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So I’m not the only one ditching Microsoft Office

Rick Broida wrote a fairly harsh piece on Cnet about why he’s ditching Microsoft Office. Our reasons differ, and while I agree with all of his reasons he may not agree with all of mine. That’s OK.

I stuck with Office 2003 because its user interface is familiar and makes sense. By using the program, you learn the keyboard shortcuts from the menu and can graduate from casual user to power user relatively quickly. That went away in Office 2007, so I never moved on. Office 2003 was the best version Microsoft ever made, but it loses security updates next month, so it’s the end of the road.

Fortunately, Libre Office has a traditional user interface and most of the same keyboard shortcuts. If you don’t use mail merge, it’s a capable replacement, and it’s free and actively maintained. It’s not as fast as Office 2003 was, but neither is anything Microsoft has made since.

Now, in corporate environments, with a recent version of Office and Sharepoint you can do some really nifty things, like automatically building Powerpoint presentations from Excel spreadsheets created by different people. You could probably approximate the same thing with other software, but what I saw a Sharepoint-literate colleague build this week with MS Office was very impressive.

But I don’t need that at home, and I don’t want to pay $100 per year for the rest of my life to use a program that I tolerate at best, so I’ll save my money and move to Libre Office.

Fixing Excel when it stops scrolling

Sometimes I track system health for huge networks with huge Excel spreadsheets. And every once in a while, I run into problems with the Excel spreadsheet not scrolling. I move the cursor, and the cursor moves, but the sheet doesn’t, so I can’t see.
The problem is freeze panes. I always have the top row frozen, since I’m typically trying to track 14 or 15 things and the rows tend to blend together if I don’t freeze my header row. But sometimes Excel gets confused and freezes more than I initially told it to freeze–like, an entire screen’s worth of data. The solution is to unfreeze everything, then freeze the top row again. Then Excel behaves again.

What to do when the layoff comes

An IT pro I went to high school with–he was a year or two ahead of me, so we weren’t quite classmates–got a layoff letter this past week, along with the rest of his department. It was a large, successful company making purely a financial decision to offshore a bunch of jobs, and unfortunately he got caught in the crossfire. It reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while, so now’s as good of a time as any.

The details about his layoff and my layoffs are unimportant. What’s more important is what to do next. There are definitely things I know now that I wish I’d known years ago, so I’ll share them now.

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What to do when your Excel worksheet won’t scroll

I have a monster Excel spreadsheet with tens of thousands of rows, correlated. Its gigabytes of data taught me a lot. Including things it wasn’t supposed to, like what to do when Excel won’t scroll.

This thing is pretty fragile. Among other things, the largest of the sheets will stop scrolling. The scrollbar on the right scrolls, but the display doesn’t move. And the arrow keys don’t work either. I can’t scroll down, I can’t scroll right, or do anything useful with the data because I can’t see the whole worksheet.

But I stumbled on two tricks that provide a quick solution.

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Where Microsoft lost its way

John C. Dvorak wrote an analysis of how Microsoft lost its way with Windows 8 this week.

All in all it sounds reasonable to me. His recollection of DOS and some DOS version 8 confused me at first, but that was what the DOS buried in Windows ME was called. But mentioning it is appropriate, because it shows how DOS faded from center stage to being barely visible in the end, to the point where it was difficult to dig it out, and that it took 15 years for it to happen. He’s completely right, that if Microsoft had pulled the plug on DOS in 1985, Windows would have failed.Read More »Where Microsoft lost its way

How the IBM PC became the de facto standard for desktop computers

I saw a question on a vintage computing forum this week: How did the IBM PC become the de facto standard for PCs, and the only desktop computer architecture from the 1980s to survive until today?

It’s a very good question, and I think there were several reasons for it. I also think without all of the reasons, the IBM PC wouldn’t have necessarily won. In some regards, of course, it was a hollow victory. IBM has been out of the PC business for a decade now. Its partners Intel and Microsoft, however, reaped the benefits time and again.

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Don’t hide your abilities to avoid bullies

There’s a disturbing story on Slashdot today: Kids are playing dumb to avoid being bullied.

I have two things to say. I was bullied when I was a kid. In seventh grade, it was me against the world (or at least the entire school), and the problem followed me, though not as intensely, through two more schools, until sometime in my sophomore year.

But it gets better. Trust me on that. Some of the losers who picked on me never graduated high school. Some spent time in jail. Some couldn’t get a date if their lives depended on it now. Their lives peaked right around age 18. Meanwhile, things are pretty good for me, largely because each time I’ve been told to pass a long test if I want to keep my job, I’ve been able to do it.

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