Office Archive

Microsoft Office 2021 is on its way

If Microsoft had its way, Office 2021 probably wouldn’t be news at all—the Redmond giant would almost certainly prefer that everyone simply subscribe to Microsoft 365, pay a small monthly or annual fee, and get new features and fixes as they’re rolled out. For many if not most Office users, the subscription-based service is the most convenient way to get Office, even when they want to use it as locally installed software rather than doing their work in the browser and in the cloud. For the rest of us—and for those who don’t want to put up with the Byzantine procedures necessary to install Microsoft 365 apps on Remote Desktop Servers—there’s Office 2019 now, and there will be Office 2021 later this year. There will also be a new Office LTSC (Long Term Service Channel), which trades a 10 percent price hike for a guarantee of longer support periods… longer than the consumer version of Office 2021, that is. A new version of Microsoft Office used to be big news in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Now, with Office 365, LibreOffice, Google Docs, and several more than capable older standalone versions of Office, it feels like most people just don’t care anymore.

LibreOffice 7.0 released

The LibreOffice Project announces the availability of LibreOffice 7.0, a new major release providing significant new features: support for OpenDocument Format (ODF) 1.3; Skia graphics engine and Vulkan GPU-based acceleration for better performance; and carefully improved compatibility with DOCX, XLSX and PPTX files. A pretty major release. You can download and install it for Linux, Windows, and macOS, or wait until your Linux distribution ships it.

The 19th century moral panic over… Paper technology

In the history of information technologies, Gutenberg and his printing press are (understandably) treated with the kind of reverence even the most celebrated of modern tech tycoons could only imagine. So perhaps it will come as a surprise that Europe’s literacy rates remained fairly stagnant for centuries after printing presses, originally invented in about 1440, started popping up in major cities across the continent. Progress was inconsistent and unreliable, with literacy rates booming through the 16th century and then stagnating, even declining, across most of Western Europe. Great Britain, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy all produced more printed books per capita in 1651–1700 than in 1701–1750. Then came the early 19th century, which saw enormous changes in the manufacture of paper and improvements on the printing press. These changes both contributed to and resulted from major societal changes, such as the worldwide growth increase in formal education. There were more books than ever and more people who could read them. For some, this looked less like progress and more like a dangerous and destabilizing trend that could threaten not just literature, but the solvency of civilization itself. There’s obviously a comparison to be made here to television, videogames, the internet, and smartphones – all new inventions that took the world by storm that many consider to be a threat to society. It’s always interesting to look at similar stories and fears from centuries ago.

What happened to the 100,000-hour LED bulbs?

Early adopters of LED lighting will remember 50,000 hour or even 100,000 hour lifetime ratings printed on the box. But during a recent trip to the hardware store the longest advertised lifetime I found was 25,000 hours. Others claimed only 7,500 or 15,000 hours. And yes, these are brand-name bulbs from Cree and GE. So, what happened to those 100,000 hour residential LED bulbs? Were the initial estimates just over-optimistic? Was it all marketing hype? Or, did we not know enough about LED aging to predict the true useful life of a bulb? I put these questions to the test. Join me after the break for some background on the light bulb cartel from the days of incandescent bulbs (not a joke, a cartel controlled the life of your bulbs), and for the destruction of some modern LED bulbs to see why the lifetimes are clocking in a lot lower than the original wave of LED replacements. Just a good, fun, but also depressing read.


It used to happen sporadically but now it is a daily experience. As I am browsing the net I click on a link (usually a newspaper website). The page starts to load. Then I wait. And I wait. And I wait. It takes several seconds.

Once loaded, my patience is not rewarded since my MacBook Air mid-2011 seems to barely be able to keep up. Videos start playing left and right. Sound is not even turned off by default anymore. This shitshow festival of lights and sounds is discouraging but I am committed to learn about world news. I continue.

I have the silly idea to scroll down (searching for the meaty citations located between double quotes) and the framerate drops to 15 frames per second. Later, for no apparent reason, all fans will start running at full speed. The air exhaust will expel burning hot air. MacOS X's reveals countless "Helpers" processes which are not helping at all. I wonder if the machine is going to die on my lap, or take off like a jet and fly away.

This happens even on my brand new laptop or my crazy powerful custom PC. This short article is basically a reply to the article we talked about earlier this week, and I'm pretty sure this is a subject we won't be done with for a long time to come.

