Meet the Microsoft Office Luddites: Why power users won't live in the cloud

The future is in the cloud. Every traditional software company is pushing cloud services over programs you actually install, and even Microsoft, which formally completed its new, cloud-based Office 365 package in February, has included cloud features in Office 2013, its new desktop suite.

For starters, Office 2013 saves your work to SkyDrive cloud storage by default. The new desktop suite also ties in deeply with the browser-based Office Web Apps. These are notable steps in a cloud-based direction, but given the overwhelming adoption of Google Drive in the workplace—it's the platform of choice at PCWorld—it's a bit curious that Microsoft updated its desktop suite at all. 

Indeed, isn't shuttling Word documents over file servers and email a bit passé? 

The bottom line is that Microsoft knows its customers still need (or at least want) traditional, "hit-a-button-and-install-this-to-my-programs-folder" software. But who, exactly, are the holdouts who refuse to make the switch to Google Drive, Office 365, or even Microsoft's Office Web Apps? Who's still using a local copy of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint exclusively, and why? 

They are the Office Luddites, and here they explain why they'll give up their Office DVDs only when you pry them from their cold, dead hands.

Performance

Excel aficionados love their Pivot Tables.

Anyone who uses a Web-based document editor knows that overall performance can sometimes be incredibly slow. Paste text into a Google Drive spreadsheet cell and you may wait a second or two for it to appear. Complaining about a one-second delay may sound petty, but these seconds add up, particularly if you're accustomed to seeing changes instantaneously on screen.

The bigger issue, though, is the need for a fast Internet connection.

"In theory, the idea of Web-based software is very appealing," says Angela Nino, training director at Versitas, which offers courses for using Office software. "In practice, there are many problems that can arise when using them on a daily basis. A couple of years ago, I tried using Google Docs. I ran into a problem on day two: a slow Internet connection at a location where I was doing training for the day. I had used Google Docs to create a training handout, and just needed a couple of extra copies. I ended up having to wait until our break to be able to print the extra handouts because it took so long to access Google Docs through their wireless Internet connection."

Google Apps' guarantee of 99.9 percent uptime is no consolation here.

Of course, without a live Web connection, standard Web apps won't work at all. Cloud providers are aware of this and are taking steps to enable offline access to files. Google Drive has an offline mode, but that mode works only with Google's Chrome browser. Microsoft Office 365 Home Premium ($10/month) and Small Business Premium ($12.50/month) include full, offline copies of the Office 2013 suite. Of course, companies pay $6.50/month less for the online-only Office 365 Small Business.

Features

Power users of Word often consider Track Changes a killer feature.

Microsoft Office is so stuffed with options that just 20 percent of its features meet 80 percent of the needs of its users. But that still leaves 20 percent who need those power features. That’s the stuff buried under the menus on the far right of the screen—features such as Word's Track Changes, Mail Merge, the Citations and Bibliography system, and the ever-mysterious Add-Ins menu.

Then there's Microsoft Excel, a rallying point of Luddite fervor. The key features that everyone talks about are macros, which let you automate frequently used tasks.

Michael Freeman, a manager of search and analytics with VoIP service provider ShoreTel Sky, says, "Macros are much more powerful and quicker to prepare than writing in AppScript for Google Docs." He complains that complex calculations are very slow compared to desktop apps, and that even keyboard navigation is a miss on online spreadsheet equivalents.

Leslie Handmaker

Leslie Handmaker, an SEO consultant, also complains that numerous Excel formulas are missing from online spreadsheets. She praises Excel's copious number of charting options, and the enhanced customizability available offline that just isn't available from Web-based competition. Even Microsoft's Excel Web App lacks the Pivot Table feature.

Just as Word's Track Changes feature gets tons of love, there's an outpouring of support for PowerPoint. Says Freeman, "PowerPoint lets me easily copy and paste images, screenshots, and data in general to include in slides. I have finer control over formatting, and slide animation is more intelligent and flexible. I will need 100 percent feature parity, and the same speed and ease of navigation online as I have on the desktop, in order to switch."

Next page: Compatibility and security...

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