There’s a lot of hate out there for Microsoft. Some of it is deserved, some is mere fanboyism. For my own part, I generally avoid Microsoft products where I can. It’s not that I absolutely refuse to touch anything that comes out of Redmond, but there are generally free-er and better tools available to accomplish the same ends. Still, there are some things Mircosoft does very well. Apple support is not one of them.
Now, I understand that Microsoft and Apple are competitors in some sense. (I would argue that Microsoft is a software vendor and Apple is a hardware/ecosystem vendor, but that’s another discussion). To some, it might be surprising that Microsoft has any Apple offerings at all, but the reality is that it is in their best interests. Macs, especially the laptops, are becoming more prevalent in enterprise settings (especially in education, where Apple has long enjoyed a higher-than-average market share). In order for Microsoft to keep their death grip on the lucrative enterprise environment, they need to make sure their products can continue to be used.
Unfortunately for the user, Microsoft does not seem to have put much effort into their Apple offerings. Whether this is by choice or by circumstance, the end result is the same: people can’t get work done. At the risk of sounding like a cynical anti-Microsoft zealot, I’m going to guess that this is an intentional move. It does make short-term sense, after all. By making gestures, Microsoft can be seen as playing nicely, but when things don’t work as well as they do on Windows, people will have no choice but to abandon Apple.
Now, I can’t speak to the Office products very much. Outside of Access, I’ve barely touched Office 2007, so I don’t know to what degree it is crippled compared to the Windows versions. I do know that VBScript is not supported in Office 2008, which causes all kinds of problems for some Serious Business(tm) in Excel. Check boxes in Excel sheets also seem to not print, which is a bit of a hassle when I go to turn in an absence form. Of course, Access doesn’t even have a Mac counterpart, which wouldn’t bother me except I have yet to find the time to migrate our inventory database out of Access and into something more platform-independent. This leaves me stuck with running a virtual machine or keeping a Windows box on my desktop any time I want to do something with the inventory.
My big gripe today, and in general, is with Entourage. It is a pretty lousy e-mail client, although 2008 is an improvement over 2004. Entourage is a little bit on the clunky side. For IMAP accounts, Apple Mail would be my choice. Exchange support is the one feature that give Entourage a raison d’etre in the first place, and it is lacking in a few key areas. The worst failing is the lack of support for Exchange tasks and notes. Because my Blackberry has great Exchange support, it would be really nice if I could make notes on my to-do list and have them show up in Entourage. I can’t. Since I’m primarily at my desk all day, I primarily use Entourage for my to-do list. This means I’m stuck without it if I don’t have my laptop with me. (Or I have to switch to a third-party app, which isn’t that appealing either).
The other complaint is the lack of support for Outlook .pst files. I’m not that big a fan of .pst files in Outlook either, but I accept they’re a necessary evil. Regardless of my feelings on .pst in general, it seems silly that Entourage only supports a different (non-Outlook compatible) file format. Mail storage is a tricky business anyway, and I just prefer to use an IMAP account when I need extra storage space. That way it is compatible with any modern mail client.
So now that I’ve complained about Entourage, here’s the whole point: the Evolution groupware client supports Microsoft Exchange better than some Microsoft products do. Imagine my surprise when I was setting up Evolution on my Linux box only to discover that not only did my e-mail and calendar synch, but my to-do list did, too! I about keeled over from the shock. This is where Microsoft needs to pay close attention to what others are doing. If other vendors support your products better than you do, that is a Bad Thing(tm).
Fortunately for Microsoft, getting Entourage working on the Mac isn’t as simple as the Linux side. Using fink gets you caught in a web of dependencies that don’t seem to be resolvable as of this writing. Novell issued a Mac build that installs okay, but I’ve had problems getting it to enable an Exchange account. I’m not the only one with this problem, as the bug report indicates, but the solution that worked for others so far has not worked for me.
In the meantime, I’ll just keep hoping that Microsoft improves the next version of office, or that better competitiors will come forth.