in Technology, writing

The MS Office Conundrum

Microsoft Office makes people worse at software.1

I work with engineers – people that know their way around power electronics and embedded software2. But somehow, no one seems to know how version control works. I lay the blame squarely at the feet of Microsoft Office.

In my first C programming class, we only received grades on work that we checked in using the version control software3. It was a revelation to me, at the time, that there existed a way to collaborate on software (or any other electronic documents). This is likely because I did most of my document editing in high school in – what else – Microsoft Word.

So why has this revelation failed to bubble up to the (too) many companies with Microsoft enterprise agreements? Sure, my first introduction was via the command line, but Dropbox and Google Docs have shown it can be done in a user-friendly GUI. I constantly see coworkers go to the not-so-great length of changing a date in the document title and think “Boom – new version.” Or, even better – send out a document for several people to edit, who return their input as “Title – MM/DD/YY – Employee Initials”. It seems crazy that 1.) no one has thought “we should think of a better engineered solution to this”, and then 2.) “oh wait, IT ALREADY EXISTS.”

Even though it is not built into Office directly, I know version control is available for it now. I have even used it! Microsoft’s sort-of-cloud solution, Sharepoint, has version control and document check-out baked right in. It is buried in some context menu somewhere (proving my conspiracy theory that MS does not want you to use it), but it is there. Yet somehow we still create an Archive folder with all the previous, dated documents. It is a waste of storage space, a huge time suck, and can be extremely confusing.

I write this both as an admonishment for the workflows at my company, and as an acknowledgement that I am falling for it too. I have started to do this, mostly because my colleagues do, even though I know it is a terrible habit. The first step is admitting you have a problem. I look forward to apologizing to all the spreadsheets I have wronged in the past.

And don’t get me started on the crazy things people put into Excel.4


  1. I have not decided if this thesis is worth a series of posts. It might be, but this is the only example I could come up with so far. 
  2. I know the software team uses it for their software, and yet they don’t for any documents shared with other groups. How does that make sense to anyone? 
  3. It was a Unix system, and I can’t even remember the commands for committing code now. But I remember the concept, which is more important. (Right?) 
  4. It is not for presentations. That is why they made Powerpoint. 
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