Using Microsoft’s Web-Based Office on Mac and Linux

No word wrap for pictures, clip art of tables

Microsoft’s free web version of Office has finally been opened up to computing platforms other than windows. I’ve tried it on both Mac & Linux and it worked reasonably well though on linux there’s a frequent pester box to ‘improve’ the rendering of text by installing Microsoft Silverlight which of course you can’t do in Linux. I have no idea if Moonlight , the mono Silverlight project on linux ,would work but the performance didn’t seem bad enough to proceed down that particular potential road of disappointment.

I tried the web application on Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome and despite ‘the word on the street’ saying that the web office is optimised for Firefox and IE8 only I found no problems using Google Chrome. In fact I’d say it was less sluggish on Chrome than Firefox for me.

Curiously the ability to export your online document is hidden away in the the reading view hidden file exportwhich reveals you can export in any format as long as it’s Microsoft’s proprietary .docx format.

The most glaring omission for me is the complete inability to align or justify text around an embedded picture, clip art or table in Word. For me this is a serious flaw when comparing Microsoft’s web office offering against the more established alternatives such as Google Docs, Zoho Office,ThinkFree Office or Adobe’s Buzzword.

Maybe more features become enabled if you actually own a copy of the standalone Office application but presume that the Mac & Linux versions will remain forever crippled in some very key feature departments which slightly negates the whole idea of platform neutral web based applications available in the cloud.

Microsoft’s Office for web is free to users signed up to a live.com account and is available to Facebook users too albeit still in beta form via Docs.com.

Making choices in the dark

Microsoft has been rolling out its browser choice update to European windows users. For those that actually have Microsoft updates enabled the result has been , perhaps a bit confusing for some.

Typically many users assumed the update was malware or spam whilst another contingent sat there asking themselves ‘what’s a browser?’.

Picture by :: Wendy :: under this  specific creative commons license

Responsible Parenting And Social Networking

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 25:  In this photo ill...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

I listened with interest to this morning’s phone in on Five Live which looked at the worries of youngsters on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace following criticisms of those networks for not putting any kind of help button on the site for people that are experiencing bullying or child abuse. Bebo a site that is perhaps bigger in the UK than the rest of the world has put such a help button on their own social networking site.

What soon became apparent as the debate developed was that:

  • Most parents were unaware that these sites had a starting age limit of 13 years.
  • Parents had allowed some children as young as 7 years to sign up to social networking sites
  • Parents largely gave in to peer pressure such as “but all my friends are on it”.
  • Youngsters like to be seen to have as many friends as possible
  • Some youngsters can have as many as 600 contacts most of whom they don’t know in real life
  • Youngsters are more tech savvy than their parents so parents leave most things to their children

I was surprised at the extent to which some parents were prepared to just blank this aspect of parental responsibility. One local authority had run a free course to help parents get helpful information on how to manage access to social networking sites but only two parents availed themselves of the workshop.

18 age limit on xbox360

An example of age limiting access to such sites comes in the form of  Microsoft who have just launched access to social networking sites on their Xbox 360 games console but are to actively block access for users below the age of 18 by only allowing  gold membership users to access the services (a 12 month paid for fee is payable to unlock access). Don’t go thinking that Microsoft are doing this purely in the name of being responsible. It’s probably just as likely being implemented to reduce their liability as much as anything else.

Whose Responsibility?

I know many parents are just going to use the excuse that their children are the tech savvy members of the family but isn’t it about setting barriers, getting informed, getting help, taking responsibility and putting appropriate measures in place to safeguard your children?

Easy for me to say I know but I must admit I was a little taken aback at the buck passing by some parents with regard to this.

social networking image by 10ch under this creative commons license

Ensuring Opportunity

“Depending on the nature of your response, Microsoft reserves the right to pursue all necessary steps to ensure that Yahoo!’s shareholders are provided with the opportunity to realize the valueYahoo Microsoft inherent in our proposal.”

