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Blunder 2007

October 01, 2007

By Peter W. Huber

It seems that the people at Microsoft have lost faith in the personal computer. Maybe they're right--maybe the PC as some of us once knew and loved it really is history. If it is, the future belongs to Google. If, on the other hand, the PC does have life left in it, Microsoft's latest spasm of software--call it Blunder 2007--will drive a lot of users to Apple, perhaps even enough to shift the whole PC software market past the tipping point, leaving Microsoft on the wrong side of the landslide.

The technology columnist writing in the last issue of FORBES offered a revisionist view of Vista, that it was surprisingly good at managing entertainment media. Here I'll tell you how Vista and the new Office are surprisingly bad at other kinds of data.

Blunder 2007 isn't at all comfortable with big files. Any attempt to open a large data file in the first release of Outlook 2007 paralyzed even the fastest desktop machine. After a tedious search I found the patch that fixed the problem--which Microsoft (nasdaq: MSFT - news - people ) apparently released some time after declaring that no fix was needed, because the new Outlook just wasn't intended for big files. But if you archive your Outlook data periodically to keep the files small, you can't search them properly, because Outlook will make you perform a completely separate search of each separate archive. Vista's built-in search function partly duplicates Outlook's, but the two run independently, both are slow, both support only the most primitive search logic, and it's weirdly difficult to be certain that either index is up to date. And if you're serious about backing up lots of data, don't touch Microsoft's OneCare--it quickly chokes any hard drive you use for backup, and it takes some real techie skill to clean up the mess.

Nor is Blunder 2007 friendly to people who like to customize their software. You can turn off parts of Microsoft's kiddie search engine and install a real one, but this requires some deep fiddling. If you've spent years tweaking Word to your liking and memorizing keyboard commands, skip Word 2007. The new Word makes some attempt to accommodate the old guard, but it's infuriatingly kludgy. If instead you decide to stick with an older version of Word, stick with the old Outlook, too, because you can't use the old Word inside the new Outlook.

Why Microsoft decided not to include a "Word Classic" option in its new release is utterly mystifying. This is the sort of mistake huge companies make when they get complacent, as General Motors (nyse: GM - news - people ) or Sears did in the 1970s. Evidently Microsoft now aspires to settle in as the Sears of operating systems and the Buick of the office desktop.

The company can't seriously hope to hold on to low-end users--they're all headed for Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ). There, advertisers foot the bill for the free e-mail, word processor and spreadsheet, with other applications to come. So skip Microsoft completely--and most of Dell (nasdaq: DELL - news - people ) and the rest of the personal computer, too--if you're content with basic functionality, don't work with huge files and trust Google with your data. Google can buy processors, disk drives, backup power and software much cheaper than you can.

If, instead, you want the power on your desk to deal with large graphic, audio and visual files--or just want a stylish box and neat interface--you'll probably stay with Apple (nasdaq: AAPL - news - people ).

Twice before in this industry's short history companies have paid a terrible price when they made one pivotal mistake. Microsoft itself was created by Blunder 1981--IBM's decision to license the operating system for its first personal computer from Bill Gates. Gates cooperated with IBM long enough to secure his company's dominance of PC operating systems, then casually tossed Big Blue overboard. Apple's Blunder 1985 did just the opposite: The company spurned Microsoft's proposal to license Apple's operating system with its neat graphical interface and adapt it to run on other computers. This forced Microsoft to develop what later became Windows.

Microsoft grew and prospered on the simple, dogged conviction that the future belonged to the desktop, with open competition in the hardware beneath, open competition in the software above and a relatively thin, highly flexible and hugely lucrative layer of Microsoft monopoly in the middle. Me, I just can't discern how all the components of Blunder 2007 fit into that old strategy, or into any promising strategy at all. I bought all the pieces of Blunder 2007 earlier this year and gave them my very best shot. I'm now going through the horrendous process of dumping them piece by piece. At least one of us--Microsoft or me--is getting old.

Original Source:



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