Is Office for Mac worth the cost to you?

A letter I sent to the editors of The StarPhoenix here in Saskatoon:

Regarding Murray Hill’s “Office for Mac worth every penny” I think that there are a few things that readers should note:

First, even if we put aside all other arguments about Microsoft Office for Mac, the pricing is simply unfair to Canadians; if you search for ‘office mac 2008’ on amazon.ca and amazon.com and compare the “list price” for the five editions, the equivalent exchange rate ranges from about 1.25 to 1.35. The Canadian dollar has not been that weak since 2004. Consider that the standard edition that lists (rounded to the nearest dollar) for $540 CN here is $400 US in the US. Is the Canadian version really worth $140 more than the almost identical US version? It looks as if Microsoft is intentionally pricing the 2008 edition the same as the 2004 edition; do they think that Canadians won’t notice that they’re being gouged? Further, it is curious that Amazon discounts the Canadian versions so little (it sells the standard edition for the full $540 CN here, but discounts it to $353 US in the states; an equivalent exchange of about 1.53!)

Second, how many people (businesses included) really even need Office for Mac? Would a given person’s usage needs be met by Apple’s iWork software? (with a parity price of $79 in CN or US) Would a given person’s needs be met by OpenOffice.org which is FREE? It may be somewhat philosophical to mention this, but what software is “worth” and what is “costs” are two very different things.

Third, the article glosses over the serious vendor lock-in issue that Office 2008 presents, regardless of platform. The new “docx/xlsx/pptx” formats are really only properly read in Microsoft’s software. If everyone is forced to buy into their Office format monopoly then yes, there will be file format compatibility until Microsoft changes the file again in a few years and you (again) have to spend a large chunk of money to upgrade to the latest version. OpenOffice.org is attempting to help break this cycle by supporting the Open Document Format (ODF) in addition to the old DOC/XLS/PPT ones. ODF is free for anyone to implement, even Microsoft, and is an ISO standard. But Microsoft doesn’t support it in Office as they consider it a threat to their file format lock-in. If you must use Office 2008, avoid saving in the new format.

For Mr. Hill, the price is worth it. Others should consider the alternatives first.

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