I Am Joe’s Blog:

August 3, 2007 • 12:03 AM

A few words about the new Office 2008 ship date

For the past umpteen years, I have dutifully installed every new version of Microsoft Office for Mac that the company has put out. I expect I will continue doing so indefinitely. I’m not particularly fond of Microsoft as a corporation for all the usual reasons, and I’ve found plenty to complain about in every piece of Microsoft software I’ve used. Nevertheless, I use Office (and particularly Word and Excel) every single day, as probably 90 percent of my income requires it in some fashion. When new versions appear, I fantasize that certain bugs that have existed since the mid-1990s might finally be gone, and they never are, but at least a few things generally get better.

Since I don’t particularly expect that any of my long-standing complaints will disappear in Office 2008, I’ve been looking forward to it for primarily one reason: it’ll be a Universal Binary, and should therefore run faster on my Intel-based Macs than Office 2004 does. In other words, I’ll be glad when Office 2008 ships only to the extent that it should scratch one certain long-standing itch; otherwise, I would have been reasonably content to keep running Office 2004 for years to come.

I say all this to put into context my remarks about today’s announcement that Office 2008 will not, as the company previously claimed, ship in the second half of 2007 but will instead ship in mid-January 2008. As a user, this slippage in ship dates is barely worth noticing. Its net effect on me will probably be next to nil. As a Mac journalist, I find it highly significant that a company the size of Microsoft can’t hit a release window that’s six months wide even when they set that target a mere six months in advance, and I think that’s worth giving the company at least a mild tongue-lashing. But really: I don’t care about the slip. It’s a pity, but no big deal.

What I do care very much about, though, as someone who uses words for a living, is the language Microsoft chose to use in the press release they sent out announcing this delay. It is, truly, a delay: a difference of (depending on how you interpreted “second half of 2007”) anywhere from two weeks to six months and two weeks. And most of the news sites that reported on the delay described it as such. But Microsoft themselves did not use the word “delay.” They didn’t mention that they’d previously announced an earlier date. They didn’t say they were sorry. Instead, they used standard weaselly marketing language to make it sound like they were announcing a virtual non-event, and perhaps even to subtly suggest that anyone who wanted to think about it differently doesn’t care about quality.

Here is the exact text of the press release I received:

Office 2008 Coming January 2008

Microsoft’s Macintosh Business Unit (Mac BU) today announced that Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac will be available in the US in mid-January of 2008 (planning for Macworld), with global general availability in the first quarter of 2008. This was a business decision based on the Mac BU’s commitment to deliver a high-quality product.

“Our number one priority is to deliver quality software to our customers and partners, and in order to achieve this we are shifting availability of Office 2008 for Mac to mid-January of 2008,” said Mac BU General Manager Craig Eisler. “We’re successfully driving toward our internal goal to RTM in mid-December 2007, and believe our customers will be very pleased with the finished product.”

As the Mac BU moves closer to the product launch, Microsoft will share more details about features and exact timing.

More information at the Mac BU’s Mac Mojo blog at http://blogs.msdn.com/macmojo

Now then…what Microsoft could have said in their press release, instead, is this:

“Office 2008 for Mac, which we previously said would ship in the second half of 2007, has been delayed until January 2008. We ran into some unexpected problems, and we now realize we can’t get this out as soon as we said. We apologize for any inconvenience this delay may cause. We hope our customers will find the final product to be worth the wait.”

See how much better that is? It’s easy: just plain English. No weasel words, but no protracted pseudo-explanations either. Just: “Look, stuff happens. It happened. We’re sorry. Here’s the new plan.” And yet, with those few words, you acknowledge that there’s a difference between what you said and what you’re doing, that that is in fact a bad thing that you wish hadn’t happened, and that you understand why people might be a bit upset with you.

