Friday, 9 September 2011

Microsoft Bites Back

No, Ty and others, don't switch off yet or send haranguing messages. Hear me out, I haven't gone mad yet. Well, at least, not completely.

I have moved from the Dark Side to the sunny world of Apple by buying a MacBook Pro 13" and it's the cat's whiskers and it looks good too. All that a laptop should be and more. OK, so forget the spiel on battery life as it is no better than my old Lenovo and it's heavier but what a brilliantly designed machine. It comes with ton of useful software, you can get complete iWorks suite for business for a little over £40 and it set up with my Microsoft Office 365 hosted server easily. I was up and running within minutes to enjoy the 'always on' world of Apple with its innovative way to see your desktop, find files, buy software - it's the future for sure.

And then there is Microsoft. I bought Office for Mac and it's simply superb. You can get all the iWorks equivalent for just £70 if you shop around - Excel, Word and PowerPoint. But it's not the tired old staid versions you find on the PC - this is Office for Mac 2011 and it is Microsoft back at its best. Innovating, clever, sassy and so good - these applications once again are great to use.

Having sat with the Apple email, address book and calendar for a while - all of which came with the machine and synchronised easily with my hosted Exchange, I tried the upgrade to Office for Mac Business which gives you Outlook. This was expensive at £125 and for any extra it gives you over the resident Apple programs it's not worth it. But if you are stuck in a rut with Microsoft and long for having the full Office suite, then bite the bullet and buy it. It's brilliant.

Remember I had upgraded to Office 2010 in my £189 per year MS Office 365 implementation - well Office for Mac 2011 is just a load better. It looks good, performs brilliantly and its full of Microsoft innovation and cleverness. Why can't we get things like this on PCs?

Everything was so simple to set up - all my contacts and calendar were immediately imported from MS Office 365 and then I got the benefits of the new look Office for Mac things. Go look at the templates for new documents, look at the contact cards, look at the ease with which you can organise your Outlook with simple tabs. It's just a league different to their old stuff.

The Down Side
Well I had to play to my new Apple friends in the audience. Why oh why was Office for Mac not offered as an alternative download for the Office client in MS Office 365? I have had to buy the whole thing again instead of porting my existing, expensive licence. That's just dumb and profiteering - the world is changing, wise up.

Then there is SharePoint. Microsoft - why did you lob this into Office 365? It is just so brainlessly useless for small businesses. On the Mac you are given MS Connections as part of Office for Mac and it links to a SkyDrive and SharePoint - well the latter doesn't  'see' my Office 365 SharePoint server. How stupid is that? 

But the no cost alternatives are SO MUCH better - Dropbox is just so great and is similar to SharePoint. For instance, I tried setting up my SharePoint Workspace so my accountant can see all my accounts spreadsheets for my quarterly VAT returns. But you can't easily mimic your file structure and you are limited to the number of files in the Workspace and that you can download at a time. So we use Dropbox instead - it took a minute to set up and we share a folder which syncs with my desktop. No cost.

And here's a daft point. Office for Mac 2011 can't interface with Exchange 2008 or below. Microsoft's legacy is going to pull it away from being able to migrate people successfully into the Cloud because of that haphazard and nightmarish upgrade path it used where it made backward compatibility not possible to try and force people to upgrade. Now its left with users all over the place and an inconsistent and nightmarish story for Cloud which its own salespeople are not capable of articulating.

Watch out for Google and Apple then because neither worry about such corporate atrocities. It is at the dilemma of upgrade that Microsoft remain horribly exposed. The cost of moving to Cloud then to Apple has been daftly prohibitive and maybe be a waste anyway. If iCloud delivers on half of what it promises, I cannot see myself staying with Microsoft at all.

The Good Side
If you are currently a hosted Exchange customer with Microsoft product then MS Office 365 is a good move forward. It makes sense for a small business. If you are a small business and you run your own Exchange server, consider hosted Exchange and Office 365 - it really takes all the IT nastiness away and the flexibility is great. The cost justification is there also but don't rely on Microsoft to articulate it because they don't seem to understand the fundamentals of real business so ask people like me what difference it makes over 3 years. I am a user and I have worked it out. Microsoft salespeople are lost in the morass of their own world and struggle with the actual concept of business - really it's not a good place to be in trying to sell Cloud.

MS Office 365 working with Apple for Mac is AWESOME. It's a tragedy that it isn't offered as a client alternative in MS Office 365 but hopefully blogs like this will make Apple think again.

Let's hope the next step is for Microsoft is to produce innovative new versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint to compete with Apple's iWorks suite at the same price. There isn't that far to go and let's hope we see them on the Apple iPad too. If Microsoft could get there, then they are showing that they can once again be kings of the office. If they stick to their PC mantra, they risk being taken out.

It's crunch time and they need to think hard on their MS Office 365 strategy. Think the way you designed the Apple versions and use that as your starting point not the PC. It will make a huge difference.

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