John C. Welch and Rick Schaut on Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit and Office 12

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
September 27th, 2005 • 10:52 am

Yesterday, long-time Mac columnist John C. Welch posted a long article about the future of Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit (Mac BU) and Microsoft’s Office software for the Mac.

Microsoft developer Rick Schaut immediately responded on his own blog, and then John responded to Rick Schaut’s post in the comments on Rick’s blog, and there was a significant amount of back-and-forth between the two.

Fundamentally, the issue, according to John Welch, is whether Microsoft is actually committed to Office for the Mac, and whether it is planning to make future versions of Office work with the “backend,” server-based stuff that is apparently such an integral part of the future of Office for Windows.

I must admit that I didn’t read all the comments in full. My eyes just glazed over. But I did notice this paragraph by Rick Schaut (my emphasis):

Let’s take IRM for example. It’s certainly possible for Mac BU to put a group of developers on implementing the infrastructure we need, but if doing so would mean that we wouldn’t have enough resources left to ship Office 12 as a universal binary, then the cost of Mac BU implementing IRM infrastructure is too high regardlessof how many users want IRM.

I must have missed something, because I didn’t know that Microsoft was committed to providing Office 12 for the Mac as a universal binary, i.e. something that will run natively on both Intel-based and PowerPC-based Macintosh computers.

This is obviously good news for those who are not sure about purchasing a new Mac in the current transition period. It doesn’t say anything about Microsoft’s commitment beyond Office 12, of course, but at least we won’t get the same situation we got with Office X, which only ran natively on Mac OS X and meant that classic Mac OS users were stuck with Office 2001.

It also doesn’t exactly confirm that Microsoft will never provide a native Intel-based version of Office 2004, but I think that’s pretty obvious. There’s just no way that a company such as Microsoft will ever provide such an update free of charge to its existing customers. People who want to run Office 2004 on an Intel-based Macintosh computer will depend on Apple’s PowerPC emulation mode.

In fact, Microsoft are probably quite happy with this architectural change by Apple, because it will force yet another round of upgrades for customers who want native performance on the latest hardware, even if they don’t want any of the new features provided in Office 12 (whatever those might be).

What this comment by Rick Schaut also suggests, however, is that the Office code is such a huge mess that it takes significant resources just to be able to provide a universal binary. It’s impossible to resist the comparison with a company such as Bare Bones, which have already released a universal binary of their flagship text editor BBEdit for free. BBEdit might not be as complex a product as Word 2004, but it’s an advanced text editor with tons of features nonetheless. That Bare Bones were able to develop a universal binary version of their product so quickly with so few resources (how many software engineers does Bare Bones actually employ?) is a clear confirmation that the product’s code is solid and well designed.

Word 2004, on the other hand, is obviously a coding nightmare. This is obvious not just from the numerous bugs that still plague the product, but also from its abysmal performance levels even on reasonably fast Macintosh hardware. I am not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t believe that Microsoft deliberately cripple their Mac software. But I do believe that the only possible explanation for such lousy performance is a big coding mess with fundamental issues that nobody dares tackle lest the whole thing should collapse and become an irretrievable debugging hell. It is the only possible explanation.

And I have to agree with John Welch that it’s not like Microsoft doesn’t have the money to invest in fixing and improving Office for the Mac if they really wanted to. That’s the bottom-line here, and there’s nothing in what Rick Schaut says that indicates that things will change significantly in the near future.

In other words, Office 12 can be expected to have a small handful of new features, but nothing ground-breaking and no big advances on the “enterprise” side of things. It will still be slow and full of bugs. And it’ll probably be the first and last universal binary sold by Microsoft. It will simply be a forced upgrade for Mac Office users who get a new Intel-based Mac, because they’ll want native performance and Office 12 will be their only option. And that’s how the Mac BU will continue to make money, without getting the investment from their parent company required to really fix and improve the product.

One Response to “John C. Welch and Rick Schaut on Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit and Office 12”

  1. Michael Tsai - Blog - Mac BU says:

    […] John C. Welch, Rick Schaut, and Pierre Igot discuss the Microsoft re-organization and Mac Office. […]

Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.