Why is that so hard? Why can’t a company bring itself to admit any fault, however minor, to say they feel badly about something? It’s OK, really. Your customers will forgive you. What customers should not forgive is marketing speak. I don’t cry over spilled milk. I cry over “The erstwhile contents of the glass have been redistributed in a more horizontal fashion. This was a business decision based on gravitational forces. Information on forthcoming moisture containment strategies and potential new sources of dairy products will be made available by mid-January 2008.”

Comments

  1. August 2nd, 2007 | 10:37 pm

    I think the problem is that they know their customers will forgive them, but they need to appeal to the analysts and stockholders, and saying, “Stuff happens, it happened,” invites more questions: what happened? is this part of a larger issue?

    I also suspect that it’s ingrained marketingeze; they can’t help themselves. Or maybe they came up with so many ways to say “We’re not shipping yet” while working on Vista that they need to use them in another context.

    BTW, your spilled milk rewrite is classic.

  2. August 3rd, 2007 | 12:37 am

    I think the problem is that they know their customers will forgive them, but they need to appeal to the analysts and stockholders, and saying, “Stuff happens, it happened,” invites more questions: what happened? is this part of a larger issue?

    I also suspect that it’s ingrained marketingeze; they can’t help themselves. Or maybe they came up with so many ways to say “We’re not shipping yet” while working on Vista that they need to use them in another context.

    BTW, your spilled milk rewrite is classic.

  3. August 3rd, 2007 | 1:46 am

    […] Contact the Webmaster Link to Article macintosh A few words about the new Office 2008 ship date » Posted at I Am Joe’s […]

  4. John Baxter
    August 3rd, 2007 | 12:00 am

    “…certain bugs that have existed since the mid-1990s might finally be gone…”

    Including, for me, the Thesaurus results for the word

    “information”

    This goes back at least to Office 97 (and is cross platform, as that version implies).

  5. John Baxter
    August 3rd, 2007 | 2:00 am

    “…certain bugs that have existed since the mid-1990s might finally be gone…”

    Including, for me, the Thesaurus results for the word

    “information”

    This goes back at least to Office 97 (and is cross platform, as that version implies).

  6. Bahi
    August 3rd, 2007 | 1:30 am

    Well said, Joe. I’m generally pleased with Office 2004, and have learned over the years to accept the long-standing bugs that crop up when relying heavily on styles in Word and many other things. They’re generally outweighed by plenty of thoughtful touches and generally good Mac integration in what is a complex product. But the press release was just plain wrong – not even close to being honest – and doesn’t bode well at all for the Mac BU under its new general manager, Craig Eisler.

    It’s a bad start – let’s hope that its intent to pull a fast one doesn’t reflect some new attitude adopted by the group towards its customers.

  7. Bahi
    August 3rd, 2007 | 3:30 am

    Well said, Joe. I’m generally pleased with Office 2004, and have learned over the years to accept the long-standing bugs that crop up when relying heavily on styles in Word and many other things. They’re generally outweighed by plenty of thoughtful touches and generally good Mac integration in what is a complex product. But the press release was just plain wrong – not even close to being honest – and doesn’t bode well at all for the Mac BU under its new general manager, Craig Eisler.

    It’s a bad start – let’s hope that its intent to pull a fast one doesn’t reflect some new attitude adopted by the group towards its customers.

  8. August 3rd, 2007 | 8:38 pm

    […] Joe Kissell: […]

  9. August 3rd, 2007 | 10:21 pm

    […] o atraso do Office 2008 para Mac: qual lamentamos qual quê… Aconselho que passem pelo blog do Joe Kissel para verem como seria fácil tomar outra […]

  10. sfenerule
    August 3rd, 2007 | 11:49 pm

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  11. sfenerule
    August 4th, 2007 | 1:49 am

    Why I Like Bill Gates

    I like Bill Gates because Every time I write Verizon, he thinks I mean venison

  12. Nick Doty
    August 4th, 2007 | 3:10 am

    The press release you received is strangely roundabout in its wording, as if the author is afraid of using negative words like “delay” or “slip”. But it’s worth noting that the linked blog post has none of your complaints. It’s very up front about how the team is disappointed by the delay and why they think it’s necessary and gives more detail about their future plans.

