Microsoft makes a Basic mistake with Office 2007

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  1. Find some way to get Visual Basic ported to the Intel-powered Macs. This is the single most important item for the long-term success of Office with corporate customers. Without usable cross-platform macro support, there are few compelling reasons to purchase the new version of Office—especially given how well the current version works in Rosetta.
  2. Make sure that the XML converters for the new version of Office for Windows are finished as soon as feasible. With the focus on porting visual basic, the ship date for Office would probably slip, leaving current Office users in a near-impossible position relative to working on documents from Windows users on the new version of Office. If there aren’t XML translators available for Office 2004 and Office v.X, then “Could you please save this in Office 2003 format and re-send?” would become the most-used phrase in many a Mac user’s e-mail messages.
  3. Convert the Office applications to Universal applications. I realize that this is closely tied in with the first objective—the VB translation efforts can’t happen in a vacuum. However, in my mind, getting the entire suite done is not as important as making sure that the VB support is in the finished project. So all efforts should be prioritized around getting the VB work done, and then the focus can shift to shipping the Universal version of the suite.

Now it’s entirely possible that the MacBU’s priorities exactly mirrored mine at the start of their project. As it got into the work, however, it probably discovered that porting VB was incredibly difficult. So after much discussion, it simply decided to drop VB, rather than risking a ship date slippage to get the work done. I think the right thing to do would have been to announce to the public that the date was slipping, and then to explain why: “We could have shipped on time, but we would have broken every single macro that’s ever been written, as well as the ability to work with macros from users of the Office version of Windows. After talking to our customers, we decided that would be a terrible thing to do to our clients, so we’re taking the extra time to get it done correctly.” Keeping in mind that Office runs fine in Rosetta, I think the customers would have been very accepting of that message.

The big picture

So what do I think the future looks like with the release of a VB-free Mac version of Office? As buyers realize that this new version won’t handle their existing macros, and won’t let them run macros in macro-enabled files from Windows users, I think we’re going to see a lot of sales of both Parallels and the Windows version of Office to Intel-based Mac users. After all, if you use Parallels and Office for Windows, you will have absolute, guaranteed, 100-percent compatibility with your Windows-using fellow employees and client base—because you’re using the exact same application. Sales of the Mac version of Office, however, would wind up being largely relegated to Mac-only shops with limited need for outside file exchange and home users looking forward to some of the nice Mac-specific features.

If Office loses its cross-platform audience, Microsoft is going to lose sales. And if it loses sales, then it’s going to be less inclined to make improvements beyond key bug fixes and basic compatibility testing. That’ll mean a crippled version of Office for all Mac users—who will stop buying an app that will eventually see fewer and fewer substantive upgrades.

For that reason, I truly believe that the removal of VB support from Office marks the beginning of the end for Mac Office. I fear it’s much too late to see any change in plans from the MacBU, which is too bad—the next version of Office could have been great. Instead, it seems it will simply be the last major update of Office on the Mac. Here’s hoping Apple does a bang-up job with the next version of iWork and includes a powerful spreadsheet app in its suite—if I can’t have PC compatibility with macro support, I might as well use a product that’s got a long-term future on the Mac.

[Senior Editor Rob Griffiths writes the Mac OS X Hints Weblog and runs]

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