Archive for July, 2006


The cost of Microsoft Word

July 6, 2006

I was having a discussion yesterday with some work colleagues about how Microsoft Word wants to think for you, and unexpectedly does things you don’t want it to do – like rearrange the indentation on auto bullets and numbering. And the cost of this “bug” to employee and employers alike.

Word is fairly ubiquitous throughout the business environment. Why? Because it makes it very easy for complete novices to create a document.

But that same ‘ease of use’ is also Word’s downfall, and what makes it so productivity-sapping.

As an example, I was talking with a prospective client last week. The CEO of this small company told me that he’d spent a week writing their new 74-page business plan… and TWO weeks reformatting it and fighting Word to get it to all look good. That’s two weeks of a CEO’s time (…and why they’d asked me in to help them!). Put an hourly rate on that two weeks for that person and you’ve got a lot of money wasted just because Word wants to take control of your document.

Of course, Word makes a lot of things easy for the novice – such as the auto bullets and numbering mentioned earlier. But just these two things are hidden with dangers that novice users don’t know about or understand. And these dangers cause them untold grief, a lot of wasted time, and huge amounts of frustration. Add to the mix the default “Match formatting” option, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Especially as Word doesn’t enforce the use of styles, which means that most of the world creates documents that are “Normal” with manually-applied character formatting.

If you tried to do the sums on what it costs the business world every day for people to fight Word into submission (a valiant but unwinnable cause), you’d come up with a staggering sum of money – enough to run a small country for a few years, I’d guess. EVERY DAY.

If Microsoft spent only a small fraction of Bill’s billions on fixing the frustrations in Word, they’d have happier customers who would be much less likely to bad mouth them. Ordinary Joe Bloggs in an ordinary office probably couldn’t give two hoots about Windows security (though the tech community gets pretty agitated about it) – they just want Word to work!

BTW, I gave up fighting Word a few years back. I rarely use it to create personal documents any more, and never use it for client work. Instead, I use AuthorIT and publish my paper-based documents to Word. The styles work, the bullets and numbers work, the Table of Contents works, etc. and I don’t have to deal with Word on a daily basis. Once I’ve set up my Word template, that’s it – I’m done!

Update 12 September 2008: Thanks to Wade C for sharing this graphic:

This graph says it all...

This graph says it all...