    Perhaps the real point is that you might be putting things a bit broadly when you speak of Microsoft as a single entity.

  13. Nick Doty
    August 4th, 2007 | 5:10 am

    The press release you received is strangely roundabout in its wording, as if the author is afraid of using negative words like “delay” or “slip”. But it’s worth noting that the linked blog post has none of your complaints. It’s very up front about how the team is disappointed by the delay and why they think it’s necessary and gives more detail about their future plans.

    Perhaps the real point is that you might be putting things a bit broadly when you speak of Microsoft as a single entity.

  14. August 4th, 2007 | 8:20 am

    Nick: The blog was somewhat more forthcoming, but still, in my opinion, not honest enough. The focus was still on the “we want quality” notion, rather than on “we goofed.”

    You are quite right to point out that Microsoft is not a single entity, but historically, this is the sort of language the company has consistently used. As, of course, do many other companies.

  15. August 4th, 2007 | 10:20 am

    Nick: The blog was somewhat more forthcoming, but still, in my opinion, not honest enough. The focus was still on the “we want quality” notion, rather than on “we goofed.”

    You are quite right to point out that Microsoft is not a single entity, but historically, this is the sort of language the company has consistently used. As, of course, do many other companies.

  16. August 4th, 2007 | 5:09 pm

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  17. August 4th, 2007 | 5:22 pm

    Amen Joe!

    As a recent Mac convert, I’ve struggled with the weaknesses of Office 2004 compared to the Windows versions. I wrote this week about a particularly painful episode involving PowerPoint 2004 and the apparent lack of an actual, functioning autorecover feature! If anyone’s interested, here’s the link to the post on my blog: http://www.charlesknutson.net/?p=108

  18. August 4th, 2007 | 7:22 pm

    Amen Joe!

    As a recent Mac convert, I’ve struggled with the weaknesses of Office 2004 compared to the Windows versions. I wrote this week about a particularly painful episode involving PowerPoint 2004 and the apparent lack of an actual, functioning autorecover feature! If anyone’s interested, here’s the link to the post on my blog: http://www.charlesknutson.net/?p=108

  19. August 5th, 2007 | 8:03 am

    Joe, this seems to me to be be a resources problem. The code has got so complex that huge teams of people have mountains of code to check and it’s become a Gordian Knot exercise to fix and no respecter of RTM dates.

    Rumours about the same problem surfaced last year when Microsoft raised a storm with the email marketing industry when they removed IE6 like html rendering from Office 2007 Outlook, reverting back to an old non-standard Word engine. The seasoned observer rumours were that the Outlook security team found themselves a bunch of security hack possibilities in Outlook 2007 they found were just too hard to fix. However, my observation is given the miniscule take up of the PC version of Office 2007 in businesses, they’ve plenty of time to fix it in a new service pack if we all wait around long enough.

    The Gordian Knot problem had it’s solution though – Alexander the Great took a sword to it. Microsoft see this solution as Open Office and Thunderbird for Macs and are quite upset about it.

    Chris

  20. August 5th, 2007 | 10:03 am

    Joe, this seems to me to be be a resources problem. The code has got so complex that huge teams of people have mountains of code to check and it’s become a Gordian Knot exercise to fix and no respecter of RTM dates.

    Rumours about the same problem surfaced last year when Microsoft raised a storm with the email marketing industry when they removed IE6 like html rendering from Office 2007 Outlook, reverting back to an old non-standard Word engine. The seasoned observer rumours were that the Outlook security team found themselves a bunch of security hack possibilities in Outlook 2007 they found were just too hard to fix. However, my observation is given the miniscule take up of the PC version of Office 2007 in businesses, they’ve plenty of time to fix it in a new service pack if we all wait around long enough.

