Writing about Microsoft Office isn’t like reviewing a product; it’s more like writing a school science paper on “The Air Around Us.” Office is so ubiquitous and so dominant in its category that, as with Google for search or Adobe Photoshop for image editing, the suite’s Excel, PowerPoint, and Word have become shorthand for spreadsheet, presentation, and word processing apps.
As far as corporate offices go, a product manager for a would-be rival (Lotus SmartSuite, now long gone) once told me, competing with Office isn’t like trying to compete with Xerox or Konica Minolta copiers. It felt more like trying to compete with copier paper.
The metaphors aren’t exact, however. While there are no substitutes for air or copier paper, home office workers can choose from several alternatives to Office, with features ingenious enough to merit a look or keep Microsoft on its toes. I’ll be surveying them, focusing on Windows rather than Mac or handheld apps, in a four-part series to run every other week in this space. But I’ll begin today with Microsoft’s monster, specifically, with the confusing truth that there are more ways to get Office than there are websites to book a hotel room.