Part of Microsoft’s letter to the Yahoo board of directors that reserves the right to pursue a likely hostile takeover attempt should they decline the current £22 billion on offer by Microsoft to merge the Yahoo brand and its technologies into Microsoft.

Full letter text

Graphic by labanex under this creative commons license


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Updated Microsoft Docx For Mac

Microsoft have updated their Docx /open XML plugin for Mac office users. The add on requires Office 2004 or Office v.X in order to work and will not work with the upcoming Office 2008 which is due for release in January.Word 2007

Docx Office file converter for mac

More about converting Docx files

The update extends the expiration of the previous beta though conversions may still strip out a lot of the original formatting and graphics by downgrading to an .rtf file (so much for the open standard file format).

Neo Office for Mac continues to be an alternative for Mac users wishing to open Office 2007 file formats though text edit in OS X 10.5 (Leopard) will open docx files.

I  have also used thinkfree office, an online java based office suite to open Docx files quite successfully though the java interface can be a bit sluggish sometimes.


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Becta Reports Microsoft

Things must be bad when Becta, the UK department of education IT advisory agency, of all people decides to report Microsoft to the Office of Fair Trading. When I worked in education and IT support it was hard to get anybody to think outside the box in terms of the true cost of licensing and much use was made of advantageous licensing terms for Microsoft software and the leeway of contiguous vs. primary licensing which meant that if a library had 10 computers the school could estimate that no more than 6 at any one time would be using Office at exactly the same time and so money could be saved on licensing costs (see my own experience below).Becta

Licensing Schmicensing
Lately different licensing terms have been made introduced to reduce the cost to education by making ongoing smaller yearly subscription payments rather than higher one off payments.Keep in mind too that in server based networks licenses are required for each computer that connects to the server in addition to licenses for the operating system (Windows 2000,XP or Vista) and the software on it (Microsoft Office, Adobe photoshop etc). It can all become a lot of money even at discounted prices.

Flexible Real World Use
The flexibility of fixed one off licensing based on actual real world use is lost on the subscription model where Microsoft requires payment for every machine in the school whether the software is used on it or not.For example on a 300-500 machine network that can still amount to a lot of cash each year when weighed against , say 270 licenses for Office based on actual real use at any one moment of time in the school day (it would be amazing if a 500 machine network had every single student using office at exactly the same time).

Anti Competitive
Becta’s complaint accuses Microsoft of anti competitive practice and changing the rules of licensing in an unfair and anti competitive way. Often Microsoft will donate software to education probably in the knowledge that once an establishment starts getting used to using that software and no other that it will be safe to introduce higher or changed licensing terms later because the user is locked in to what they know and so it’s a case of pay up or the hassle of introducing an alternative at short notice (always unpopular with teachers).

My Own Experience
I used to work in a secondary school where the head of IT and headteacher viewed licensing payments as dead money and would avoid paying for licenses by scribbling out my contribution to budget allowances and allocating a token payment which would usually be rounded down to widely incredulously low figures for simultaneous Office use across at 350 machine network. I used to caution against this in the assumption that at some point in the future licensing terms may change (mind you they were an odd lot. I came in as a volunteer originally and helped develop their network and introduce email ,only for the head to ban the use of email as it was “too democratic”).
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BBC iPlayer For Mac + Linux

BBC iPlayerBBC’s iPlayer which allows UK television viewers to play catch up with BBC TV and radio programmes ran into a bit of trouble when Microsoft’s Windows Media player was chosen as its primary method of delivery and so locking out a percentage of license fee paying Mac and Linux computer users.

A hurried decision following the outcries over the choice of the non cross platform format, which was seen by some as a tacit endorsement of a commercial product, has seen the BBC look to partner with Adobe in order to extend the iPlayer to Mac and Linux platforms using Adobe’s acquired flash format as used by many online video web sites such as You Tube. However this means that unlike Windows users the content cannot be downloaded and must be watched in a web browser via streaming (what not even a glorified Joost type interface?).

Hmmm. Can I have a discount on my TV license please?

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