Software disenchantment

I've been programming for 15 years now. Recently our industry's lack of care for efficiency, simplicity, and excellence started really getting to me, to the point of me getting depressed by my own career and the IT in general.

Modern cars work, let's say for the sake of argument, at 98% of what's physically possible with the current engine design. Modern buildings use just enough material to fulfill their function and stay safe under the given conditions. All planes converged to the optimal size/form/load and basically look the same.

Only in software, it's fine if a program runs at 1% or even 0.01% of the possible performance. Everybody just seems to be ok with it. People are often even proud about how much inefficient it is, as in "why should we worry, computers are fast enough".

A bit ranty here and there, but this entire "old man yells at cloud" article is very much music to my ears. Software is bad. We expect software to be bad. We accept that software is bad. We make excuses why software is bad. We tell people it's okay that software is bad. We say it is inevitable that software is bad.

If any other industry were as lax about quality and performance as the software industry, we'd be up in arms.

The Improbable Origins of PowerPoint

PowerPoint is so ingrained in modern life that the notion of it having a history at all may seem odd. But it does have a very definite lifetime as a commercial product that came onto the scene 30 years ago, in 1987. Remarkably, the founders of the Silicon Valley firm that created PowerPoint did not set out to make presentation software, let alone build a tool that would transform group communication throughout the world. Rather, PowerPoint was a recovery from dashed hopes that pulled a struggling startup back from the brink of failure - and succeeded beyond anything its creators could have imagined.

Fascinating story. I despise PowerPoint because PowerPoint presentations are difficult to translate (my actual job), but there's no denying it's used in meeting rooms all over the world - for better or worse.

WordStar: a writer’s word processor

Many science fiction writers - including myself, Roger MacBride Allen, Gerald Brandt, Jeffrey A. Carver, Arthur C. Clarke, David Gerrold, Terence M. Green, James Gunn, Matthew Hughes, Donald Kingsbury, Eric Kotani, Paul Levinson, George R. R. Martin, Vonda McIntyre, Kit Reed, Jennifer Roberson, and Edo van Belkom - continue to use WordStar for DOS as our writing tool of choice.

Still, most of us have endured years of mindless criticism of our decision, usually from WordPerfect users, and especially from WordPerfect users who have never tried anything but that program. I've used WordStar, WordPerfect, Word, MultiMate, Sprint, XyWrite, and just about every other MS-DOS and Windows word-processing package, and WordStar is by far my favorite choice for creative composition at the keyboard.

That's the key point: aiding creative composition. To understand how WordStar does that better than other programs, let me start with a little history.

An old article from 1990 and updated in 1996, reprinted, but still a good read.

The secrets of medieval fonts

One of the fundamental things in a medieval book is letters - those symbols that fill up page after page and that make up meaning. Each one of us human beings writes differently and considering that medieval books were made before the invention of print, it follows that the scripts they carry show a great variety in execution styles. This is perhaps the most amazing experience of spending a day going through a pile of medieval books in the library: the immense variation in the manner in which the text is written on the parchment pages.

From monks and scribes copying books letter by letter, we have now arrived at the point where the best book ever written is just a few clicks away.

The percent sign

Since then the ‘%’ has gone from strength to strength, and today we revel in a whole family of “per ————” signs, with ‘%’ joined by ‘‰’ (“per mille”, or per thousand) and ‘‱’ (per ten thousand). All very logical, on the face of it, and all based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the percent sign came to be. Nina and I can comfort ourselves that we are not the first people, and likely will not be the last, to have made the same mistake.

I love stories like this. The history of our punctuation marks and symbols is often quite fascinating.

LibreOffice 4.4 released

The highlight of the new release is a far-reaching visual refresh, with menus, toolbars, status bars, and more being updated to look and work better. While LibreOffice retains the traditional menus-and-toolbars approach that Microsoft abandoned in Office 2007, the new version is meant to make those menus and toolbars easier to navigate.

What are the reasons to use either OpenOffice or LibeOffice?

The death of the Urdu script

Way back in 2009, I wrote about a few specific cases in which computers led to (subtle) changes in the Dutch language. While the changes highlighted in that article were subtle and not particularly substantial, there are cases around the world where computing threatens much more than a few subtle, barely noticeable features of a language.

