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

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Ensuring that Office documents are compatible from one version of Office to the next is tough enough. Now try making sure everything looks identical to offline users running multiple versions of software programs, and add in Web-based users who may rely on a half-dozen different editing platforms. Web apps are supposed to make compatibility issues easier, but in many cases users find that they're getting worse.

"Our small consultancy firm is staffed entirely with Microsoft Office power users," says Nicholas Hamner, of Source One Management Services. "As the business development manager who coordinates all the marketing efforts, I rely on consistency and the ability to work with the old .doc format that will still open on older hardware should the need arise."

Getting documents to look the same across new and old versions of Office is hard enough, not to mention when you're using a cloud service.

"While Google Drive offers the ability to technically run on any machine, I have never found its document formatting to remain consistent over any given period of time," Hamner says. "What appears to be a full one-page document in Google Drive may print as one page-plus, or it may print as slightly less than a full page. Google Drive's conversion to and from Word is always a gamble. Additionally, I have found that the same font in both programs may appear as slightly compressed in one."

Until everyone is using the same Web app (and probably the same browser, too), compatibility issues like these are likely to continue.

Security and reliability

Microsoft has embedded many security tools within Office 2013.

A document stored on your desktop or your corporate server may present security risks, but those risks are under your control. Once data is sent to the cloud, however, there's a certain leap of faith required when it comes to security. Every cloud vendor touts its security bona fides, but breaches remain commonplace. Evernote was hacked earlier this month, Dropbox got hit in 2012, and Amazon EC2 was attacked in 2011. Apple's iCloud service was a central player in the infamous 2012 hack on writer Mat Honan. In today's password-reliant world, highly visible attacks are likely to continue.

Hacks are an even bigger problem if you store sensitive documents online. Says Hamner: "We maintain numerous confidentiality and nondisclosure agreements with our clients, which require us to keep our working files very segmented and locally hosted, where they are locked into permission sets available only to those working on specific projects. For various privacy reasons related to this, our IT guys—and our customers—are wary of remote, third-party storage."

Plain old downtime is also a problem. Microsoft's Azure cloud service went down last month, and was offline twice in two weeks in July 2012. If a PC in your office abruptly dies, chances are you can use another one. However, if the cloud service that hosts all of your data goes down, you're stuck.

Joshua Weiss

Joshua Weiss, CEO of mobile app maker TeliApp, has another issue. He's unsettled by Gmail-style ads, which target users based on the content of their emails, and worries such marketing may eventually come to Google's apps. "I'm one of those super paranoid people who doesn't like using Web-based applications that my company is not controlling," Weiss says. "When I use my Gmail account and I receive an email from my sister about a cute puppy she just saw, I notice that the ads on the side of my email account have ads for pet products. It's no coincidence."

Tim Lynch of boutique gaming computer maker PsychsoftPC sums up the concerns shared by many Office holdouts: "I prefer a traditional software package because it's not subject to Internet speed or availability, it's as fast as my PC can make it, big corporations like Google can't see what I'm writing or use it for advertising or sell my info to other advertisers, and my stuff is stored on my PC under my control, not in some unnamed server in some ambiguous cloud in some unnamed country."

So there.

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