powerpoint productivity

February 2nd, 2007

I find it interesting that office suites are often dubbed "productivity suites" by vendors. Of course, they are "productive" software compared to say.. Solitaire, but are they really "productive" in the absolute meaning of the word?

By making office software easy to use, the user doesn't have to waste time on learning how to use the software, because it's so intuitive that any idiot can use it. And thus you're more productive.

If it's easy enough for idiots to use, won't idiots use it? Or rather, to be a little more accurate, won't users use it at the intellectual level of an idiot? How, and why, would they rise above that level if it's all they need to get by?

As someone who thinks about software, writes software, uses software, and comments on software, it pains me to see how some people use software. It really makes me sad.

The whole office suite concept was never my cup of tea. I used it because it seemed to be "the way" to write documents, but deep down it always bugged me. Then I got into using latex for document creation and it's like a whole new world opened up. Structured documents, what an amazing thing. It took me a while to get used to the latex way, but that's because I had to de-program myself of those bad habits. Now I wouldn't use an office suite for anything ever.

Here's how Ms Office works. You sit down at the desk, your friend points to the keyboard, you press a key, the character comes up on the screen. This is pretty much the intellectual level at which most people use Ms Word. Of course, the software has other features, it has functions to get things done faster/better/nicer. But most people, and that's probably 90% or more, don't know/don't care/wouldn't care about them. As long as they can just plug along.

I gave a presentation about two weeks ago, I had 20 slides, and it took me a couple of hours to write the presentation in latex. I didn't have to re-learn anything, because latex is the same whatever document you're writing. The process was entirely smooth, as it wasn't my first time, so I knew what I was doing. I've done maybe three presentations in latex, and by the third one I felt completely comfortable.

Last week my group was obliged to give another presentation, and this time another guy did the honors. But we all wrote it together, so he manned the computer while we discussed the content. A computer screen tends to draw your eyes in, but I was fighting the urge, I really couldn't stand it. First the guy designed a little logo in Ms Paint, which he included into the slides. When I said the logo could use a slight modification, he had to change the image on every slide one by one. Then he thought it would be nice to have a little index of the presentation on the side of the slides, which was a nice touch. So everytime he added a slide or renamed another, he would update the index on every single slide manually. Then it was the layout.. when he combined images with text, or even just when adding lists of points, often the layout wouldn't fit, there would be a forced linebreak, or something would clash, so he had to reposition the text fields. He spent more time doing these updates than actually adding content, in the form of keywords mostly. I felt like chewing my arm off watching this.

Yes, Ms Powerpoint might just have templates. And it might just have indexing. But what's the difference when noone uses this? It was certainly not the first time the guy made a presentation, I'm sure he'd done plenty of them before. But this was his level of usage. Because Powerpoint encourages you to act an idiot, that's what people become.

Needless to say, this has very little to do with productivity. Busy work, that's what this is. It's the computer equivalent of digging holes and then filling them. The general level of document creation is just appalling to me. That Ms Office be the standard for exchanging documents, and seeing how bad they look and how incredibly messy the whole process is, it's astounding.

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4 Responses to "powerpoint productivity"

  1. ash says:

    I've heard good things about latex and maybe I'll look into it if I ever need to.
    But I disagree that MS software, with a low knowledge barrier, is somehow encouraging people to act as idiots. If people aren't going to investigate or learn then aren't they just choosing to be idiots? Or, to use a less harsh word, choosing to stick with comfort over efficiency.

  2. numerodix says:

    But it is encouraging, that's their whole paradigm. Windows is easy, Office is easy, your dog can do it. But because this is the standard and noone even knows anything else exists, this is the world we live. It's not Office for rookies and something more solid for professionals, the entry level is the standard. It's like...imagine if students who went to school to become writers were given the assignment to write a short story. Then the skill level at which they wrote their first ever piece would be the level at which the professional, seasoned writers work. How pathetic would that be?

  3. ash says:

    Office is a tool though, it's not an education. It's up to schools or people themselves to teach/learn the extras. For the vast majority of people something like latex would be too off putting but starting with something easy and familiar and moving from there is much more likely to succeed.

  4. [...] companies like Microsoft, this is horrifying. “How can we survive if we can’t sell our productivity software?” :: random entries in this category ::l33t + creative = geniusblog upgradecoming [...]