This article is a bit too politicised for my taste, but if you set that aside and focus on its linguistic and technological aspects, it's quite, quite fascinating.

Urdu is traditionally written in a Perso-Arabic script called nastaliq, a flowy and ornate and hanging script. But when rendered on the web and on smartphones and the entire gamut of digital devices at our disposal, Urdu is getting depicted in naskh, an angular and rather stodgy script that comes from Arabic. And those that don’t like it can go write in Western letters.

It'd be fantastic if Microsoft, Google, and Apple could include proper support for nastaliq into their products. It's one thing to see Dutch embrace a new method of displaying direct quotes under the influences of computers, but to see an entire form of script threatened is another.

Goodbye, Lotus 1-2-3

"The first killer app was VisiCalc. This early spreadsheet turned the Apple II from a hobbyist toy to a business computer. VisiCalc came with room for improvement, though. In addition, a new architecture and operating system, the Intel-based IBM PC and MS-DOS, also needed a spreadsheet to be taken seriously. That spreadsheet, released in early 1983, would be Lotus 1-2-3, and it would change the world. It became the PC's killer app, and the world would never be the same. On May 14, IBM quietly announced the end of the road for 1-2-3, along with Lotus Organizer and the Lotus SmartSuite office suite. Lotus 1-2-3's day is done." Impressive 30 year run.

LibreOffice 4.0 released

"The Document Foundation announces LibreOffice 4.0, the free office suite the community has been dreaming of since 2001. LibreOffice 4.0 is the first release that reflects the objectives set by the community at the time of the announcement, in September 2010: a cleaner and leaner code base, an improved set of features, better interoperability, and a more diverse and inclusive ecosystem."

LibreOffice 4.0 to be themeable

For years, developers decried the tight fist Sun kept on the development of its office suite, preventing the hacker culture from improving its software. So now that LibreOffice is, well, free, it's not surprising to see one ambitious hacker has developed a mechanism for theming it. Let's have a round of applause for Jan Holesovsky, whose patch in the upcoming 4.0 edition of LibreOffice allows you to style LibreOffice using FireFox Personae. Holesovsky's blog is full of other interesting UI changes made to LibreOffice, proof perhaps that letting hackers hack is the best way to keep your project improving.

Using the new Office with touch

"On Monday in San Francisco we took the wraps off of the new Office's touch experience designed for Windows 8. We showed the new touch-optimized Windows 8-style app for OneNote, and we showed how we've touch-enabled Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and other apps on the desktop. The new Office is designed for a great experience whether you're sitting on a couch with a tablet, or at a desk with a mouse and keyboard. It makes common tasks fast, fluid, and intuitive, while still enabling the rich capabilities required to create high-quality documents. In this post I'll walk you through the thinking, engineering process and design framework we used to reimagine these experiences for touch."

Microsoft OneNote MX preview: the first Metro Office application

So, Office 2013 is a desktop application with a new look (which I personally happen to like, ridiculous 'streaming' installation notwithstanding). Then there's OneNote MX - the first Metro Office application. It uses a rather interesting contextual radial menu to get things done - quite fascinating. It's in the Windows Store starting now. I've been playing with it for a bit, and I must say, there's a huge chance I'll be writing my OSNews articles in OneNote MX from now on; the ability to have multiple different text areas and pictures like in a real-world note/clipbook is very, very useful. Nice that it syncs across devices, too. Be sure to take a look - this is an indication of a possible future Metro Office.

Office 2013 consumer preview released

Microsoft has released a consumer preview for Office 2013. Highlighting the age-old internal tug-of-war between the Office and Windows divisions within Microsoft, it's just a desktop application, no Metro, and the only nod to that whole touch/tablet-thing is a special mode that does very little. So, Windows 8 is just around the corner, and still not a single serious Metro application. Not even Microsoft's own flagship suite - heck, not even a single application within that suite - could be adapted to Metro in time. Serious vote of confidence from the Office division there.

How to remain safe on the road

You have just bought tickets to an exotic vacation spot. You board the flight, you land safely, you pull your netbook from your backpack, fire it up, and then check if there are any available Wireless networks. Indeed there are, unencrypted, passwordless, waiting for you. So you connect to the most convenient hotspot and start surfing. Being addicted as you are, you want to login into your email or social network just to check if something cardinal happened in the world during your four-hour flight. You're about to hit the sign in button. Stop. What you're about to do might not be safe.