Why Microsoft Office Remains the Benchmark 30 Years On

Written By Sam on 31 May 2017

These days, we seem to be able to do more and more online at little or no cost. We can catch up on the latest news, chat to our friends, watch movies, play games and more via a range of platforms that generate revenue through advertising and do not cost the user a cent. Yet we still pay out a three figure sum for the tools to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

There are certainly free alternatives out there, and while some people clearly manage to survive by using them, there are downsides that outweigh the benefits, and there is a reason why MS Office remains the go-to application for the vast majority of users. While there is no such thing as a free lunch, there is certainly a golden middle ground, in that it is possible to buy and download Microsoft Office for cheap and get all the functionality at a fraction of the cost.

How MS Office became the global benchmark

You might be shocked to hear it, but Microsoft Office will celebrate its 30th birthday next years. To all intents and purposes, it has been around since the dawn of time as far as our online experience is concerned, and is the software that we have been using all our lives. Others have attempted to compete – if you are of a certain age, you might remember Wordperfect, Lotus 123 and Harvard Graphics, in which case you probably also remember the VHS versus Betamax war.

To this day, people will still debate exactly why VHS ultimately defeated Betamax, but in the case of MS Office versus its rivals, the answer is clearer. It was a case of functionality and compatibility, and it is this aspect of MS Office above all else that keeps it at the top of everyone’s “must have” list.

It blew away the competition by providing an integrated package, with a consistent look, feel and functionality across all the applications. They had the same commands, the same terminology and the same ability to cut and paste or embed objects across different apps.

They also made it easier than ever to share files, and gave birth to the first concept of virtual collaboration and file sharing. It could be argued that some of the individual applications were better than the Microsoft versions – for instance, some preferred the feel and functionality of Lotus 123 to Excel – but the integrated package that MS Office brought to users presented something that was bigger and better than the sum of its parts.

Today’s alternatives

It is important to understand the historical context around the rise of MS Office to see why it is such an integral part of computing today. Sure, there are a whole range of open source alternatives, that can do a solid job, but they have all the disadvantages that those vanquished rivals of the early 1990s had, while also having to compete against the better functionality and familiarity of Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Of course, they do have one major thing in their favor in that they are free. However, while this will appeal to occasional users, and might be fine for your elderly relative who just wants to look on the Internet, check email messages and perhaps write the occasional letter, it is impossible to see how any alternative will gain serious traction with either home or business users in the foreseeable future.

Looking forward

Today, the biggest focus is on cloud technology and cross platform compatibility, and with the surge in popularity of MS Office 365, the parallels with the early 1990’s are too obvious to ignore. It is fair to suggest that 1.2 billion users can’t be wrong. The biggest question is what the major innovation will be in the late 2030’s, when Office celebrates its half century.

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