audiences. It smacks of double standards and hypocrisy to me.