A Post-Lenten Fast – Microsoft Office

Lent is over and the Easter season has begun, thankfully. So why this post-Lenten Fast?

I've been having some isssues lately with my mid 2012 MacBook Pro. The issues started with my install of Yosemite in the fall, and have continued for the last several months. No surprise. Yosemite has had its rollout issues from the beginning—wifi problems in particular along with other hicups that have taken several updates to sort out.

As best I can tell, my issue has been related to kernel panics that have caused my MBP to freeze on the boot screen at about 50% through start up. This doesn't happen every time, but when it does it is a pain to fix.

To be fair, this may or may not be connected to Yosemite. But after a couple of system upgrades, it's often a good idea to start from scratch and do a fresh system install. So that is what I did this weekend.

My "Nuke and Pave" method is fairly easy. It involved first making a backup of my start-up drive with Carbon Copy Cloner, my go-to app for making bootable backup drives. Having a copy of my start-up drive helps lessen the worry that I inevitably forgot to copy some burried setting of a favorite app. I don't worry about my apps per se because I can download them from the App store or third party websites. On the other hand, data (photos, movies, documents, etc.) and app settings are the most important for me. I always think I am covered; but the clone gives me peace of mind.

Once I install a fresh copy of the system, which I do from a USB thumb drive, it's time to reinstall apps. Here is where I usually go through all the crud on my system (like that copy of Alien Robot Master Jump that I "purchased" on a whim) and decide what's "re-install worthy" and what's not. All the expected apps go on immediately: Dropbox, 1Password, Hazel, etc. Then comes the slue of Apple and third party apps: Pages, Keynote, Byword, Evernote, among others.

Then comes Microsoft Office [insert long pause here]. To install or not to install?—that is the question. As an educator, I've used the Office suite or MS Word for the Mac at least as far back as I can remember. At times, I liked it; most of the time I hate it. I take advantage of the Home Use Program which means I get to install Office for next to nothing; but at the same time it always requires a few more hoops to make it work. My college is fully invested in the Microsoft Environment and so we are Office dominant. Most of my documents are in Word and most of my classroom presentations are in Powerpoint.

But for me and for many others like me, the experience with Office products has never been very good. I could rehash the litany of complaints by Mac users: it's not Mac friendly, the UI looks like the cockpit of a NASA space craft, it encourages fiddling rather than writing, the propriatory format raises issues with long term storage, and the list goes on.

I know that Microsoft is scheduled to release Office 2016 for the Mac later this year. They have already released a preview, and early reviews suggest that this new version is, well, "not bad." But I'm not sure if I want to take the plunge.

So my question is this: can I get by without Office? I don't know for sure, but I think I'm going to try, at least for a while—hence my post-Lenten fast.

There are, actually, lots of alternatives to Office these days. For word processing (which is different from writing), Apple's native app "Pages" has made it easier to navigate an Office environment. It can save documents as Word files or PDF with ease. And for syllabii, lecture notes, papers, etc. I'm finding that PDF provides that cross-platform format for students and colleagues with whom I regularly share documents. Pages has some limitations, but for basic word processing, it works well without all the complexities of Microsoft's cockpit approach.

Then for basic writing, I'm using programs such as Scrivener and Byword more and more these days. Scrivener is great for longer projects and Byword (a basic text editor) is for shorter and simpler documents that can be passed to and processed by other applications. There are many other options as well.

It's only been a few days so far and I'm already feeling the withdraw symptoms – general nervousness that something is missing from my laptop.

Remember Clippy, the infamous MS Office Assistant that made us want to shoot our computer screens? I keep hearing it say in my mind, "Resistance is futile." Well, we'll see. I can do this...I think. I'll keep you posted.