The Hiltmon

On walkabout in life and technology

Rarely Microsoft Office

I rarely use Microsoft Office. There, I said it. And it’s true. There are electronic cobwebs on my copy. You may now run out of the room screaming.

For many, this is like saying I rarely bathe. I rarely use Microsoft Office because I have absolutely no reason to use it except for two specific cases.

Email, not Outlook

There are several reasons why I don’t use Outlook for email:

  • Messages are stored in a proprietary format that is not cross platform.
  • I don’t have an Exchange server (and even when I did, I enabled IMAP and did not use Outlook).
  • I believe in using an email client for email, a contact manager for contacts and a specialist calendar application for calendaring.
  • It’s slow, bloated, buggy as hell and not Mac-like at all.

Email to me is a means of communicating, its purpose is to engage people offline using written content. Outlook is a management tool for filing and managing documents, not communicating.

Writing, not Word

I write a lot. Blog posts, product documentation, proposals, notes, project logs, reports and the occasional letter. All writing. Writing is the activity of converting deep thoughts into readable and understandable sentences. I don’t use Microsoft Word for writing.

For notes, nvAlt; for project logs, VoodooPad; for short form writing, iA Writer or Byword; and for long form writing, Scrivener. These are all tools that support my precious Markdown and enable me to focus on writing.

The results of my writing are shared on the web in HTML form and everywhere else in PDF form. I never, ever send an editable document file to a client, because I have no idea what they will do to it and then send it on as if it was sent by me.

Microsoft Word can be good for formatting documents, but Apple’s Pages is cheaper, faster and way easier to use for this. Having said this, I mostly write in Markdown and use Marked with my own CSS to format and convert the document to PDF. Zero effort formatting.

Calculations, not Excel

If I need to make a quick calculation that I cannot do in my head, I use my trusty HP 12C calculator that’s always within reach. If the calculation is more complex, I use Soulver. In fact, most of the basic calculations, estimates and models I make are done in Soulver. I don’t need a full spreadsheet to do a few calculations with some “what-if” scenarios.

If I need to manipulate data, I use BBEdit for data that arrives in text format, or a database for larger sets. That’s what databases do, using a spreadsheet for a database is wrong. In fact, the majority of Excel files I get are just data tables that would be better off sent as CSV files.

If I do receive an Excel file, I use Numbers to open and view it. Numbers is not a fast spreadsheet product, but it is growing on me. On the rare occasions where I need to create a spreadsheet model for a client, which happens about once a year, I use Numbers, and send the model as a PDF.

Keynote, not Powerpoint

I make presentations, not Powerpoint decks. You’ve all seen them, Powerpoint documents printed out and bound as books. They look awful. If I need to make a booklet deliverable, I write the content in a writing tool and create the booklet in a proper text layout tool such as Adobe Indesign or Pages.

When I need to make a presentation, I create my slides in Keynote. This product is so much faster and looks better than Powerpoint. I also present using Keynote through a projector. If I need to make a handout to go with the presentation, that goes through the booklet process. I do not just print the slides and walk away. It looks terrible. And slides are only meaningful in the context of what I, the presenter, am saying at the time the slide is shown, and useless afterwards. I do not write my presentation in slides and read that out, that’s also wrong.

Special Cases

But there are times when Microsoft Office is needed, and over the past 2 years, these are the only two reasons I have used it:

  • Testing output from programs. I do have a few clients where I have written programs which generate Excel files for them. To ensure the Excel file works, I need to open it in Excel. One can never be sure that another spreadsheet product will be sufficiently compatible.
  • Dealing with Lawyers. Lawyers love to send agreements with change tracking on to show us, their clients, what work they have done. You really have no choice but to open these files in Word.

That’s all I found.

More Productive

Just because I almost never use Microsoft Office does not mean I am less productive. Instead, I find myself being way more productive. I manage my email better in Apple’s mail.app with plugins. I write better using Markdown and writing tools. I generate calculation models faster and better in Soulver. I create my presentations faster in Keynote. And I share everything in HTML or PDF.

I simply don’t need Microsoft Office. That’s $200 saved. And I see no reason to purchase the iOS version when it comes out next year.

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