The MS Office 2008 for Mac scandal continues

Can Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit expect anything but frustration from its installed base of users? The excuses from the development team are wearing very, very thin.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

Can Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit expect anything but frustration from its installed base of users? The excuses from the development team are wearing very, very thin.

The news today was that the group was able to get its first batch of 1,000 bug fixes, aka Office 2008 for Mac Service Pack 1, out in record time. This is good news and all Office for Mac users are pleased with the effort of the team. You can read the long list of "reliability" and "stability" improvements here.

But what are we to make of this comment by Mac BU General Manager Craig Eisler on the group's blog:

We’ve paid attention to your feedback here on the blog as well as in other user forums and collected crash data through the Microsoft Error Report Protocol (MERP). The result is that you are going to have an even better experience with Office 2008 for Mac. This is a major update that focuses on overall stability, security and performance and you can get it for free from our download page.

Hurray! We don't have to pay for the fixing of 1,000 or more bugs! Oh, other than the time it takes to download and install the 180MB patch. (BTW, the MS download page tells me that the update will take 7 hours and 19 minutes at 56K speed. Maybe that whiff of nostalgia will make me appreciate my DSL performance.)

And are we supposed to jump up and kick our heels for joy when SP1 lead engineer Erik Schwiebert highlights the news that after SP1, Excel charts will get custom error bars and axis tick manipulation — again?

These are long-standing features that were removed in Mac Office 2008 and now make a return. Hurray!

On that same off-again, on-again theme, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) will return to Mac Office. Hurray!

But wait: When?

According to Eisler, VBA support will return with the next version of Office for Mac. Will that be in 2 years? 3 years? Or as in the latest case, 4 years? They don't say.

Remember that the excuse Microsoft gave for removing VBA support in Office Mac 2008 was that it was all too hard to accomplish and the VBA runtime compiler didn't run on Intel Macs. It would take 2 years of extra work to get it out the door. If they waited then Office for Mac would be delayed even more. This excuse was given back in early 2007, more than a year ago.

There was also "fact" that Redmond was considering replacing VBA with another architecture "a few years" in the future, so perhaps it might be better to get cracking on that new code instead of working into VBA for the Mac. Of course, plans changed up in Redmond and VBA support in the Windows Office versions will continue.

By this past estimation, the macro code compiler could be ready in a year. Or not. They are waiting for the next release, which will come sometime in the next 2 to 4 years.

MacTech's Editor-in-Chief Neil Ticktin offers a decision tree for picking a scripting option. Here's his capsule analysis of the conundrum:

Both AppleScript and VBA have their strengths and weaknesses. VBA is cross platform, but is limited to just scripting Office applications, and does not include Entourage. AppleScript allows you to control Mac OS X as well as other Mac applications, is considered to be easier to learn, but is not cross platform.

Some are served best by staying with VBA in Office 2004. Others are better off rewriting their scripts in AppleScript. And, still others are better off using Office 2007 for Windows under a virtualization product like VMware Fusion or Parallels (or even booting into Windows with Bootcamp).

One thing you need to assess is the level of VBA compatibility that you may need. For most people, Office 2004 VBA was more than enough compatible with the version of VBA in recent versions of Office for Windows. Some, however, may require a greater level of compatibility in order to access new features in the Windows version of Office. But, generally, those people are experts in VBA usage, and know exactly what they need. If you aren't sure about your needs, chances are the level of compatibility in Office 2004 will suit you just fine.

The journal also offers an excellent VBA to AppleScript Transition Guide.

Ticktin keeps mentioning Office 2004, which doesn't have support for the XML file formats introduced in the Windows Office. Users of Office 2004 for Mac are still waiting on the Open XML File Format Converter that was promised months ago.

It was an outrage that this software wasn't ready to go when Office 2008 for Mac shipped. After all, we would think that the Mac Office group would have had the Open XML File Formats years and years ago. But it appears not.

That the first service pack for the new version has shipped and Office 2004 users are still waiting on the update is yet another insult to loyal customers.

Wait one minute. Could this delay be a reason that Microsoft is selling Office 2008 for Mac copies at a record pace?


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