I Wish I Could Live Without Crappy Microsoft Office

In a perfect world, I would never have to deal with Microsoft Office. With the notable exception of Excel, I can’t stand every application in that suite–especially Word and PowerPoint. I still persist in using WordPerfect for my everyday word-processing tasks. It remains a far superior piece of software.

Anyway.

That’s a dream world and so today I tried to install MS Office on a Windows 10 machine I recently “reset”. (Incidentally, Windows 10’s ability to reset to a clean, bloatware-free, pristine original state might be my favorite feature of the new release!) I own a licensed copy of Office Professional Plus 2013 and when I fired up the installation file, this is what I was told:

MS Office Error

Internet connection working? Check? Enough free space? Is 1.71 TB sufficient? I know that Office is a notoriously bloated piece of crap, but it seems like even it could fit itself into 1.7 TERABYTES of free space.

So, off I go to search The Google for answers to his very generic error message. MS support pages have a “troubleshooting” tool, which was, of course, useless.

And now I’m stuck trying to cope with a crappy installer for a piece-of-crap office suite that I don’t really want on my computer.

Sigh.

Microsoft Outlook and Exchange Are Just as Crappy as I Remember

Internet Explorer–still the worst browser out there.

About four years ago, the University of Alabama, where I work, decided to “improve” the email experience for faculty and students alike. This was long overdue as the email product it had been using was truly horrible with an utterly useless Web interface that was here branded as “Bama Mail.”

UA students were all moved onto the Gmail platform. I should say, I am a huge fan of Gmail, which I have used since invitation-only, beta accounts were made available back in 2004. Its Web interface is extremely functional (its keyboard shortcuts have entered my muscle memory) and its spam filtering is second to none. Having used email since the days of BITnet and dumb terminals (tapping into UA’s Big Iron at UA1VM) and having suffered through monstrosities such as cc:Mail (shudder), I feel like I’ve reached email Nirvana with Gmail.

Consequently, I have been forwarding my Bama Mail to Gmail for the past ten years and I have set up Gmail’s “Send mail as” feature to “use Gmail to send from [my] other email addresses.” As you can imagine, I would have been quite happy to have my UA email ported over to the Gmail platform.

But that was not to be for UA’s faculty and staff. Instead, our accounts were moved from Bama Mail to Microsoft Exchange Server and we were instructed to begin using MS Outlook as an email client.

When I heard the news about the move, I think I might have physically winced.

I consider myself something of an email pioneer. Hell, I’ve been running a LISTSERV email list for over 23 years. Over the years, I’ve sampled many email interfaces and client software–from the egregious cc:Mail (still probably the worst) to the sweet Eudora (named for author Eudora Welty!) and the yes-we’re-still-here Mozilla Thunderbird. I’ve even run my own email server (Mercury, we miss you!). In that time, I’ve heard many horror stories about how difficult it is to keep a MS Exchange server from borking everyone’s email. And I’ve personally experimented with MS Outlook and found it to be clunky and bloated.

Thus, even when UA moved us to Exchange/Outlook, I continued to forward my email to Gmail. But within the past year, an official policy came down: No forwarding allowed! All faculty/staff must use Outlook and all email must be stored on UA’s Exchange servers.

I sighed. Why weren’t faculty/staff moved to Gmail like the students? I speculated about the reasoning behind the Exchange/Outlook move for faculty/staff (speculation I’m not going to air here) and recommended the UA Faculty Senate push back against the move, but to no avail. And so last week, I gave in to the inevitable, cut the forwarding to Gmail and began using MS Outlook–its desktop client and its Web interface. Besides, I thought, I haven’t used Outlook in many years; maybe it’s improved.

