As mobile changes the way we communicate, Microsoft Office has had its day

PowerPoint Crashes. Chris Pirillo/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

According to Microsoft, the future of work hinges on the sorts of collaboration that come from using a package of software like Microsoft Office. This has been especially embodied in its latest version, Office 2016, released last week.

Crashes and freezes

Unfortunately for Mac users on the new version of the Mac OS, El Capitan, the new version has proved anything but a boon to productivity with constant crashes and freezes. Microsoft has yet to address these problems despite them being a constant feature over the past few months of beta releases of El Capitan.

The poor quality of the software may be a result of CEO Satya Nadella’s push to make Microsoft more responsive, releasing software and new features far earlier than was done in the past. At the same time, Microsoft has broadened the platforms it will now try and support with versions of Office that have been released for both Android and Apple’s iOS platforms.

Spaghetti code

Microsoft Office is a huge product with the Mac version supposedly consisting of more than 30 million lines of code. The code is extremely complicated and is thought to be like a jumble of spaghetti with paths weaving in and out to such an extent that it makes it very hard to follow, change and when it goes wrong, fix.

The other challenge is that Microsoft believed that constantly adding features to a product was the only way to make new versions of it attractive enough to users to encourage them to upgrade. Microsoft rarely removed features on the assumption that there were always users somewhere wanting to use even the most obscure option.

A product underused

This has led to products that are not only buggy, but are also bloated by features most users never use. In fact, in a survey of 148,500 employees of 51 companies, 70% were only using Office to view documents for a total of 48 minutes each day. Most of that time was spent in the email application Outlook. These employees spent on average 5 minutes a day using Word.

When people use Word for editing, the 5 most common commands that account for 30% of all commands used are:

  1. Paste
  2. Save
  3. Copy
  4. Undo
  5. Bold

These results are what inspired Google to produce its own web-based office productivity tools Google Apps which provide a fraction of the features of Microsoft’s desktop products.

It’s a mobile world

Microsoft’s world of software is sadly very much a feature of the past. In that world, people wrote large documents with a desktop publishing finish. Unfortunately, with the move to mobile, these documents have become impossible to read and more importantly, are a hangover of a time when quantity trumped quality.

The move to mobile has meant that people are communicating in more frequent bursts and in real time. Lengthy documents are not read past the executive summary and so the general need for sophisticated desktop publishing features is unnecessary for the majority of workers.

The differences in the way that people work is reflected in the profiles of companies that adopt Google Apps as opposed to using Microsoft Office. On the whole Google Apps companies have younger employees, are smaller and have been in business for fewer years.

Another driver away from Office is the increased use of Chromebooks in schools and the number of universities using Google Apps.

Students are entering the workforce having been brought up using lightweight and mobile tools for communication. This makes the future of products like Office in the long-term future much less likely.

The future for Microsoft and Office

Although Microsoft may succeed with different versions of Office adapted to mobile and the web, the challenge will be for it to make money from those apps in the amounts that it has managed with its PC products. Holding it back is the fear that the mobile or online products will cannibalise the enormous revenues from the desktop Office suite. Given Microsoft’s track record for the past 15 years, it would be forgiven for being pessimistic of its chances in pulling that off.