Where science and tech meet creativity.

I hate Microsoft Office. It is a hate that has been slowly boiling in the background for a long long time. I can make it do anything. I get how it works at a level at a brainstem level, such that prettily formatted documents come out of my computer with ease. I still hate it. As an undergraduate, I earned my living as “Lead Monitor” of the Erickson Hall Computer Lab and Michigan State. In this role, it was my pleasure to help anyone with any computer problem. 90% of the problems were either failure to print or failure to format. All of them were related to Microsoft breaking the minds of poor innocent ungrads (and occasional grads). The lab was a mix of Macs and PCs and platform really didn’t matter. Everyone had to use MS Office, and everyone got burnt.

So, there was the hate that came from having to solve too many problems that really shouldn’t have ever happened. There is also the hate of the price. As a grad student at the University of Texas we could get MS products for $5 a disk, but once I entered the real world I was forced to fork over (if I wanted to be legal) $400+ hard earned dollars. Luckily I didn’t stay in the real world very long, and as an academic I only have to pay $180 for my professional Office pal. It’s not like I can avoid word processing; MS Office is a product that has become ubiquitous and many places require its use (for instance, some journals require .doc instead of .tex files, and UT required my dissertation to be done in Word). Its exorbitant price really is a tax that only serves to increase the digital divide.

Admittedly, there are alternatives, especially for Mac and Linux users. For a while, I tried switching to Open Office / Star Office / NeoOffice, but while this was philosophically satisfying, these packages didn’t offer me the power of MS Office, so… Back I went, offering up my hard won earnings to The Man in exchange for the ability to make documents that I could make do anything. Then, in a moment of artistic misdirection, I tried Quark and InDesign, but the editing tools (spelling, grammar, tables), and equation tools just weren’t there. So again, back I went, letting Mr Gate’s icons take up space in my dock, where they taunted me with their failure to be truly friendly and mocked me with their potential to crash my normally imperturbable Mac.

But, watching Steve Jobs recent MacWorld Keynote reminded me of the little guy on the office software block. iWork has the theoretical ability to almost everything I want (although getting equations into documents may challenge me a bit at first). So, I’m going to make the leap. My New Year’s resolution is to be 100% iWork / iLife by years end. It won’t be easy, but I’m going to try.

But… but… It’s really not going to be easy. Already, seconds into my resolution, I feel like a drug addict trying to justify why I can’t afford to go through the symptoms of withdrawal at this particular moment in life. I have about 100 PowerPoint presentations that I regularly reuse in teaching and presenting. Making this switch isn’t going to be easy. Translating between software packages is an inexact science and I know that importing my beloved old presentations will not go smoothly.

And there are habits to break. I write these blog entries in a word processing program with a spell checker so I can avoid having too many egregious spelling errors. When I had the “Hey… iWorks!” realization and went to start this blog entry my mouse went on autopilot to the mutant Microsoft W in my dock and only two paragraphs in did I realize the irony of what I had done. (I then copied my content into a Pages page, and I am now working in an iFriendly window.)

I don’t know if Apple and Steve Jobs are going to simply become the next “The Man,” but here’s to hoping that I have finally found a powerful, non-crashing, alternative under $100. The only thing it really seems to lack is a spreadsheet, but Think Secret and MacRumors have both reported that iWork 07 may fill that gap. For now, maybe I’ll just more consistently use KaleidaGraph.

Here’s to iWork in 07.