Improved? Yes (it would be hard for it to get worse). Still crappy software? Absolutely. Allow me to enumerate some of the ways in which it remains pure crap:

  1. Its Web interface is optimized to work best with Microsoft Explorer (the world’s worst Web browser) and it eliminates features from its interface if you try to use, say, Google’s Chrome.
  2. Even thought it’s optimized for MS IE, it still crashes IE on a regular basis. In the week I’ve been using IE and Outlook Web Access (OWA), it has crashed at least ten times. (See below.)
  3. Its spam filtering is anemic.
  4. Its “rule” system is less powerful than Gmail’s “filters.”
  5. Its folder system does not allow you to tag one message with more than one folder–as Gmail’s archives do.
  6. Its desktop client (I’ll call it Outlook Desktop Client or ODC) is difficult to configure. Setting up ODC on my home computer was impossible without a call to the UA help desk.
  7. I am still trying to figure out OWA’s and ODC’s addressing and address book. Can one not insert email addresses into a message with the standard “firstname lastname ” format? Does an email recipient have to be in OWA/ODC’s address book first? If so, that is big-time crap.
  8. On other email apps, like Gmail, when you begin typing into an address field, the app will try to guess who you’re sending it to and fill it out for you. ODC does this, but it only does it for addresses I’ve previously emailed. It does not seem to be pulling potential email addresses from the contacts I uploaded into the address book.
  9. I’m sure part of the rationale for using Exchange is to get UA faculty/staff to rely on its calendar. Sorry, but I won’t. I’m quite happy with Google Calendar and I have dozens of repeating appointments (birthdays and such) that I am not going to try importing into Exchange calendar. Again I ask, with students using the Gmail platform, why aren’t faculty/staff?
  10. When you install an Exchange account on an Android device, you get a very scary warning message (“Activate device administrator?”) about erasing all  your data. I suspect this is as much Android’s fault as Microsoft’s, but, still, I don’t remember getting this when I installed other email apps.

Windows 8: It’s Just As Crappy As They Say It Is

Let me say, to start, that the Metro user interface (UI) introduced in Windows 8 was not designed for computer users like me.It’s clearly and primarily an interface for consuming digital material–Web pages, weather reports, images, videos, games, merchandise. Secondarily, it encourages short, text-message-style communication and hopes to pull consumers into its particular brand of file sharing and cloud computing. But the Metro UI is piss-poor for producing digital material–creating Web pages, writing essays, editing video/photographs, recording audio, and so on.In short, it’s a consumer’s UI and not a producer’s.I enjoy digital consuming, but my time on the computer is at least equally, if not more so, spent producing digits. This is why, I think, that I’ve been slow to warm up to tablets. Yes, I’ve got an iPad, a Kindle Fire and an Android-based smartphone, but I don’t spend that much time on the tablets. And when I do, it’s certainly not to create anything.The Metro IU calls to mind the ill-fated PointCast Network from the mid-1990s. PointCast was supposed to herald a new era of “push” technology where users would no longer need to wait milliseconds while they requested or pulled information into their computers, because those data would already be pushed to them, ready for instant access. Push technology was one of the earliest Internet memes, but PointCast was a disaster, largely because users’ bandwidth could not support it.

Nowadays, our bandwidth can support push technology, but do we need it? After a few minutes of being distracted by Metro’s constant updating of my email headers and Facebook photos, I was ready to turn them off. I’d much rather pull data toward me and endure the brief wait for it, then have data shoved at me that I don’t necessarily need.

After spending a couple of hours with Windows 8, my main hope is that its craposity does not interfere with the Windows 7 way of doing things. As it is now, in this “consumer preview”, it already does. A few examples: There’s no simple way to close Metro applications with the click of a mouse (okay, Alt-F4 still works). They are designed to just stay open (in suspended mode), like in Android/iOS. And it’s difficult to launch applications in Metro if they’re not already one of the Metro tiles (see below for specifics).

