Microsoft Office: Software's Gated Community

by Andrew Savikas

The promotional material for Office 2003 gushes about all the new, glitzy ways to "share" while you work. But there's an ominous undercurrent, evident in the progression of the topic headings on the Reasons to upgrade page:

  • Collaborating

  • Exchanging

  • Organizing

  • Managing

  • Controlling

  • Preventing

Office itself is a black box. There's no sharing or exchanging or collaborating. Only managing, controlling, and preventing. They understand how valuable most people think true collaboration is, which is why it's the first item on that list. But you don't get to collaborate on the next release of Excel, or contribute a better indexing tool for Word. It's an illusion of community that masks a reality of rigid control.
And that impulse to impose keeps poking through. You can now share your Word documents in exciting new ways … like restricting others from editing them.
Of course, when it comes to providing actual security, as with the "Password Protection" feature for VBA projects -- a feature used by thousands of developers and by companies like Adobe for their Office Add-Ins -- you'd think Microsoft would know all about how to keep source code secure.
"If you lose or forget the password, there is no way to view the locked VBA project."
But their cryptography is so bad that all it takes to see "protected" VBA code is a (free) copy of OpenOffice. Then again, Microsoft knows that true security doesn't come from encryption, it comes from litigation.
Don't get me wrong, I actually like Office. I use Word every day, and more often than not, it's a positive experience. But then I take a glance over at CPAN, and I'm reminded what collaborating and exchanging are really about.
The Microsoft "office" isn't a bad place to work. Just don't forget who keeps the keys.


2004-06-28 03:24:54
biggest problem with office
is all the god awful 'applications' people write in spreadsheets and macros.

My wife administrates/runs a nonprofit project and has to deal with Quangos and Trusts and other organisations that are supposed to help with funding and assistance.

Aside from the poor management and blame-shifting when they screw up, something else many of them have in common is the Office culture of using everything they learnt on their Office course to build an 'Application' in word or excel.

Inevitably much phone-calls and emails are made, and then requesting passwords to unlock bits, then converting between office versions, then fixing bits, then putting deliberately incorrect values in to make it work.

Anybody using VBA and macro's in an excel or word document for anything more than basic calculations should have their fingernails pulled out and their index fingers cut off. There is no reasoning with those kind of people.