Sunday, September 25, 2005

Lambourghinis and Hondas

On ZDNet recently, George Ou recently posted a shootout of Excel vs. OpenOffice Calc, and Microsoft predictably came up looking pretty good on performance (the only measurement George seems interested in). He later posted an example of a thoughtful response to the shootout.

Here's my response: Of course, I use Word as example rather than Excel, but I justify that by saying that one does not buy Microsoft Excel... one buys Microsoft Office and Excel is just a component.

A Lambourghini Countach is unquestionably a higher performance machine than a Honda Civic. Nevertheless, many companies purchase fleets of Hondas for business use, and not one company of note has purchased a fleet of Lambourghinis for the same purpose. The very same business customers you cite as preferring to pay for performance would scoff at the purchase of the superior automobile as a frivolous waste. Why is that? It's because business purchasers know what you evidently do not: that your argument based on pure performance is pure rubbish.

The applicable business measurement is not, nor has it ever been, pure performance. The applicable measurement is price/performance. When the price side of that ratio is zero, then the performance side must be appreciably better to justify the expense of a competing expensive product.

Taking a few seconds longer to save or load a document is a petty measurement at the most charitable best... You spend more time mullling over punctuation than you spend waiting on the document.

especially when measured against the frustration and time wasted by such MSOffice "features" as its tendency to "accidentally" reformat paragraphs, requiring lengthy manual re-formatting. This, btw, has never happened to me in with its superior use of paragraph styles and character styles (which don't appear in MS Office at all).

Considering that the time wasted by correcting just one or two lengthy Word documents is more than compensated by the increased load and save times of every OpenOffice document I've opened in my five years of using it, the /overall/ performance of Word looks damned shabby.

"Good enough" is exactly that. It's the difference between the Lambourghini and the Honda. Lambourgini will never match the sales of the Civic through improved performance; there's not enough speed in the world to overcome the price difference. With OpenOffice, price is zero and performance, like the Civic's, is good enough. Microsoft is not going to regain my business through a superficially flashier interface or through petty improvements in load time.

So far Microsoft's been riding the wave it created when competing against similar commercial products. Now, savvy managers are starting to do the calculations whereas before they simply purchased Office without thought. Now, if you want Microsoft Office, you'd better be able to justify the purchase with substantial benefits.

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