And perhaps the strangest tabletification aspect of Win8 is that it is difficult to shut down the computer. Yes, that’s right. There’s no visible “shut down” button in the Metro interface! You’re just supposed to let it suspend, like you would a Kindle Fire or iPad.Oh, for dumb!
(For the record, I’ll include shut-down instructions at the bottom of this post.)I, along with most Windows power users, will be avoiding Windows 8 and the Metro UI crap for as long as possible. I hope by the time that I have to buy a Win8 machine that someone will have figured out a way to disable Metro and allow users to boot directly into the desktop interface.Here’s what I discovered about Metro during a couple of miserable hours I spent with it this weekend.
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The Windows 8 start screen, out of the box. Not one but two tiles are given over to the Xbox gaming platform. Some tiles are half visible. Clunky.
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Boring weather app. You’ve got to scroll to the right to see much of anything.
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Ugly weather map display, with some maps partially visible when one map is enlarged.
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Hotmail: Will the final version look as primitive as this “app preview”? Hasn’t email progressed since 1990? This display looks worse than the simplest release of Eudora.
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People app: The hideousness continues. Why is “All What’s new Me” so large? Cuz you’re supposed to be looking at it on a TABLET, dummy.
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The ol’ familiar desktop, if you don’t mind having no Start button and thus no way to shut down. And how do you launch applications? As far as I can figure out, you can’t launch from the desktop, you have to return to Metro (see below).
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Windows Explorer now has a MS Office-style ribbon. I guess that’s a good thing? It certainly takes up more space than the old menus.
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Internet Explorer, viewed within the desktop environment.

 

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IE in Metro, with big buttons displayed. I bet even my fat fingers could use those on a tablet, but on a desktop computer…?
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What’s an operating system for? Well, to sell you more crap, of course!
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Map app thinks I live on Martin Luther King Blvd. It’s about three miles off.
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Video app: More consumerism and UI ugliness. Even iTunes is not as bad as this.
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Xbox LIVE Games app: Who/what is that creepy, faceless avatar?
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Interesting. You can pull in your Facebook photos. Too bad the UI is so clunky.
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Um. Metro UI, you might want to check the resolution before using an image as a tile.
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Solitaire looks kinda nice, but I couldn’t get it to run. Hope they fix that before the final release or there are going to be a lot of angry Windows users.
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Messaging app: Ho hum.
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Music app: Even more ways to BUY. Oh joy.
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At least Metro provides a finance app so you can figure out how you’re going to get the money to pay for all the crap Microsoft wants to sell you. Note that MSFT was down last week. In anticipation of Win8/Metro’s release?
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Here’s what I pared the Start screen down to.
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How to load an app that is not on the start screen. Right click on the start screen and see the “All Apps” icon. Click it. Then…
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Get list of all apps. Then click one to open it, but not in Metro. It opens in the conventional desktop.
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And now, the secret to shutting down… While in the desktop mode, pressing Alt-F4 will bring up a shut-down dialog box. There is no mouse-based option for shutting down.
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To shut down while in Metro mode, call up the Charms Bar by moving the cursor to the upper right corner. Then click the sprocket icon labeled “Settings.” A slider appears with a “Power” icon. Click it and finally escape from this miserable experience.

The Comic Crappiness of Microsoft Word

I was merrily typing along in WordPerfect this afternoon when I began to question my oft-repeated oath that you’d have to pry this fine word processor from my cold dead hands. I’d recently run into some formatting issues when I converted WordPerfect files to Word in order to submit a manuscript and when working with grad students I often need to be able to read their material in Word and use its track changes to make comments.

So, I’ve felt the pressure to switch for some time. I just got a new computer this summer and put Windows 7 (a release candidate) on it and, since I have no major deadlines (at least, not this week) just now, I thought it might be fitting to try a new word processor.

I fired up Word 2007 and began taking notes on C. S. Tashiro’s Pretty Pictures, an interesting book on the history film that may provide some insights into Mad Men, on which I’m currently working. Almost immediately, almost comically, Word’s crappiness became apparent.

First, it crashed when I tried to make a simple configuration change (so that it’d use curly quotation marks). Did that twice.

I figured Word was getting pretty confused by then so I closed it and rebooted the machine. It still wouldn’t do curly quotations marks, but I gave up trying to configure it. Then I attempted to open the file that I’d been working on. It refused! “Word experienced an error trying to open the file…”

WordOpenError-761640
I tried, as suggested, to use the Text Recovery converter. No dice. My notes were inaccessible.

WordPerfect to the rescue! I asked WP to open this Word 2007 document and bada bing! Success!

How beautiful is that? WordPerfect is so generous that it even opened a competitor’s file. Can software be equanimous? If so, then I think WordPerfect qualifies.

What did my experience with the comic crappiness of Microsoft Word teach me? It taught me that my oath was not in vain! Just try to dislodge WordPerfect from my hard drive now!