In most areas of technology, things have changed quite significantly since the year 2000. Look at the latest iPod next to an early MP3 player, for example. Or websites whizzing with Flash and Java and Ajax and all that, next to a basic HTML site designed for a 56k AOL dial-up connection. In my own life, the year 2000 seems ages ago – I was a corporate banker then, working on Wall Street and day-trading dot-com stocks in my spare time. Since then I’ve been a graduate student, a journalist and now a novelist. I’ve moved back to London, got married, turned 30, etc etc.
In Microsoft world, though, there just doesn’t seem to have been a lot of progress. I recently downloaded a trial version of Microsoft Office 2007, thinking that my old version of Word 2000 must be so obsolete by now and imagining all the cool new features I would find. The result: no cool new features that I could locate at all. A lot of cosmetic changes, some of which I do quite like, but in the basic functionality no major changes (well, I’m sure there are some, but I couldn’t find any that make a difference to me).
In fact, the technology seems to have gone backwards in some ways. I’ve written three novels on Word 2000 and it has never once crashed on me; the new Word 2007 has crashed 5 times since I downloaded it a couple of weeks ago. Also a feature that’s small but very important to me – displaying white text on a blue background (easier on the eyes than black on white) – appears to have been removed. Again it may be there somewhere, but I couldn’t find it and “Help” was no help.
This is not a completely anti-Microsoft rant. Word 2000 was a great product which I have used extensively and, as I mentioned, it has never crashed. But what astonishes me is the lack of progress since then (or, for that matter, since Word 97, Word 95 or Word 6.0). What are they doing over there at Microsoft HQ? Still day-trading dot-com stocks and talking about Kenneth Starr?
I’ve seen that Office 2010 is out soon, and maybe that will yield some progress, but the 2007 version seems a backwards step. I could perhaps put up with the added instability if there was some other great benefit to the new version, but there just isn’t one. I haven’t even continued to the end of the trial period – I’ve gone straight back to Word 2000, with its familiar menus, its blue background, and the comforting sense that you can complete a sentence without seeing the dreaded message “Microsoft Word has encountered an error and needs to close…”