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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger




Microsoft & Bloatware Revisited
December 12th, 2000

One of people's chief complaints about Microsoft software is usually about how big, gigantic and swelled up they think it is. Mac users in particular like to say how Microsoft delivers "bloatware," a commonly used expression to describe Microsoft products as too big - thus using too much RAM and disk space - with features and all kinds of stuff that is not necessarily essential.

Before I begin revealing my viewpoint on this topic, let me tell you that I have used this bloatware argument myself in the past, and MS software was not my only target. I like to portray certain products as bloated, requiring too much in resources and of course, being too expensive.

Recently I realized that I might have been wrong. Software suites such as Microsoft Office may not be as bloated as we think, after all.

I grasped this when I got this new job at a daily newspaper, being part of the team that publishes the Web site. Among the essential applications we use, there is Microsoft Word. In fact, Word is probably the most important software installed on our computers. We employ it extensively, exploiting features that most people would never think of reaching for. We manipulate thousands of files every day and run server-side software that turns them into parts of our Web site.

If you saw us in action, your eyes may perhaps pop out to see what a person can do with products such as MS Word. I am not gloating about what we do, but rather giving you a hint about what the software allows us to do.

The dirt: quite a few applications that people describe as bloatware are actually full of the types of features that are far ahead of everybody's needs. This kind of power is not necessarily for everyone, but let me testify that yes, there ARE people who need all the stuff that some bloatware has to offer. This is exactly what I realized in the last few weeks.

A common mistake is to think that the mainstream business applications are too big and overpriced. I am not sure about that anymore.

It is a mistake to head to a store and buy MS Word with the sole intent to produce letters, fax covers and resumes. Anybody who uses Word extensively can tell you that Word is more than a slightly beefed up Simple Text. Word processors such as Nisus Writer or AppleWorks will do just fine.

The same applies to Photoshop. Too many people see Photoshop as the only solution to handle photo editing and image conversion. Wrong. Photoshop is certainly the right choice for design and editing professionals, but the single user can turn to lighter and cheaper options - such as GraphicConverter and ColorIt! - without sacrificing much for their personal needs.

When you look at the top of the line products to satisfy basic needs, it is like trying to kill a fly with a cannon. In short, you are buying luxury. If you have the pecuniary and hardware resources to buy and run these products, it is all fine.

If you are on a budget without the need for extravagance, but still want to have it, the problem probably lays elsewhere than the product itself.

I do not believe that it is right to criticize certain products as too big, bloated with useless features and overpriced if they are on top of the food chain. Most of the time, these applications exist simply for power users who really need the zillions of features offered and can afford the hardware that allows them to run properly.

Compare this to buying a new Mac if your old 68K broke and you wanted to replace it. All you do is e-mail, surf the Web, put up your personal home page, write letters and do some instant messaging with your buddies. Would you choose an iMac or a dual processor G4? Do you need the expansion and power, or do you just need to have a reliable Mac on your desktop? I think that the answer is obvious, and mostly, different than if you intended to do publishing and design.

The idea is simply to know your genuine needs before buying and especially before asserting that MS Office, Photoshop and other comparable solutions are uselessly big, too expensive and too standardized.

Microsoft Word was my prime example because most folks will - perhaps deliberately - target it more than any other. The fact is, though, that it applies to a lot of mainstream software in the industry.

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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