Rant: The woes of Office 2008 for the Mac

The following rant revolves around Office 2008 for the Mac.    In the 2008 release, Office supposedly goes “native” for the x86 architecture and Aqua.   My old copy of Office 2000 was still working and running under Rosetta on 10.5, but (silly me) I felt like I needed to upgrade for improved performance when I upgraded to 10.6.

When you meet up with an an old friend after a decade, you are all the more aware of the changes they have gone through. Similarly, my switchover from Office 2000 to Office 2008 gives me an excellent “delta” comparison.  In this case, Office 2008 is like that high school 2nd string athlete who is now balding, fat, divorced and addicted to some substance or another.

So, without further ado, let’s look at Office 2008 for the Mac (under 10.6) with an eye towards its former self, Office 2000.

Suite-wide Performance

Compared to the current release of Office 2008, the apps of Office 2000 launched faster (with Rosetta) on 10.5 and 10.6 than Office 2008 does “natively”.   I wish I had hard numbers for you, but I’m simply not going to be that thorough here.

POINT:  Office 2000

Look & Feel & Tools

In Office 2008, Microsoft’s attempt at tool palettes is a miserable failure.  Not only do they manage to clutter the screen with a massive amount of junk (like clip art and shapes and a pre-formatted document style pane) they also fail in several other key ways:

  1. The tool palettes fail to have the same information and capabilities as the menu system.   This simply makes it a nightmare to find a given feature (could be in the menu, could be buried in a tool palette).
  2. The clutter of palettes is completely unwarranted mainly because it is features that nobody but a 3rd grader (book report with clip art) or a CEO (powerpoint with motion and sounds) would think of using.  It’s almost like they dragged users into the feature meeting, pointed out a palette and said “wouldn’t it be cool to have clip art and styles and sound palettes”.  The users said “yeah, I guess”, and the design team took this as a free ticket to put everything in your face.    Sure, one could go through the mess of turning stuff off, but “intelligent defaults” are nowhere to be found here.
  3. “Tearing off” a palette is something Photoshop and Illustrator have done “forever”.  Pinning palettes to the top is also a key feature.  Reorganizing palettes to fit your workflow.  Easily adding or removing palettes.   Give it up…..not supported in Office 2008

For simplicity and less clutter,
POINT:  Office 2000

Excel 2008:  Misery

Nothing in the Office 2008 Suite has gotten as drug-addicted as Excel.   We’re talking crack-head functionality here.

First point — I couldn’t give a hoot about VBA support.  This seems to be all that people whine about in the new Excel versions (“No VBA support on the Mac!”).  Whatever, as there are even more mundane problems with this turd of an upgrade.

No text labels in charts, but you can add pictures of ducks instead

Excel 2008 now fails to properly handle and graph large amounts of data.  If you have more than 1000 datapoints, be prepared for long waits as it tries to build your graph.  Be prepared for the beachball.  Be prepared for a crash.   Most of all, be prepared to deal with Excel’s inability to graph things it could crank through in Excel 2000.

POINT:  Office 2000

Oh, and while we are on graphs, you can no longer have a graph on the sheet with data and print just the graph!  Selecting a graph and hitting print may just send 400 pages of data to your printer.  Turns out this is a “known” issue according to Microsoft from 2 years ago! You have to move the graph to another sheet to print it out by itself.   Awesome, eh?

POINT:  Office 2000

You can no longer add arbitrary text boxes to a graph (See example picture).  This was something that was easy to do in Office 2000 (and even in Office 1997). In some graphs in a workbook,  you can add clip art of a dog or a duck or a cute little doggie (who wants their Busy Bee?) but you cannot add additional information other than a title and axis labels.  For some reason, in other graphs I’m unable to even add the same pictures.   So there goes my hopes of encoding additional chart information based on the animal’s species.  WTF???   This loss of text boxes in charts is a backbreaker.    It turns out that Open Office 3.x appears to suffer the same difficulties.

POINT:  Office 2000
POINT:  iWork for Mac, ’cause it is even more functional for graphing!

And finally, formatting a graph is painful at best.   In Office 2008 it is even more difficult to modify the data series data (No, Microsoft, I don’t really want to drag select my data columns when I have more than 1000 rows of data….I’d like to manually enter the series range).  Don’t even bother trying to re-arrange or re-center, as graphs tend to move around on their own.   Seriously, check out how far iWork has surpassed Office 2008 in terms of charting capabilities.  8 years ago there was no “iWork”.   Even the free Open Office matches the features and then some.

POINT:  Office 2000
POINT: iWork for Mac, Open Office 3

Powerpoint 2008: Ho Hum

Powerpoint 2008 is in stasis.   Really, it improved at all in the last 8 years.   For many users, Powerpoint is their primary “draw” package, yet it is no easier to draw pictures and edit photos than it was in Office 2000.

Forget about styling your slides.  An eye Candy pre-formatted puke fest clutters the tool palette instead.   If you want to set up basic font styles based on bullet point depth you’ll have to search and work on it for quite some time.

Auto-layout and layout guides are barely implemented (see Keynote or OmniGraffle for a great example of how to do this).  At least Powerpoint 2008 can hand PNG images!

Regardless, Powerpoint is still the same boring old POS.  It has lots of clip art and other junk at the expense of a clean method for managing and creating professional looking presentations.

This one is a DRAW

Word 2008:  As nimble as a cow

Word continues to be a massively heavyweight cluster-f.  The floating palettes are equally cumbersome and still make changing fonts and adding styles a mess.   Even after 8 years, putting together a Table of Contents is something that befuddles all but the most dedicated users.   Forget about indexing!     Lost in the stone-age, Word fails to do lots of basic text editing tasks and make them easier.   As a document layout tool, it still remains painful.  Images have a habit of moving around and re-sizing themselves (or ignoring your attempt at re-sizing).   Establishing basic things like gutters and orphan control continues to be an option buried deep in the layers of menus.

POINT:  Office 2000
POINT:  TextEdit, TextWrangler, iWork, OpenOffice

Conclusion

On Mac OS 10.1, 10.2, 10.3, 10.4, 10.5 and even 10.6, Office 2000 is a solid upgrade to Office 2008.   In Office 2000 you will find a bevy of useful features and a fairly clean interface and relatively simple-to-use set of tools.

If, like me, you had no reason to upgrade, I strongly recommend you stick with your old copy of Office 2000.  If you must upgrade, consider the free version of Open Office, as it not matches the functionality (and then some) of Office 2000 and even Office 2008.     If you don’t mind breaking out a little bit, I would suggest iWork, as surpasses Office 2000 in terms of functionality and ease of use.

Oh, and at no point is this review being sarcastic…..Office 2008 really is that much of a step backward!

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