In the last 15 years, Microsoft Office has gone from a must-have product to largely irrelevant to the success of the biggest product category in technology: mobile computing. Derek Kessler believes that, by shipping Office for iOS, Microsoft could have furthered the impression that the suite is essential, but I think the shift is more fundamental.
A word-processing application was necessary back when printing was a daily activity. Heck, we'd print all kinds of ridiculous things in the '90s: résumés, term papers, holiday letters, dungeon master's character sheets ... uh, I mean, résumés. Résumés.
But eventually I, like many others, simply stopped needing to print. Everything I wrote I transmitted electronically or put on a webpage. And really, good riddance to printing. Printing is horrible. Printers are horrible. Printing software is what people in Dante's Ninth circle of Hell are condemned to use over and over. A pox on you if you ask me to print something these days; a plague on you and your house if you ask me to fax something. A good text editor--BBEdit, or any of the dozens of excellent Dropbox and iCloud-based iOS editors--is now my writing tool of choice. Memorize a few pieces of Markdown syntax and kiss a "word processor" goodbye.
Having exorcised the word processor, we're left with the Tito and Jermaine of traditional office suites: the spreadsheet and the presentation application. Personally, I only use a spreadsheet when I'm running low on money. I still need one, because I frequently run low on money, but for $20 Numbers offers more than I need. As for presentation software, do I look like I enjoy public speaking? With a chin like this?
It's not that Apple's iWork is much beloved, but at just $60 for all three applications--compared to $125 for a home and student license of Office--Mac users can put up with it. Apple clearly doesn't place a huge amount of importance on its productivity suite: The last major revision to the bundle was iWork '09--as in the year 2009. My handy $20 spreadsheet program informs me that that's four years ago. After updating the software fairly frequently early in its life, Apple has left the programs to languish. And I don't blame the company a bit.
I'm not claiming that office applications are going to die out--that would be a stupid argument to make. But I do find them to be an anachronism. Mobile platforms and the Web have taught us the flip side of that old saw: If you hate something, let it go. If it doesn't come back, good riddance.
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