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ATPM 13.09
September 2007




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by Mark Tennent,

Time, Ladies and Gentlemen

What is time? Nothing more than an illusion, according to Douglas Adams and the rant from Kant. Breakfast time is after we wake up, but in some parts of the world people have to live on the equivalent of a breakfast a week. Does time move slower for them? In the developed world, time can be measured in billions of years, billionths of a second, or the time it takes to get into a spreadsheet.

Why do Excel files take so long to open? A recent spreadsheet file we received took nearly 15 minutes from clicking to displaying. Inside, a few worksheets, some simple graphs, and that was it. Opening the same file in NeoOffice, the free open-source Office alternative, took a few minutes—still a long time, though showing how bad Microsoft products can be.

Apple of Newton’s Eye

The computations in a huge, multi-layered Photoshop file are infinitely more complicated. File sizes can be hundreds of times bigger, but they don’t leave you wondering whether your computer has had a little hissy fit. Given enough RAM, Photoshop exists in Newtonian Time as a background task, churning through a series of actions on billboard images.

If only it were the same working with PowerPoint, which is sometimes more like bog snorkeling in treacle. Compared with opening someone’s poster “helpfully” made in PowerPoint, or a newsletter “created” in Excel, Photoshop feels more like Lewis Hamilton though Eau Rouge rather than Button and Barrichello ’round the Bus Stop.

At least the latter aren’t wasting their time, because they get darned well paid for driving un-competitive cars, unlike the time my partner has just wasted working with a Word file. It simply needed a series of images inserted into a ready-made table. Most were cut and pasted from a PowerPoint file, but some had been created in Photoshop and saved as grayscale 8-bit TIFFs.

Time Makes You Mental

One resolutely refused to be inserted into Word. Leibniz would say this was time as part of the mental measuring system, especially as it drove my partner nuts. The solution was to copy the TIFF from Photoshop into PowerPoint, then copy from there to Word. Yet the same file pasted back into Photoshop showed no difference from the one which Word refused to touch.

The hegemony Office has had on the world seems to be reaching an end as free alternatives are offered by the likes of Sun and Google. Apple, too, has kept its AppleWorks suite in a time-warp somewhere back to the latter part of the last century. The new iWork software will do almost everything the average word-processing, presentation-making, spread-sheeter will need, NeoOffice and the like filling in any gaps.

Microsoft has no to blame but themselves. Office is a mess of interfaces, confusing to use, and limited in how it integrates with other software and how it can output its files. Not that we mind, as yet another book created in Word is given to us to be redesigned at great cost in QuarkXPress or InDesign so that it can actually be printed.

This is charged-for time, our favorite as we bank the checks.

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Reader Comments (1)

Mr. Peabody · September 21, 2007 - 18:39 EST #1
"Office is a mess of interfaces, confusing to use, and limited in how it integrates with other software and how it can output its files."

So why is it that everyone, and I mean everyone seems to think they can't live without Word? Have we all really been snake charmed to the point of no return? I do a good amount of desktop support for Apple based worksations and we like to give the user a large say in what office apps they prefer to use, and all of the former Windows users say Word, without exception, and many of the already-Macusers do to? It's almost like a security thing, like, I know I don't really need that much word processor, but just to make sure that I can keep up with the real-world I better have it... Wow! One of my favorite mantras is, We don't have to use Windows to get things done. I think I'm going to start adding to that, we don't need any MS products to get things done. It's just not necessary - and never was.

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