    The Gordian Knot problem had it’s solution though – Alexander the Great took a sword to it. Microsoft see this solution as Open Office and Thunderbird for Macs and are quite upset about it.

    Chris

  21. August 5th, 2007 | 5:01 pm

    So embarrassingly self-conscious: “This was a business decision,” without saying what the decision was. It looks like it was picked to death as it made its way past the desktops of the PR committee.

    Apple did somewhat better when they announced the OS X Leopard delay, their release does start with a bit of hand-waving about the highly-anticipated iPhone, but it seems to have been written by an actual person.

    “…we had to borrow some key software engineering and QA resources from our Mac OS X team, and as a result we will not be able to release Leopard at our Worldwide Developers Conference in early June as planned. … We think it will be well worth the wait. Life often presents tradeoffs, and in this case we’re sure we’ve made the right ones.”

    It is now AWOL from Apple’s news release archive, only to be found on one Apple mailing list:

    http://lists.apple.com/archives/fed-talk/2007/Apr/msg00060.html

  22. August 5th, 2007 | 7:01 pm

    So embarrassingly self-conscious: “This was a business decision,” without saying what the decision was. It looks like it was picked to death as it made its way past the desktops of the PR committee.

    Apple did somewhat better when they announced the OS X Leopard delay, their release does start with a bit of hand-waving about the highly-anticipated iPhone, but it seems to have been written by an actual person.

    “…we had to borrow some key software engineering and QA resources from our Mac OS X team, and as a result we will not be able to release Leopard at our Worldwide Developers Conference in early June as planned. … We think it will be well worth the wait. Life often presents tradeoffs, and in this case we’re sure we’ve made the right ones.”

    It is now AWOL from Apple’s news release archive, only to be found on one Apple mailing list:

    http://lists.apple.com/archives/fed-talk/2007/Apr/msg00060.html

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    […] Kissell recently blogged about the delay  Microsoft announced over it’s Office suite for Mac OS. What was funny […]

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  26. April 28th, 2008 | 7:00 am

    Hi, I must say I was disappointed when I upgraded from Microsoft Office v.X (since 2004) to Microsoft Office 2008 for Macintosh. Excel is the worst. Things which worked before are now not working! It is very slow with all these buttons that are displayed in film like sequences instead of popping up immediately. Fun the first time but then you only want speed and no fance gimmics. (It really feels like it is time to buy a new computer but I have it running on a 2.66 Mac Pro Quad core with 6 GB of RAM.) Word 2008 has crashed or had to be shut down five times a day. Yesterday it said I couldn’t save my 4.7 MB document because the disk was full. There was 50 GB free. No other disks helped. Nothing but to shoot it down and restart Office. Then there was enought space for Ward to save when I had retyped my changes … There seems not to be bany new good things I had expected after four years of development. Mostly more fancy and CPU using. I wish I could get my money back! Don’t buy it yet! It is far from a finished product in my honest opinion despite I have the latest autoupdate installed.

  27. April 28th, 2008 | 9:00 am

    Hi, I must say I was disappointed when I upgraded from Microsoft Office v.X (since 2004) to Microsoft Office 2008 for Macintosh. Excel is the worst. Things which worked before are now not working! It is very slow with all these buttons that are displayed in film like sequences instead of popping up immediately. Fun the first time but then you only want speed and no fance gimmics. (It really feels like it is time to buy a new computer but I have it running on a 2.66 Mac Pro Quad core with 6 GB of RAM.) Word 2008 has crashed or had to be shut down five times a day. Yesterday it said I couldn’t save my 4.7 MB document because the disk was full. There was 50 GB free. No other disks helped. Nothing but to shoot it down and restart Office. Then there was enought space for Ward to save when I had retyped my changes … There seems not to be bany new good things I had expected after four years of development. Mostly more fancy and CPU using. I wish I could get my money back! Don’t buy it yet! It is far from a finished product in my honest opinion despite I have the latest autoupdate installed.

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