Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Am I Old-Fashioned about "Office Productivity?"

In his latest post to The Open Road on the CNET Blog Network, Matt Assay asks (and I do not mean rhetorically), "Do you still care about an office productivity suite?" Since my office is now at home, I am not sure whether or not Assay had someone like me in mind when he posed that question, particularly when his text assumes that I have a CIO seeing to my information needs. However, the answer is that I do care; I just wonder whether or not the ways in which I care are relevant any more! Let me go through some of those items of relevance, beginning with the least conventional of them:

  • Ironically, I continue to use PowerPoint as heavily has I had when I was fully ensconced in the corporate world. Back in 2007 I wrote a post entitled "Reading what I don't Understand." I spend a lot of time on what may best be called "difficult" reading matter; and, as I explained in that post, PowerPoint continues to play a significant role in my reading behavior. The bottom line is that I treat PowerPoint slides as "virtual 3 x 5 cards," which serve me in a variety of ways. Most important is that writing them helps me get a better handle on what I have been reading. However, a close second is that these are files that can be easily searched, which means that PowerPoint also serves as a memory aid. Furthermore, I take pretty full advantage of PowerPoint's ability to handle rich media, since that often figures in the reading I tend to do.
  • Excel has basically become a household tool for me. There are any number of spreadsheets I maintain pertaining to tax records, expenses, and the performance of my portfolio. I may not spend a lot of time "mucking around with pivot tables," as Assay put it in his post; but the tool helps me with a lot of activities.
  • Finally, most of the time that I do not spend reading gets devoted to writing. Here I have my own idiosyncratic behaviors with tools to match them:
    • Word continues to be my tool of choice for "serious" writing. Indeed, since I now define my own projects, I find that I use its Outline option more heavily that I did in my corporate activities. My allegiance to Word may be heavily rooted in past habits; but it still serves my "productivity" (a word I do not particularly like) as a writer. I have yet to see an alternative that would woo me away, but I continue to keep my eyes open.
    • What I am writing right now, however, I am typing into FrontPage. I could be typing it into Blogger's Create Post window; but I prefer having "local control." I know that Blogger now has autosave, but its formatting tools are limited and not always predictable. I prefer to use a tool that gives me something I can tweak in Blogger in either Compose or Edit HTML mode. FrontPage gets me started much better than Blogger does.
    • Finally, because I have Outlook, I continue to use its Calendar. However, even when I am dealing with my Yahoo! Mail, I often prepare my message with Outlook. Again, it is a matter of having local control and getting away from playing guessing games with the Yahoo! formatting tools. This may sound a bit peculiar; but it is useful, particularly with some of the weirder formats I sometimes receive in my mail.

Thus, in a peculiar way I still care about Microsoft Office because I do not have a CIO seeing to my information needs. Since I never presume that I am, in any way, a "representative" user, I have no idea if Microsoft cares how I use their product. However, like it or not, the better part of my day involves using some component of Microsoft Office; and I do not feel as if I am suffering for this!

Let me now turn the argument around and consider the way Assay establishes his own position:

We're the e-mail generation, but not necessarily Outlook's progeny. We're the SharePoint crowd, but one that would probably prefer to spend time in Facebook. Give us Twitter and IM, and we can forgo drafting a letter for weeks.

In light of what I wrote yesterday, just what are the things that Assay's "we" are doing by way of gainful employment? I know what work I do that establishes my identity (and occasionally pays me from time to time). If you are talking about software in the workplace, Matt, just what do you think those workers are doing?

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