Confessions of a Microsoft Fan

Why I geeked out over the news of Office 2013.

Can I tell you that my heart leapt yesterday morning? As I was scanning my news feeds, I came across this item from PC World: “Microsoft Expected to Unveil Office 15.” I was surprised to find myself actually excited. There was gonna be a launch event for the new Word and I was geeking out.

What’s happening to me?

Yes, the Seattle-based tech giant held a big product-release event in San Francisco, even though it’d just rolled out the red carpet in L.A. for its Surface tablet. And, sigh, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer resembles The Thing much more than he does the late, iconic Steve Jobs, or even Jobs’ successor, Tim Cook. But the thing is, while Microsoft and its Windows franchise have in many ways over the years become sort of like the AOL of the computer hardware and software world—the legacy brand your great aunt still uses and that seems like it’s constantly struggling to keep pace with the cool kids—Office remains the best product of its kind.

And it’s not really close.

After years of hating on Word without really knowing why—maybe it was it was the price, or all those .docx files I could never open with older Word versions—and fastidiously trying every available option, from NeoOffice to Mellel to Pages to TextEdit to TextWrangler to Google Drive (and saving files in the universal Rich Text Format just for spite), I had a pair of aha moments.

The first didn’t even involve Word. It was about Outlook, Office’s email client that I was forced to use at work after it was discovered that I’d gone rogue and switched to MacMail in violation of company policy. After grumbling like a spoiled brat, it dawned on me that Outlook, though certainly more complicated (and much less intuitive) than MacMail, could do a hell of a lot more things than MacMail, or Thunderbird, or even Gmail could—useful things like keep track of a calendar, schedule meetings and mark mail for followup.

And then my fiancée—after weeks of insisting that NeoOffice was not just as good as Word and that it was interfering with her ability to do work at home—went and bought Office. And even though I still do a lot of my writing in using Google Drive (to which I’ll store and save this piece once I’ve filed it), I realized how much I’d missed the sense of assuredness one gets when composing in Word (even if I’ll never use 90 percent of its features), nor the feeling of power one gets whipping through, flipping and sorting the columns of an Excel file (I’m a closet spreadsheet fetishist). It was like a weird little homecoming. (Not for nothing, Word and Excel were successful because they mimicked and then usurped trailblazing products Word Perfect and Lotus 1-2-3, respectively.)

So it was with great anticipation that I waited for yesterday’s 3 p.m. launch event to see what would be coming down the pipe. There were rumors of integration with SkyDrive (Microsoft’s cloud), Zen mode and versions for Android and Apple’s iOS. But when I tried to access the live stream that the Microsoft News Center had been telling me for an hour to check back at 3 for (without asking me to test my system), I couldn’t without installing a plugin called Silverlight (typical Microsoft: alienate approximately two-thirds of the tech press by making its event difficult to access with a Mac). Long story short, I missed it. But the highlights are: Office 2013 (which is what they’re actually calling the new product) will work on tablets, it’ll be available for purchase or as a subscription (Office 365), and it’ll sync with SkyDrive, meaning that, like with Google Drive, you can access your files anywhere you have an Internet connection. (The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog has the blow-by-blow.)

As you can imagine, I was stoked to try it, but as it will only run on Windows 8 (which itself hasn’t been released yet), there’s no firm release date for Office 2013, either. There’s a beta preview, but unlike Google Drive’s device-agnostic web platform, it only runs on Windows.

Which might be what dooms it. It’s designed to run on an OS franchise that’s got such a spotty track record that millions of users are clinging to 2001 XP version. And it’s designed to run on a tablet that’ll run an OS nobody’s even tried yet, and will start life light years behind its wellheeled competition.

And yet, despite its event going down the way Microsoft events usually go down—with all the showmanship of a talent show at an actuarial convention—I’ll try it out, and eagerly. Hell, maybe I’ll buy a Zune. And lobby them to bring back Microsoft Bob.