Q&A: Do we really need Microsoft Word?

question answer
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I’ve been asking myself this question lately, because Microsoft’s business strategy has turned positively creepy.

To encourage people to move to its new subscription model, Office 365, Microsoft changed the licensing on Office 2013 to tie each copy of Office to a specific piece of hardware. In other words, if you install Office on your laptop today, and tomorrow the laptop is stolen, you not only have to buy a new laptop, you have to pay full price for a new copy of Office to install on it. Seriously. Read more about Microsoft’s new Office license policy over at PC World.

Now, I run a one-woman shop, so the cost of a year of Office 365 for me would be less than what I paid for Office 2011, but here’s the catch. I held onto Office 2004 until late last year because I was using an older Mac and because Office 2008 did not support macros, which I use frequently. So I used one copy of Microsoft Word for about seven years before I had to pay again. In the subscription model, there’s no way for the customer to do that.

Which isn’t to say I’m opposed to the subscription model. Adobe has also moved to that model, and for enterprise environments, where it’s useful to keep everyone on the same software version, it makes sense. But continually paying for a piece of software is not the best option for most individuals and small businesses.

The first problem I see with Office 365 is that Microsoft is trying to offer everything: web hosting, e-mail, cloud storage, calendar… These are services I currently get from three different providers. I am going to have to hear some stellar recommendations from ecstatically thrilled customers before I’ll be willing to trust all the operations of my business to one other company. Probably not going to happen.

Another reason I’m put off by the Office 365 model is that Microsoft is positioning it as “buy all these services from us and then, as a bonus, we’ll throw in the Office apps.” But really, all people need are the apps. Anyone in business already has all those other services. So the only people for whom 365 is really a help are those starting new businesses.

But what if you’re not running a business, as such? What if you’re a writer who hasn’t given up the day job, and you just want a version of Microsoft Word to use at home? Office 365 Home Premium is $10 a month for up to five devices. But the Small Business version is $6 per user per month. If you’re single, you might want to declare yourself a “small business” for Microsoft purposes.

The further down the rabbit hole we go, however, the stranger things get:

“You cannot migrate between an Office 365 Small Business plan and an Office 365 Enterprise plan. In order to change from a Small Business plan to an Enterprise plan or vice versa, you must first cancel your account with the plan you currently have, and then sign up for a different one.”—Microsoft

So if you did use 365 to run your one-person company, and if it became wildly successful and you launched your own multimedia empire and hired fifty people, you’d have to start over again. That’s just nutty.

I used to advise people to use Microsoft Word for their manuscripts because that’s what publishers expect. But if you are self-publishing, it doesn’t really matter. There are plenty of great alternatives to Office. They don’t have quite the same polish, but they produce acceptable results, and can save your manuscript into Word’s .doc format for submission to your publisher or printer.

Microsoft’s power base has always been the enterprise market. It seems to me that the subscription model could entrench that base further, but it may drive away individuals and small businesses.

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  1. I’ve been wary of MS ever since they stopped offering JUST WORD and forced me to buy “Office Suites” with more programs I did NOT need than the ONE I did. I have no use for PowerPoint, Excel, or Outlook, yet I could not buy Word by itself. Most of the time, all of the junk programs I don’t want get loaded without even prompting and I have to go uninstall them. Not cool.

    Beyond that, I also HATE that they kept “fixing” things that weren’t broken!

    I love my Word 2002, but if I go use my husband’s computer, which has Word 2007, I cannot do ANYTHING! I can’t find half of the commands I need because they obscured the entire interface! It makes no sense now. And I remember when you paid the outrageous price MS wanted, it was actually WORTH it because they let you upgrade for free or at a hugely reduced price, not made you pay full price AGAIN every three years.

    Six bucks sounds great until you figure that it is $72 a year–forever. I don’t remember how much Word 2002 cost, but seeing how I am still using it quite happily in 2013, I get to DIVIDE that price by 11 or more years, not MULTIPLY.

    Now that they have utterly ruined the learning curve and overcharged and made me buy things I don’t want I will never, EVER buy Word again. I don’t like Open Office as much as Word 2002, but I like it a whole lot better than 2007, and the minor annoyances are totally tolerable for the price of FREE. I will use 2002 until Windows 12 (or whatever) makes it impossible, and then OO, here I come.

    1. Caprice, I agree, using the version you like until you can’t anymore makes perfect sense.

      I have long felt that if MS would offer “Word Lite” for people who just want a great word processor, they would pick up a lot of customers who are presently either using pirated software or using a freebie like OpenOffice. But they don’t listen to me. 😉

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