Saturday, January 25, 2003

Resistance is futile. A little over a week ago I posted an item on a software dilemma. After years of a pretty much Microsoft-free existence, my book editor was asking me to switch to Microsoft Word so that we could use the "Track Changes" editing feature.

I did some experimenting to see whether I could avoid such a calamity, but to no avail. His "Track Changes" comments did not survive the arduous journey from Word to AppleWorks when I translated his documents with MacLinkPlus. Another option -- an inexpensive alternative called ThinkFree Office, which is supposed to be Microsoft-compatible -- was even worse. Even allowing for the distinct possibility that I was doing something wrong, I could find no sign that ThinkFree supported "Track Changes."

I received some e-mails from readers, and they broke down into two camps. One side argued that, though they sympathized with my anti-Microsoft stance (admittedly somewhat tongue-in-cheek, since I do, after all, own a few shares of Microsoft), MS Word was nevertheless a pretty cool program. The other, more militant side suggested I check out open-source alternatives.

Tempting as the militants' vision may have been, I decided that the time had come, at long last, to get with the program, so to speak. I managed to pick up a legal version of MS Office 2001 for Macintosh on eBay for a little more than $200, a huge savings over the $499 list price. I installed it yesterday, and, well, here I am. I write Media Log with a long-since-discontinued program called Claris Home Page, which is now close to being the only non-Microsoft software I use. Word, Excel, Entourage, Internet Explorer (which was already my browser of choice) ... I mean, what the hell. The only thing left to do is ditch my PowerBook G3 and pick up a Wintel laptop. (Not going to happen.)

I'm rattling on about this because, to me, it demonstrates perhaps the key ingredient of Microsoft's success, which is, well, its success. Illegal monopolistic behavior aside, the most important reason for me to use Word is not that I've fallen in love with it (it is, in fact, a notably unlovable program), but that everyone else uses it. No longer will editors have to waste time reformatting stuff I send them. My book editor and I can exchange "Track Changes" comments to our hearts' content.

It may be true that Microsoft's monopoly has stifled innovation. But when you need to get things done, innovation is less important than compatibility. And Bill Gates has done more than anyone to ensure compatibility by crushing the competition, by any means necessary. It ain't pretty, but it works.

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