Friday, September 28, 2012

Battleground Office Suite

Software has always been an arena, with its sands bloodied with the invincible behemoths of the past, one set of Goliaths usurped by new Davids who become Goliaths themselves as their popularity and ubiquity increases. However,  there are some wars which have continued for what can be called ages in software years: the browser wars  (Remember Netscape and Lynx?) or recently, the mobile OS wars. Microsoft vs. Apple are locked in eternal struggles for users'  screen real-estate, irrespective of the dimensions of the screen.
But there is one software that is almost as necessary as the Operating System itself: the office suite. It is in the cloud, like Google Docs or MS Office Live (or whatever it is called); or on your Mac or Windows desktop or laptop, like MS Office. On your handheld device be it an Apple, Blackberry or Android. Or, if you are like me, on your Linux desktop as well.

But there are hardly any suites which are open source. And none, repeat none, that are good and open source. Libre Office, a fork of Open office, another open source office suite (which apparently took 20 years to make and ended up looking like the disfigured twin of Office 97) was supposed to fill in this gap. Not to put too fine a point on it, it sucks. Currently, at least. As my friend/sister, an avid Ubuntu user herself said, "I used MS Office after a long time...I didn't want to do it, but it felt so right!" I could very well relate to it. MS Office, despite its memory hogging, buggy experience, just works. It is as intuitive as it can be. There are thoughtful touches, tremendous resources available online for help, attractive colour combinations and themes built in...the works.

And what do we have in the Red corner? Ghastly colours, unintuitive, Socialist-era layout and GUI (Hey, it can't be open source if it doesn't make you sweat. How else will you feel good about yourself and self-validate your choices?). The latest version of Libre Office Impress (the equivalent of MS Powerpoint) on Ubuntu 12.04 repeatedly crashed while opening a Powerpoint presentation, which had no animations, slide transitions or any other bells and whistles. This is in 2012.

Why? Is it not obvious that a cross-platform Office Suite which works the same way whether it is on your Android Device or you IPad, is simple to use and offers great choices for creating documents, presentations and spreadsheets is humanity's requirement? Much more than the browser ever was? Imagine a powerful spreadsheet open source software that allows kids in Somalia the same type of tools to do their math and essays as the executive in Manhattan - or even better, allows the executive in Manhattan to redefine her tools (hey, it's open source) as easily as the primary school teacher in Somalia. The first one exists, it is called MS Office. The second is still a gleam in some people's eyes.

Are there people out there who are willing to redesign the whole Office Suite experience? Who can bring the power of MS Excel on low powered tablets? Designers who write magical code which can allow PhD students to create complex mathematical models and B-School students to ace their presentations or better still, create a new form of presentation beyond the confines of Powerpoint? Can an MS Visio comparable allow Engineering students to draw complicated process flows or better still, convert those process diagrams into CAD by itself? There is a lot of promise (and fame) to create this open source paradigm. Who will rethink the Office Suite?

1 comment:

  1. Well , for the haves MS 365 Home Premium is a pretty decent option. All you need to know about this cloud suite and ofcourse the MS page to it