Microsoft Office 2008 - JUST SAY NO!

Microsoft Office 2008 - an example of why M$ will lose the war even as it wins battles today.

I've been a Microsoft user on the Mac since I returned to that platform early this millennium. For compatibility with my Windows brothers and sisters I thought that real Word, Powerpoint, and Excel were the way to go. In addition, when I started, the sync capabilities between Mac and Palm were, surprisingly, strongest with M$ Entourage, not the native Apple applications. So I started with Office V.X and moved on to Office 2004 when it came out. And everything was mostly fine.

When Office 2008 came out a while back, I chose not to migrate since things were mostly working for me, and I'd heard that product bloat had offset the performance gains from it being native Intel. But more and more I started receiving new-format files (DOCX and XLSX) from Windows Office 2007 users, and the translators for Office 2004 often were imperfect, so I'd lose some essential content (worst seen in XLSX files). With the advent of Snow Leopard, to which I was considering migrating, I decided to bite the bullet and "upgrade" to Office 2008. BIG MISTAKE!

Let's start with the triggering event for the move, and see how that worked out. I'd received a spreadsheet detailing the capital structure for a company in which I was considering an investment. I opened it in Excel 2004 and, after translation, some key cells were hash marks, indicating that they were erroneous. Since this had, by now, happened several times, I did the upgrade. Well, surprise surprise, Excel 2008 showed exactly the same errors! So their compatible release, which came out AFTER Office 2007 on Windows, is not compatible. Lest you think that the spreadsheet itself is corrupt, I did open it successfully with Office 2007 on our Windows machine and those cells were just fine, thank you.

OK, what next? Word 2008. Needless to say they messed with it to make it "better". Little features that I happen to use pretty regularly moved to unusable positions, or were broken in this release. Example: I use overwrite mode when filling out forms with underlines on my Mac. So it's really convenient to be able toggle in out of this mode. Old Word had a little indicator on the status bar that you could click on to toggle the mode and showed the current mode. Very nice. Word 2008? It's a preference now. And no indicator at all, although that screen space still has plenty of room for it. Yes, you can create a menu item and keyboard shortcut so that you don't have to go into preferences every time, which I did after searching Google to find out how, but what were they thinking?

The other, more serious problem, was when I wanted to edit an HTML page of photos to add some captions. I'd formerly done this quite happily in Word, but 2008 omitted or cropped pictures mercilessly, as well as being excruciatingly slow. It was just impossible and the end result was that it trashed the page and I had to start again.

Finally, the straw that convinced me to abandon Entourage 2008 and move my living to the Apple suite of mail and productivity tools. I use GMail IMAP as my main mail repository. In Entourage 2004 this worked beautifully. I have GMail filters set up to pre-sort my email into folders so that I can deal with personal stuff in my inbox, and other, less urgent things from their own folders when I see fit. In 2004 this all worked, with the subordinate folders dutifully indicating their unread message counts so that I could tell that I still had some work to do. In 2008, even though I had all the options set correctly, I had to click on each folder, wait a few seconds for Entourage 2008 to connect to GMail and update the message count, then go to the next folder. A completely manual process. Google searches revealed that this was indeed a universally noted bug in Entourage 2008. So they took a feature that worked just fine, thank you, in 2004 and broke it. hard to imagine what they were thinking. So I moved my living to Apple's Mail (aka mail.app), Address Book, and iCal. I didn't have to import mail from Entourage, since it was all on GMail and mail.app could simply sync up, which it did admirably, dutifully showing me all the unread messages in my non-inbox folders, as it was designed to do.

So It thought I was in good shape. But then I discovered a terrible bug in iCal. When it had sucked my calendar out of Entourage, which is a feature it supports, it had somehow corrupted a bunch of old events to be repeating events with years of recurrences. So when I looked at past years I would see a calendar full of lies - days full of events from previous years. Since I use my calendar as my long-term memory, this was a serious loss. I like to be able to go back to my calendar and figure out when I went to Aruba, or when I met with Joe Schmo. With this corruption problem that ability was lost.

I began investigating the issue. Turned out I has falsely blamed iCal's import: the data in Entourage was identical. I then went to my Time Machine backups and looked at older versions of the Entourage database to see where the corruption had occurred. I went back before Time Machine to some DVD backup disks. Every database I opened showed the same corruption! How had I not noticed it before? Then I realized: when I was opening these antique databases on my Mac they were opening in Entourage 2008. Well, there's a copy of Entourage 2004 on Kathy's Mac, let's try that. So I popped in my 11/2007 backup of the database and opened it. Hey, no corruption! Then I took the 2004 database from my mac and opened that in Entourage 2004. No corruption! It appears that Entourage 2008 itself corrupts events from Entourage 2004 when it imports them. Oh, now isn't that nice?

I will be trying to return the damned 2008 "upgrade" to Microsoft for a refund. It's a worse-than-worthless piece of crap. And it's enough to push me over to using Apple's iWork suite for my own work. I can export to M$ formats, thank you very much.

Copyright 1997-2017, Ben Littauer