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    Digital Tweed® is the work of Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project. If successful, these posts will inform and entertain, and at times also annoy. A little dissonance can be a good thing.

Waitware: Why MacOffice 2011 Will Not Sync With Your Smartphone Calendar
March 15, 2011 - 2:45pm

Mr. Steve Ballmer

Chief Executive Officer

Microsoft Corp.

Redmond, WA

Dear Mr. Ballmer:

Got a minute? We need to talk.

Last week I spent $219.45 cash – my cash – for a copy of MacOffice 2011. Like a lot (millions?) of other Mac users, I’ve been a long time Microsoft client, buying upgrades of the MacOffice products. Although I own a Mac, my Mac really runs on Microsoft Office.

Early reviews of MacOffice 2011 were promising. The Wall Street Journal’s tech guru, Walt Mossberg, no softie when it comes criticizing Microsoft, praised the new release of Office for the Mac as “by far the best Mac version of the [Office] suite I’ve used, and I can recommend it.”

And like lots of MacOffice users, I was encouraged that the new release included Outlook for managing my email, calendar, contacts, and other tasks. Given some of the problems I’ve experienced syncing Entourage data with my smartphone phone, the addition of Outlook over an update of Entourage seemed promising. For example, in his review of MacOffice 2011, Mossberg said that the “advent of a robust, full-featured Outlook for the Mac isn’t all that’s new in Office for Mac 2011, but it’s a big deal.” A really big deal! Indeed, it seems as if much of the marketing message for MacOffice 2011 focused on the arrival of Outlook as a “full-featured” PIM – personal information manager – to replace the oft-criticized Entourage application.

Alas, imagine my surprise when I learned that Outlook would not sync with my iPhone calendar. I guess I was not the only one surprised by the conspicuously absent calendar sync support: a Microsoft tech I talked with recently told me that the missing support for the calendar sync with smartphones was the top complaint about the product among people who called into the Microsoft help desk in the months following the release of MacOffice 2011.

(Of course, this assumes that they could easily find a phone number to call: your troops do a good job of burying phone numbers deep in your user support web sites. Moreover, one of the two user support URLs cited in the booklet I received with my retail copy of MacOffice 2011 referenced an Office –Windows support site, not Mactopia, the Microsoft-sponsored web site for Mac users.)

But, of course, I should have known. The whole premise of the software business seems to be “buyer beware.” The lengthy warranty and licensing statements none of us ever reads state clearly in contorted legal terms that Microsoft is not really responsible if the product fails to work, if a Microsoft software application destroys my data, or if I erroneously infer reasonable features and functions that Microsoft fails to provide.

So I guess it really was really my fault. I forgot to read or did not pay attention to the single cautionary sentence towards the end of Mossberg’s otherwise glowing review that warned about the missing calendar sync function. But tell me, Mr. Ballmer: how do you ship a product and simply fail to include a core feature such as calendar syncing? And then fail to notify potential buyers that this critical feature is missing? (Would you ship an upgraded version of WORD without the spelling checker?) These are the decisions that feed customer anger and fuel conspiracy theories. The missing calendar sync is really a very big diss to millions of MacOffice users who own smartphones.

And yes I read the November 17th technical explanation offered by Andy Ruff, the lead program manager for Outlook, regarding the reasons MacOffice did not ship with the calendar sync function.

But I don’t want a technical explanation; Like others, I want a product that delivers on expectations – explicit, implied, and inferred. And here MacOffice did not deliver on a key and very reasonable customer expectation: syncing my Outlook calendar with my smartphone.

Your firm shipped MacOffice 2011 in October. The “critical” update I downloaded this week (14.0.2) did not fix the calendar sync problem. Moreover, Microsoft has yet to announce a date for when the calendar sync will arrive.

Mr. Ruff’s November blog on the calendar sync issue offers three choices: “if calendar sync is really important to you, you have the following options:

  1. Use another product – up to you, but I’m convinced that Outlook provides the best integrated solution on the Mac.
  2. Wait for the update to upgrade – don’t buy the product until we upgrade.
  3. Go ahead and upgrade and wait on Outlook — you can use Entourage 2008 but Word, PowerPoint, and Excel 2011"

"It’s a fine combo" writes Mr. Ruff, "and I believe the benefits of those products alone is a good upgrade. If you have Outlook there, when the update comes, you’ll get it for free and can switch over.”

I doubt that this is a satisfactory option for many of us. Moreover, most of us don’t dive deep into Microsoft web sites for the detailed technical information Mr. Ruff offers to explain the delayed calendar sync function. Rather, we read occasionally web pages (see Mactopia) and product boxes. And there is nothing on the key Microsoft pages that promote MacOffice 2011 or on the product box that warns about the delayed release of the critical calendar sync function.

So here’s my counter proposal, one that recognizes the realities of the market and how Microsoft’s Macintosh customers (clients?) buy software and decide to upgrade. I think it is a simple, fair, and transparent solution.

Microsoft should slap a sticker on each physical product and a banner on every MacOffice 2011 web site page that states “Smartphone owners beware: the product you are about to purchase will NOT sync calendar information with your smartphone. The calendar sync function is coming, but we cannot tell you when.”

Admittedly, this is not a great solution, but at least it will provide accurate information about a key product limitation for others who are considering the upgrade to MacOffice 2011.

You also might consider making amends with those of us who have spent countless hours attempting to sync calendars and more hours cursing Microsoft for this “waitware” application. But, alas, we’ve been here: marketing messages and (reasonable) customer expectations notwithstanding, the guideline (sadly) remains: buyer beware.

Sincerely,

Casey Green

Encino, CA

 

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