PS Consultants - ideas & solutions

A triumph of hope over experience
July 2001

One of those many ills of the world that I plan to put right some day is the predominance of Microsoft application software. No, let’s be fair, it’s not a predominance, it’s a complete and total domination of the monopolistic variety.

Microsoft will of course argue that they have, metaphorically speaking, taken over a diverse market of conflicting standards, and helped to make the trains run on time by forcing everyone into the same basic interface and file formats. But just as Benito Mussolini was hailed by his Fascist Party followers in the Italy of the 1930s for performing the railway timetable miracle, so there are many victims of the process of Microsoft who long to see Bill Gates dangling upside down from a lamppost. Especially those for whom macro viruses such as Melissa have wreaked their havoc.

Recently, I have spent a couple of wasted days trying to recover the consequences of allowing my Outlook data file (outlook.pst) to grow past 2Gbyte. Well, various assorted smart arses guffaw and suggest I am my own victim for doing such a stupid thing. But with 80Gbyte hard disks in abundance these days, the concept of what’s a sane amount of data for something like Outlook is rather more robust than it once was.

The really nasty bit of this is that Outlook went on working some time after tripping through what I know realise is the 2Gbyte barrier before it gave clues that things were going pear shaped. So the previous week backup file was also larger than 2Gbyte. And the one before that… urk!

Well, of course, the moment I wailed up stepped everyone to say “Oh THAT old chestnut… there’s service pack 765a and hotfix 43g that will fix this for you…”

Oh not it doesn’t. All the fiddling on fringes of Outlook does is insert a bit of code that watches the size of the file and warns that “you don’t want to do that”. Microsoft itself is unflinching in admitting that a busted outlook.pst is pretty much gone for ever, and weakly suggests commissioning the services of data recovery experts if it’s a really big deal. But they don’t (as usual) offer to pick up the tab.

I eventually found a backup that was viable (3 months earlier, and hastily set about stripping it down to of all extraneous attachments, and archiving away for all I was worth. But it’s a waste of time, and the original elegance of having one big searchable database record of email in and out became seriously fragmented. Ugh.

Meanwhile, what of the alternatives to MS Office? IBM has all but given up the ghost with Lotus SmartSuite – but rightly so, I must say, it was not a very lovable product, smothered at is was in Lotus’ legendary smarminess. And after a flourish. Sun has not kept up the enthusiasm for Star Office that we had all hoped.

So imagine my interest when a Press Release from Corel turned up in the outlook inbox, announcing the arrival of WordPerfect Office 2002. Well, I’ll confess know that I was never a fan of WordPerfect – I cut my teeth of WordStar and its derivatives before being frogmarched into MS word by force majeure.

So I asked for the press pack, and the CD turned up. Sadly, the thing had been screen printed with some ink that managed to pull the foil from the CD. Fascinating, never seen such a thing before, and I think I have managed to hoover most of the bits out of the drive at last. I was about to give up when I saw a reference to the product being showcased at - so I went along out of interest and was amazed to find that thanks to SCO’s Tarantella Java-based remote Windows terminal software (a sort of X Window interface for W2k) I was able to wander around a copy of the product running somewhere on a box in Stockholm.

Keeping the faith with its presently claimed 22 million users, Wordperfect 2002 is a thoroughly nice piece of software, and had I not got about 400 man years of investment in understanding the numerous foibles and peculiarities of Microsoft Word, I would not hesitate to use it. But the real Catch 22 for Corel is that although any new user would thank you for steering them to this product, such users usually have to rely on support service from wizened old IT hacks like myself who cannot be arsed to learn a new WP system at this stage of the game.

The only way Corel will be able to make this work is to have a mode that throws out all the really nice progressive user assistance (no Clippie thank God) and just mimics MS Word as closely as possible. The ability to import the defaults within MS Word .dot templates would certainly be handy. Anyway, as an act of civil disobedience, when I get my hands on a working Corel CD, I will install the suite and force myself to switch from MS Office. I will be regarded as quaint and eccentric by most people I know, and I will occasionally forced to fire up MS Word for some inescapable gotcha or other. But I will have struck my first blow for freedom, and I expect to be proud of it.