Hoodwinked by Microsoft, Again!

Microsoft has got the Mac community and the Mac press hoodwinked. Again!

Yesterday, while announcing Office:mac 2008 SP1, Microsoft announced that they’re bringing back VBA functionality (Visual Basic Automation/Scripting) to the Mac version of their Office suite in its next major upgrade. Microsoft mentioned that they’re comfortable with an upgrade cycle of 3 – 3.5 years. Mac Office 2008 came out at the start of 2008. So the next version should be expected around the start or in the summer of 2011.

After this announcement, various Mac sites and blogs expressed elation and happiness at this fortunate turn of events. The mighty Microsoft has smiled upon us and made a grand gesture towards the poor, poor users of the Mac. Microsoft loves us!

What a bunch of bullsh*t!

There is nothing particularly good about this. This is nothing more than the next step in Microsoft’s effort to keep the Mac as a second class citizen and to keep people from finding real alternatives.

Let’s review.

The Mac version of Microsoft Office has always been hobbled by the lack of feature parity with the Windows version. This is done on purpose to sideline the Mac as much as possible.

First Microsoft never ported its Access database to the Mac. In the 90s, that missing piece was a great reason for businesses to discount the Mac as a possible business platform.

Next, when collaboration in business became more important, Microsoft yanked its Outlook client and replaced it with an inferior sibling: Entourage. Up till Office 2008, Entourage couldn’t really be used as a full Exchange client. There is no technical reason for that. Microsoft owns and defines the Exchange protocols, if they wanted, they could have implemented the functionality in Entourage, or even simpler, kept the same Outlook client. Why didn’t they?

When Apple started working on an Exchange alternative with its open source iCal server, Microsoft moved to give Mac users a much better Exchange compatibility. With this better compatibility, businesses don’t need to start considering an Exchange alternative (despite its high cost). But to keep the Mac at a disadvantage, Microsoft took away VB scripting completely. Their excuse was that porting this functionality to Intel Macs would have delayed the suite by another year.

When asked about VBA a couple of months ago, Microsoft said that it’s not a big deal since they’re removing it from Office for Windows in the next version too and replacing it completely (with something based on their .Net technology). Now they seem to have changed their tune. Or if they haven’t changed courses, to me it means that the next major functionality in Office Windows would be this new scripting capability, which the Mac version would lack and be stuck with VBA.

So for now, anybody needing VBA compatibility can’t use the current Mac version of Office. If business users insisted on moving to the Mac, but had no choice in using VBA in Office, then they would have to spring for a full license of Windows and Office for Windows and use them in a VM like Parallels or Fusion. It’s a win-win for Microsoft.

The sad part is that Microsoft has been able to blind Mac users and the Mac press easily from this strategy by offering them unique —non-critical— features in Office for Mac. Misdirection at its finest.

And now, Microsoft announced that VBA is slated for a grand comeback in the next major upgrade. Why?

One point to address: Many journalists over the years expressed real concern that Microsoft would kill the Mac version of Office for various reasons. Reasons ranged from wanting to punish Apple to wanting to kill the Mac, to the Mac market being not worth it. I don’t think Microsoft had the intention of killing the Mac version of Office ever, unless the Mac died first on its own.

Why wouldn’t Microsoft kill the Mac version you ask? It’s simple, it’s keeping it around first to make a ton of money, and second to make sure that nobody else creates a viable alternative.

Microsoft has been smarter than Adobe in this regard. Witness the Final Cut issue. In the late 90s, while Apple was trying to transition to Mac OS X, Adobe announced that they’re discontinuing support for the Mac in their video editing program Premier and rebuffed Apple’s requests/pleas to keep supporting the Mac in Premier. That move cost them dearly. It forced Apple to acquire and develop its own video editing package. With Final Cut, Apple managed to pull a large (majority?) chunk of the video editing market from Adobe’s control.

Same thing with Microsoft and Office. If Microsoft pulls the Mac version, it would leave a huge vacuum in its place. Vacuums are not desirable. Wherever there is a vacuum, somebody is bound to fill it. Whether Apple itself or some other 3rd party developer; either way somebody would. The Mac office suite vacuum would be filled within a year and not longer.

A strong office suite in the Mac space is a double threat to Microsoft. Anybody with a profitable package on the Mac can easily port it to Windows and compete with Microsoft. So Microsoft would lose its own Office:mac income and would risk to lose a bit of its Office:windows income to this potential competitor from the Mac world. Microsoft would never let that happen.

That brings us back to yesterdays announcement of VBA’s comeback in the next major upgrade of Office for the Mac. In my view it’s not a good thing in general for Mac users.

It’s simply Microsoft’s way of keeping the competition away. Microsoft has always had a strategical policy of selling the future, either to kill the market for possible competitors, or to move the focus from current product deficiency to an ideal hypothetical future product. Who would invest in developing a Mac program, let alone a whole suite, if they know or even think that Microsoft is working on the same thing?

If you read the online forums since Office 2008 came out, you’d see that there is a great restlessness in the Mac community over this lack of VBA and a subtle move towards OpenOffice.org. This move is starting to gain traction especially that, now, OpenOffice.org 3.0 beta has support for the Mac’s Aqua interface and doesn’t rely on X Windows anymore. OpenOffice.org has a great chance to gain big market share within Mac users in the next few years due to this critical functionality.

So what do you think:

  1. Is Microsoft’s move to bring VBA back to the Mac version of Office genuine?
  2. Is it because Microsoft listens to its users or to simply protect their market?
  3. Do you believe that the Mac version of Office would ever have feature parity with MS Office for Windows?
  4. Considering the intense onslaught of competitors in the office suite field on Microsoft, can they risk hobbling their own software to erect an artificial barrier for Macs in business?

1 thought on “Hoodwinked by Microsoft, Again!”

  1. 1. Yes
    2. It’s all about the almighty dollar (i.e., to protect their market)
    3. No, your article is spot on
    4. MS will follow the money. If they think they can make more by crippling the Mac version so as to keep people on Windows, they will. If they think they can make more by offering parity, they will. You say there is competition; however, at the level they are playing, there is none. Large corporations are a very conservative lot; you’re not going to see them moving away from Office anytime soon unless something major happens (e.g., Office security problems cause a few high profile companies to lose millions).

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